No is a loving word

Recently, my eldest son observed me setting limits and boundaries with my middle son. My middle son is what I affectionately term an ‘experiential learner’ ie: he prefers to discover life through his own experiences rather than just taking my word for it. As you can imagine this can work both for and against him and it can create some interesting ‘debrief’ sessions as he and I work through his experiential learnings.

As my eldest son observed me setting boundaries with my other son he commented, ‘Mum, I really need to learn how to say no, especially with some of my friends.’ I asked him why he felt it was so important for him to be able to say no and he replied, ‘Because you really need to be able to say no when you’re a parent.’ Indeed he is a perceptive lad! But isn’t it true that saying no is such a big little word in all relationships and yet it can be a word we all struggle to say at important junctures in relationships.

We are often conditioned as children to say yes, and certainly yes is a word I love to hear from my children. But as I’ve reflected upon these recent conversations with my sons it’s brought home to me that no is an equally important word we need to say and hear in all our relationships. We need to embrace our ability to say no and receive the no of others and realize that in fact no is a loving word. It’s an everyday paradox that unless we are willing to say no at appropriate times, our ‘yes’ loses its power.

So what does saying no look like and how can that be an expression of love? Cloud & Townsend (1992) grapple with the challenge of saying no and setting limits in their classic book Boundaries and describe boundaries as invisible property lines, a bit like fences between neighbours that identifies what’s me and what’s not me. So when we say no in a relationship, what we are saying is, ‘this isn’t me’ and by so doing we honour the core of who we are and also take care of that which is ours. Conversely, effective boundaries allow us to say yes authentically and give and receive that which is good and edifying.

Sometimes we can become afraid that if I say no, I will hurt someone, but actually we are honouring that person and ourselves making our ability to say ‘yes’ at the right times easy, safe and powerful. So let’s reflect on the power of these little words – yes and no and how they can become expressions of truth and love and preserve all that is good and precious in our relationships.

Copyright 2014 Marcia Watts



Posted on 22 October 2014

Marcia Watts


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