Tag Archives: Personal growth

The Power of No

CGJung“No” is probably the most powerful word in our vocabulary. Anyone who’s ever raised a toddler understands how frustrating the word can be. It seems their “no” stage goes on forever and controls everything and everyone around them. It’s challenging, exhausting and can prick some unresolved, primitive conflicts within parents if they’re not conscious about their responses.

That one syllable word coming from the mouths of our sweet, little cherubs who are supposed to love, adore and follow our every command feels disturbing. When a child begins to say “no”, parents may perceive this as a power imbalance and grow threatened. “No” changes everything for those children (and parents) but not in a bad way.  “No” for a toddler means she’s just beginning to understand she has choices over her life. She’s beginning to see she can decide what to wear, when to go potty (and where), what she likes to eat, how she likes to play and with what toys she wants to play with. No says, “backoff, I’ve got this”, even when she doesn’t.

In his psychosocial development model, Erick Erickson, refers to this “terrible twos stage” as the stage of Autonomy verses Shame and Doubt. When a toddler feels she can make choices, she begins to learn what she likes and dislikes. If she doesn’t have the opportunity to explore, she begins to question her preferences. She loses the ability to know what she wants and develops a sense of shame as a result. “No” for her can either hold clout or fear.

Sadly, lots of grownups are terrified to speak this word. Unlike toddlers who have the luxury of exploring their boundaries without too much understanding of their effect on others, grownups have been around the block a few times. “No” for some carries uncomfortable history. It may mean in the past people shunned them when they set boundaries, so they fear rejection. “No” might mean we’re really not sure anyway, so let’s keep things as a maybe. Then “no” carries a sense of  shame and doubt about what we want and who we are. Not being able to say “no” indicates a constant sense of obligation to please others.

To say “no” takes personal power. Personal power means we’re tapped into our internal locus of control – we know where to set limits. We’re able to understand where our emotional and psychological boundaries are and how they might be different from others around us. We have a strong sense of what’s important to us and as a result know what we’re not willing to compromise. We understand how to set those restrictions and aren’t worried that we won’t be liked.

When this inner gauge is broken, “no” is perceived as a dangerous word. That’s because speaking the word states we’ve made a decision that may be separate from what others want. It also states we’re willing to take responsibility for our choices.

Jumping into the world of a solid decision thrusts us out of a state of avoidance. Just like the toddler, we’re saying, “I like this and not that.” It’s a definitive sign that we’ve made a clear choice. Once made, we’re required to follow through. In this way, “no” is the jumping off point to freedom. “No” preserves your own energy and shows people you have self-respect. It preserves identity.

“No” also decreases anxiety. It provides clarity. When people understand where the limits are, everyone can calm down. Setting that boundary not only provides distress tolerance for adults, but it teaches children they’re safe. The toddler who throws a temper tantrum in the store because he wants that toy is also attempting to see just how much he can push people around. When he realizes he doesn’t have full power over a situation, he can sit back and let go of the reins. When “no” is consistent with both firmness and kindness, that child learns that “no” is safe. Even better, he carries that lesson into adulthood where he can set his own limits against people who attempt to push him around. That child will grow up to understand his own inner locus of control.

People who are too involved in fixing people have little personal power. The act of stepping in to rescue is the act of taking choices away from someone else. To step back and say, “No, this is your job to do,” resets the power imbalance. It frees whomever they were controlling to make their own decisions. Each person reclaims their own power.

The flip side of this is “no” can be used to control everything. It can be the fortress we set against the world. When we feel so hapless and insecure that we have to stop everything, we’re not setting limits we’re walling ourselves off.

Sometimes “no” requires explaining. Sometimes not. Yet, the reason for “no” always needs to be understood by the person using the word. When the speaker is clear, the word holds truth. Personal truth is the way to individuation.

