It is one of the first words we ever say and it only seems to get more difficult as time passes. In fact, as a child, we say yes to pretty much anything. Yes to checking out the pool before we know how to swim, yes to sharing an ice cream cone with the dog, yes to chasing the Nerf ball (do they still make those?) into I-85. We are open to any possibility, and naturally possess what I like to call a “yes stance.”
Spend just a moment with anyone whose age is a single digit and you won’t be able to miss their yesness to everything around them. Swings! New friend! Rocks! Donuts! It is contagious. You can’t help but be swept up with the bright enthusiasm they possess about practically everything. And many of them have never met a stranger. How many times have an eager pair of eyes you have never encountered looked up at you and said something like, “My mom says when there’s corn in my poop it means I don’t chew my food enough.” Then they start wondering why you are in a laughing heap on the floor, because this kind of commentary is just par for the course for them.
So what happened? How did all this bright-eyed possibility become this shoulder slumping person we see in the mirror that won’t look the strangers we pass on the street in the eye? Break-ups. High school. Rejection. Loss. We keep hearing and experiencing “No!” And no piled on top of a pile of no’s.
All of these no’s cause our yes stance to get beaten back so far that it’s just too scary for us too show up with it anymore. The million amazing things we had to say in elementary school were usually met with “Sit down and be quiet!” Falling in love every 2 weeks (or every 2 days, yeah I was there too) in middle school started to become more and more frightening the more times the note came back the “No” box checked. In high school peers were busy making up stories about us behind our backs, belittling our endeavors, and ridiculing us outright, often in front of a crowd. As adulthood unfolded, ex’s started telling us that we are useless, irresponsible, uncaring, scum with nothing to offer the world. After hearing those words so many times, we started believing many of them.
With each literal and figurative “No,” our shoulders began slumping forward a little more and our hearts became a little more closed. We began guarding the vulnerable part of our physical and emotional selves–our heart–out of fear of more injury. Life experiences have taught us that showing up with a yes stance just results in pain, so we reactively respond in the best way we know how to avoid more.
The fear-based response completely makes sense, but it often doesn’t work out to our benefit. In fact, it is often much to our disservice. How many times have you gone into a social setting such as a bookstore (okay, you’re right those don’t exist anymore) or a café with the desire or half intention of meeting someone new and cool, but came armed with cell phones and earbuds and iPads? As a Relationship Coach, people ask me often where they can meet others and I tell them, “Everywhere!” And I have to qualify by saying, “But, it gets pretty difficult to meet anyone with your heart-closed stance that includes the electronic device all of your attention is dedicated to.” It is certainly scary to show up in the world and opportunities with a genuine openness to possibility while simultaneously resisting the urge to hide yourself in electronica. It’s scary because big rejections early on and throughout life mean that even the tiny rejections–like the cute stranger at the next table ignoring our smile—sucks.
This heart-closed stance also shows up in casual conversation with friends new and old, in our constant use of the word “No,” and in our addition of qualifiers and rebuttals to anything our fellow conversant says. “Sounds like you really like your job,” they say. “Well, actually my boss is a real jerk sometimes.” Or, “Your Ex sounds like a headtrip,” and you respond, “She isn’t that bad.” We even have to disagree with someone on simple things like a good local restaurant, “It’s not the best place for Thai.” Doesn’t sound familiar? Notice the next time someone says something to you that isn’t exactly right, and your immediate impulse to correct them.
So what if we constantly have this no-stance? Do a little experiment. Notice how you feel and then respond (two separate things) next time someone qualifies or responds in the negative to something you say. How do you feel? Like you should speak less. Like you are wrong. Like you need to counter whatever they just said. And then an argument over the price of bananas at the farmer’s market in Spring get heated–all you originally wanted was to connect a little more with the person that you were just having a conversation with. In fact, all we want is connection and better relationships. Period. Imagine a day when you have everything in the world except the sense that anyone cares and I’ll bet just thinking about it will make you completely miserable. And how do you feel when you are having a really connected moment with a friend or have just met someone special? Like nothing else matters. Cuz it doesn’t. Noticed yourself having a tough time saying yes or made an effort to keep more of a yes stance as you ventured into the world recently? Tell me about it here or below.
Jeremi McManus is a Relationship Coach, Psychotherapist, and Couples Therapist who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.