During my last appointment, she asked me if I would be interested in changing my appointment times to earlier in the day.
I didn't want to hurt her feelings or inconvenience her, but the time she suggested really wasn't convenient. I stumbled around, trying to explain why it wouldn't work.
Finally, mercifully, she stopped me. "It doesn't sound like you want to change your appointment time at all," she said.
I nodded that this was true.
Her next words floored me, "Deb, you don't have to make excuses or explain what you need. It's fine to just say, 'I don't want that.'"
"I don't want that." I repeated the words softly, then a little louder. Saying them felt a hundred times better than the mealy-mouthed excuses I'd been trying to give.
For the rest of the session, it was as if a floodgate had opened up. I thought of example after example where I ended up implying, "Maybe," when what I really meant was "No."
My therapist listened to the words flow and kept on gently reminding me that I don't have to explain myself to anyone. If a server at a restaurant asks, for instance, why I haven't finished my dinner, I don't have to explain to him that I've had gastric sleeve surgery. All I have to do is say, "The food is fine; I'm just not hungry."
Likewise, if someone calls at an inconvenient time, I don't have to explain my entire writing schedule. All I have to do is say, "I'm afraid I can't talk now. Can I call you back later this evening?" For that matter, I don't even have to answer the telephone.
The Explicit Rejection
In 1992, I took an intense self-defense class where students fought back full-force against heavily padded attackers. During the fight, we were supposed to keep ourselves grounded by yelling, "No!" instead of screaming for help or remaining silent.
A few years later, I read a book called The Gift of Fear by safety expert Gavin De Becker. One of his main points is that girls and women in this culture are taught to be agreeable and to "let a guy down easy" if they are receiving unwanted attention--even if this means being polite to a potential rapist.
An explicit rejection or a hard no, he says, "offers no reasons and begs no negotiations, but women in this culture are virtually prohibited from speaking it."
Eating and "No"
Over the last few days, since my appointment with my therapist, I've been keeping track of the number of times I haven't said no when I wanted to say it. Almost every time, after doing the unwanted activity, I've gotten home and dashed to the freezer for comfort foods like frozen waffles or ice cream.
On the other hand, when I've caught myself getting talked into something I didn't want to do and said no, I've had no particular trouble with overeating or with eating the wrong foods.
This whole issue has reminded me of how closely our bodies and our minds are joined. It's also served as proof that if I'm not authentic, not true to myself, the resulting feelings of anger and frustration will find a way to come back to bite me in the end.
When we were two and three years old, that single word, "No," probably made up the majority of our speech. Somewhere along the way, most of us have lost the ability to be that honest. And for the record, I'm not recommending that we all run around yelling and shoving and acting like children. But the next time you're asked to do something and you know, with all your heart, that you don't want to do it, take a chance and use that much-maligned two-letter word.
If you're anything like me, you'll feel better for it.