No: not any, a refusal
When young children start exploring their autonomy and begin to have some understanding that they are separate from their primary carers, they use the word no more frequently than any other.
Again as teenagers, in asserting independence, separateness and autonomy, no is used frequently in both word and action.
But, for some, no becomes associated less with independence and more with defiance or non-compliance. Which is a deep conflict for someone who wants to please or has been conditioned to please. No is no longer a simple refusal or an expression of not any of that, but it can become a guilt-laden and anxiety-inducing word. However, the consequences of not saying no are pervasive and can cause damage that is difficult or impossible to repair.
I have been reading a book by Gabor Mate about understanding the connection between stress and disease. It is called “When the Body Says No” and in it he talks about three factors that universally lead to stress. All three are present in the lives of those with chronic illness: uncertainty, lack of information and lack of control. Through reading this and other books, I have come to realise that when I feel unable to say no and it causes me to become overwhelmed and overloaded, my body says what I cannot by becoming ill. My body reacts with inflammation in my joints, my intestinal tract and my lower back. When I am very stressed an old running injury in my hip joint becomes so painful that I often have to practice controlled breathing, as if in labour, to try and manage the pain. But when I am experiencing symptoms of my intestinal tract being inflamed, it is often a signal that feelings of emotional anguish, uncertainty and loss of control are being repressed by my consciousness and so are expressed by my body in illness.
I have also been reading Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book on Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. It talks about knowing what my responsibility is and what someone else’s responsibility is and setting the appropriate boundaries. It discusses the way boundaries help us to distinguish what is ours so that we can take care of it. And how boundaries help us to keep the good in and the bad out. But there are times that the function of boundaries is reversed and the bad such as pain and hurt are kept in and the good such as love and acceptance are kept out. But of course, what was most pertinent to me was that the most boundary-setting word is no. People with poor boundaries, struggle to say no to external or internal pressure which leads to outward compliance, but inner resentment. It leads to a loss of control. A loss of control leads to feelings of powerlessness.
In his book “Keep Your Love On! Connection, Communication and Boundaries, Danny Silk talks about what it means to be a powerful and powerless person. Powerful people take responsibility for their lives and their choices. Powerless people are driven by anxiety because there is a belief that most things and most people are more powerful and life therefore feels out of control.
For me, a common thread in all these books is my relationship with the word no. The importance of being intentional about saying no and equally about saying yes so that I can be emotionally healthy which would support my physical health. Saying no is a reflection of my ability to take responsibility for my life, but unlike a toddler or a teenager, gives me the power to say yes. Yes to wholeness and healing.