Are you afraid to say this word?

I've been thinking a lot about consent, and the fear of saying "no."

As women, we are taught that consent is the default state. Only if really needed do we remove consent, and there must be a solid explanation for doing it. In other words, our default answer is "yes" unless we absolutely must say "no."

But what if it were the opposite? What if "no" is the default answer unless there was a good reason to say "yes"? I proposed this idea at my retreat last weekend, and it lead to a lengthy, rich discussion.

  • One woman pointed out that children are often shamed for their first word being "no" when in reality it is a vital communication tool.

  • Another noticed that she feels resentment from saying "yes" so often.

  • Another noticed that when men say "no" they are "putting their foot down" and showing their strength; whereas a woman may be seen as too stern, stuck up, or worse.

This is still a growing edge for me. I find myself leaning toward yes without taking the time to consider if my answer truly is yes.

Photo by Tonya Lewis Photography

Photo by Tonya Lewis Photography

Here are a few ways that I've found helpful to support me in saying yes only when I really mean it (I'd love to hear what you'd add to this list!)

  • Pause and take a breath (or 3) before responding. Giving myself a pause interrupts the automatic response so I can feel more into my true answer.

  • If, after the pause, there remains hesitation, I do not say yes. I might say "not now" or give myself more time to decide.

  • When I am not a yes, I say no as soon as possible. I do my best to be lovingly honest, and avoid explaining my no, especially if that explanation puts the responsibility on another person.

For example, if a friend asks me to help redecorate this afternoon, instead of saying "Oh, I wish I could, but my daughter has been really clingy so I need to be with her today." I might say "Thanks for thinking of me, but no, I don't have availability today. Good luck with the project!" This frees us both up. She can invite someone else (no need to try to work around with my excuses), and I can simply spend time with my daughter like I want to.

  • Keep in mind that "No." is a complete sentence. Others' reaction to my "No" is not my responsibility.

  • Practice receiving "No" without judging the person who said it. I find my respect goes up for people in my life who can clearly decline my request without justification. This way, I know that when they say "Yes" they really mean it!

Again, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, what you might add to this list, or what you feel inspired to implement. Let me know how it goes! Please leave a comment below.