The Magic Word (That Most of Us Have Trouble Saying)

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It’s not that we don’t know the magic word. We just have a damn hard time with it.

(It’s not snuffleupagus, or patronus, or the spelling of syzygy.)

Funny, that we as toddlers have no problem with it either:


But as adults, many of us have an awful lot of trouble with this one.

We’re people pleasers. We have issues with boundaries. We avoid conflict. We’re not clear on what we want, or what we need. We think we deserve what we get. We think the opposite of a “hell, yes” must mean, “Um, I guess…”

But saying NO is a way of energetically articulating our self-worth through our actions. Saying no to what we know isn’t healthy for us, isn’t what we really want or need, isn’t in line with our authentic self, or is making us small, is a boundary, an upleveling of sorts. It is communicating that we value ourselves enough to not tolerate that which isn’t serving us.

But it’s damn hard to do.

The thing is, it’s like a muscle. Learning how to say no graciously — even when it’s uncomfortable — is something we can practice. We get better at it, and it gets easier. But it also helps us get what we really want.

Often times we say yes to things because we’re afraid — afraid this is the best we can get, that we won’t get another shot at something better, afraid of disappointing someone, afraid of seeming like a bitch / unlikeable / people judging us, afraid of being alone… The list goes on.

The truth is, it’s hard. We become so good at bending, at thinking, “I better say yes because nothing else will come,” or not saying “no” to relationships or dating when we know in our gut something isn’t quite right, or saying “yes” to social events or friend hangouts when we know we really don't want to, or saying “yes” out of fear of what others will think. We become so good at not pushing back at people in our lives who say or do things that are kind of eating away at our integrity. So often we don’t want to rock the boat. 

But saying no to things that are not completely in line with our core needs and wants is like saying to the Universe, “Damn it, THIS is where my self worth is, and where it must stay.” And then we find that the world or others often meet us there. (But not without sometimes being tested.) We also, ironically, find that others respect us more, if we can flex that “no” muscle in a way that is firm but kind.

But we need to learn the power of this word, how it communicates boundaries and worth. Saying no to something that we know in our gut isn’t right for us not only better serves us in that particular situation, but it builds a pattern of energetic boundaries and worth that continues to attract more and more of what DOES support us.

Another good, meaty, hard question from the toddler set is “Why?” Toddlers tend to question everything — and we tend to want to curtail their endlessly annoying line of questioning. However, as adults we could learn something from this. Asking “Why?” of every limiting or rigid belief that we have often yields interesting illuminations. “WHY do I really want that in a partner / relationship?” (Turns out for me some of these were because I wanted my partner to solve things for me that I was struggling with myself.) “WHY do I want this attention / material thing / experience? WHY am I afraid of x, y, or z? WHY are were really making this business decision or offering this service?” And we often have to answer to ourselves, and then answer again. And again. Keep plumbing. Underneath there is something interesting, something crucial about who we really are, something revealingly truthful about our values or what we’re struggling with.

A few other key things that have been incredibly tough, but incredibly powerful, for me to learn:

  • how to determine what I REALLY want / like - and why

  • how to say “that’s not ok with me” — especially in relationships

  • how to not care what others think / stop worrying about being liked

  • how to be a giving (or “nice”) person while still having rock-solid boundaries

  • how to ask for what I want (including negotiating)

  • how to say thank you without apologizing or explaining

  • how to be by myself (living by yourself, traveling by yourself, going out to eat by yourself, doing things with your own company)

  • how to say “that’s not open for discussion”

So can we still be a YES! the world is my oyster / positive person / filled with gratitude, while strongly exercising our NO muscle? I think so. I’m learning this one in my life. I know we all are. As always, join the conversation here and let me know how you’ve strengthened your own boundaries or authenticity by saying no.