"The person who seeks all their applause from outside has their happiness in another's keeping." -- Claudius Claudianus
Once, in a relationship class I was presenting, I gave a homework assignment to each participant which required them to commit to living one full week with a willingness to communicate exactly what they were thinking and feeling to those with whom they had any contact. This included family, friends and even strangers. What I discovered was that many people are greatly challenged in their ability to be honest and transparent when it comes to saying what they really think to others. They are conflicted between what they really think, and their desire (need) to not risk the disapproval of others.
One young woman who came back the next week and shared how she was really able to identify her need for approval and acceptance from others when she denied a request from a friend. She reported that while, at first, it was uncomfortable it was also the most liberating experience she had ever known. She realized that she had allowed herself to be held hostage in every relationship she ever had been in because she was addicted to the approval of others. Buddha taught that attachment is at the root of all suffering. I wonder how many of us allow ourselves to suffer, being held in emotional bondage (or better said, emotional blackmail) by others, not because of their demands, but because of our own attachment to being loved and fear of rejection or disapproval. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "The only sin that we never forgive in each other is a difference in opinion." William Penn said it even more succinctly: "There can be no friendship where there is no freedom. Friendship loves free air, and will not be fenced up in straight and narrow enclosures."
Are you free to have a difference of opinion with others and express it without fear? Can you say no without fear? And, at the same time, do you offer others the same freedom to say no to you without sending them on a guilt trip? If the very thought of that type of encounter makes your pulse race, perhaps it's time to explore your ability to get to "no" others better.
Where do you start? Work at becoming comfortable in knowing that beyond your egoic self (which thrives on approval from others) there lies within you the presence of an infinite power acting as your "soul" authority. While spirit always operates from unconditional love it never seeks approval from others. Often times, saying "no" can be the most loving thing you can do for others and yourself. When you conduct your life from such a point of self-awareness you will know that if you are led to say no to someone there will be no need to apologize, sell or justify your position. Explain to them that you are not rejecting them, only their request. Know who you are and be free.
In all your encounters with others, remember that it's not so much what you say but how you say it. When someone makes a request of you that does not find an authentic "yes" in your heart, simply breathe deeply and invite a conscious awareness of spirit's presence to be felt within you. Let your words be filtered through that presence and you will discover the power and grace to say "no" in a way that is kind, loving and unquestionably clear. Let nothing be incomplete in your communications today and notice how free you feel.
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