 

Mandala Artwork-CG Jung, The Red Book

Our Soul’s Journey

SC2As a writer, I’m determined not to fall in love with my words. Still, I do. I’ll get attached to a paragraph or sentence. I’ll move the clever thing around, cutting and pasting again and again, determined to keep it because, well, I love it.

That’s a sure sign the brilliant tidbit has to go. If I’m inserting words into the work just because I like them, I’m not moving the story along. So, I emotionally detach then delete. I don’t even save the paragraph in my “drop” folder anymore. I’ve found I never go back to it. If there’s substance in what was said, it’ll come out in other ways.

Just like those words, attachment to the trivial keeps us from seeing a bigger life picture. If we’re clinging to something just because we don’t want to let it go, then it’s time for us to detach and delete. This could be a behavior, a way of thinking about things, a way of seeing the world. Holding on “just because” is really holding on to fear. This stalls us. It limits the choices in our lives. It inhibits us from living our true story.

Most certainly this struggle manifests to a deeper degree when our psychological awareness increases and spiritual consciousness arises. We find ourselves called to a new way of being yet woefully ill-equip to make the journey. Suddenly, the character we crafted through the years doesn’t match the current storyline. No longer are we the master of our own universe, the fabulous fixer, the narcissistic know-it-all, the helpless martyr, the upper-class soccer mom, the macho ladies’ man or the sheltered housewife. We’re hesitant about where the plot’s going to take us and we turn back.

Slipping on our old armor, we notice it’s too tight. We manage to squeeze into it, but eventually we blister and can’t breathe. We’re cranky. We’re in pain. We remember that brief moment of total freedom when we felt our Self through therapy or meditation and now we feel confused.

Eventually, the armor of inauthenticity wears us down. We look for help and find people who’ve already made this crazy trek. This calms us. We peel off the defenses. Sometimes we do this willingly. Sometimes we fight like hell, watching the blood from our fingertips streak the metal as the chainmail is yanked from our clutches. Tender and vulnerable, we have no choice but to cross the threshold and enter this special new world.

Growth puts us into a state of transition and transitions are scary. They’re literally the movement from one place to another. This is where ordeals occur, where the bad guy might get us. What if we lose sight of the road, or run out of gas, or meet people different from us? How will we react? What will we see? What will we do?

Detaching from the old allows expansion to begin. We’re able to engage with ourselves and others in new ways. We practice genuineness and vulnerability. As we eventually find our bearings and trust this different kind of control, we open our heart to new challenges. This provides us with space to shift deeper into the subjective, less evaluative aspects of our new Self. We learn to embrace and not measure the mysterious experiences of our innermost cave.

As we encounter more challenges, we notice we’re also being rewarded. Empathy, Intuition and Creativity start to unfold. This new gift of awareness allows us to identify what we need. Because we understand the necessity of travelling lighter, we now detach from that which weighs us down. Detach and delete. We see clearly now. We’re living the bigger picture. We’re operating in new ways. We move ahead, but know when to rest.

At times we stop to replenish at sites along the path. There, we meet people we didn’t know existed. We notice ourselves being present to them. We’re fascinated and moved by the stories they share of their own journeys. The things they share fill our hearts and leave us grateful. As we pack up and move on, because we must, we ask for directions. We’re seasoned enough now to know when to seek guidance.

We also begin to feel and it’s good. Colors and energy move easily through us. We no longer flee in panic at the sensation. Another gift.

An odd thing strikes us. We realize that we know now that Knowing is not knowing in the way we thought it was. It’s not an answer but acceptance. It’s not conclusions but curiosity. Looking back, we see the path we’ve travelled. We see those unnecessary burdens we shed and wonder why we needed them in the first place.

Smiling, it occurs to us that this journey is our home now and it’s such a long way from where we came. We look down into our hand and see life’s elixir. It glows warm in our palm. This is something we’ll be passing on to the next person we meet on the road. While this is something to keep, this is also something to share. We want to pass this along. And now we know all is good.

Artwork by Deborah Koff-Chapin