Tag Archives: Saying No

Giving of My Self

binary starIn keeping with the theme of Lenten spirituality I would like to expand upon last week’s topic where I discussed the idea of surrendering myself to God’s plan rather than trying to come up with my own scheme. Essentially this amounts to a shift of attitude. I still make plans and guide my life but I am doing so with a sense of acceptance. I do not need to worry so much about the outcome because that is out of my hands.

This is a subtle dance, however. It seems to me that to give myself over authentically is not as simple as it might seem at first glance. This is true because to truly give myself, I must actually have a completely formed or emerged self to give. This seems to happen in three distinct stages.

The first stage in terms of being able to give of myself is what I call “shame based egotism.” In this state my true self is buried deep under layers of ego. Here, my prime motivation is to avoid shame and humiliation at all costs. In a sense this motivation is “self-centered” or egotistical because at its core this motivation is an instinctual, self-preservation strategy. At the same time, however, there is a strong denial of my true self and a sense of obligation to give away myself by giving in to the will of other people. This obligation comes from a feeling of a lack of entitlement to pleasurable or self enhancing experiences. In this stage there can be no giving of my self in a genuine way. My self is actually given away all the time but only grudgingly, with resentment and the feeling of being coerced into doing something I do not want to do..

I will graduate from the first stage of shame based egotism to the second stage of self based egotism when I learn (or muster the courage) to say “no” to other people. The power of shame will fight against this at first telling me that I am being selfish and disloyal. But with enough practice saying no to other people who ask me to do something I do not want to do my true self will begin to emerge. As I said, this stage is still egotism but it is a step in the right direction towards authentic action. By saying no to other people I am essentially declaring that I refuse to give of myself. This act of self preservation then creates the space for a genuine “yes” to be given down the road.

Although this is the only way out of shame based egotism, this second stage carries with it some degree of danger. Many people never make it out of this stage because they feel a sense of liberation and autonomy they have never felt before. In this stage there is the tendency to fall into an “us versus them” type of mindset. There is the sense of having escaped from an oppressive world and the desire to remain free of this oppression. Along with this sense comes the compulsion to make ego based comparisons with “other” people seen as threatening. I believe this is the source of racism and other similar autonomous mindsets.

But once I can say no to other people I am then in a position to say yes authentically. This is the third stage where I am finally able to give of myself and truly live a life according to God’s plan willingly. God’s plan will always be in accord with the will of my true self which had been formerly obscured by the ego. In this way it becomes clear that I must have an ego before I can discard my ego.

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Having Your “No” and Eating it Too

Do you ever find yourself in the position where a person asks or expects you to do something you do not want to do but you end up doing it anyway? If so, do you find yourself becoming resentful with that person? If you answered yes to these questions you need to learn how to say NO.

(1)   If you can’t say no you become resentful.

I used to work in an office. I became friendly with a co-worker and we started going to lunch every day. After a while I began to feel obligated to go to lunch with her. I felt like if I got up and went to lunch by myself I would somehow be insulting her or hurting her feelings. So for a long time I went along with this situation. It was easier just to maintain the pattern than it was to stand up for myself and say I did not want to do this. But over time I found myself becoming resentful. At first I noticed I was becoming annoyed with her. Little things she did like flicking her pen started to irritate me. Later on this developed into anger. At the time I did not make the connection between not being able to say no to her and this irritation that was developing.

(2)   If you learn to say no and “own it” you will notice a sudden release of tension.

Finally the resentment and the irritation reached a point where I just started going to lunch on my own. It felt wrong at first. I felt like an anti-social jerk. But after a while I noticed that I was becoming less annoyed and resentful with her. Gradually I began to make the connection that this resentment was directly related to my inability to say no to her. Even though my no at this point was sort of passive aggressive it allowed for the space for the tension to release.

(3)   If you can’t say no you will never be able to say yes.

From there, over time I began to feel more entitled to my right to say no to things I did not want to do. True, there are obligations in life and I am not advocating saying no to everything you do not want to do, but if you cannot say no at least some of the time you will never truly be able to say yes whole heartedly. You will only say yes grudgingly and with resentment. When you are able to say no and own it (i.e., feel entitled to say no without worrying so much about hurting someone’s feelings which comes with practice) then you will have the space to pick the things you really want to do and then say yes with your whole heart.

I think this is really important. On an airplane they instruct you to put on your own oxygen mask first before you put on the oxygen mask of a child. To someone who is afraid to say no, this instruction might strike them as selfish and wrong. But if you don’t take care of yourself first you may be able to take care of other people in the short run but not in the long run.

Saying no to something you do not want to do is like putting on your oxygen mask first. If you find yourself becoming annoyed and resentful of someone, I invite you to perform an experiment and say no to that person. Really try to feel entitled to that no. Don’t let yourself feel bad or at least be aware of this bad feeling. See if over time you become less resentful. If so, know that you have put on your oxygen mask. You will then be able to have your yes and put on their oxygen mask if need be.

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