No Means No

This morning, over breakfast, my older son(S1) asked if Greg and I ever get mad at each other. Of course, I did not offer a short response to this. I asked if he has ever seen us disagree and he said: “yes but you guys never get mad. ” What an excellent opportunity to explain that it is possible to disagree (with trusted others) without becoming angry, being, mean or disrespectful, which is something I only learned in recovery.

This reminds me: When we were living in CA, and the boys were 4 and 5, we had a neighbor friend named Ethan. Ethan was zen, reasonable and kind, this gentle Vietnamese little Buddha of a guy. I would always offer Ethan food and more food and he would politely decline. When I kept asking, he would say so wisely: “Maggie, No means no.” And I would just love it(without knowing why). and I would repeat it and still chide him to eat more than he wanted, just so I could hear him say it again.

But see, when you grow up surrounded by people who do not listen when you say no….who pretend you did not say it or attack you for saying it, you do not learn about the boundary of NO. So, tiny little Ethan was my first model of healthy boundaries via the direct statement of “NO”. No is a complete sentence and it is not mean, or a crime.

Give it a try. You are welcome. Now, I am your life coach.

So, I reminded S1 of our friend Ethan and then went on to tell him of the only time I recall Greg ever getting angry with me, and still not being mean. We were in our first year of dating, and in the car. I thought something was funny and reached over to grab and squeeze his knee as I was laughing (something I do—grab you when I am laughing). He said calmly “Please do not squeeze my knee”. Because, this was unfamiliar behavior, I did what I knew, I reached over and squeezed it again, asking; “you mean like this?”(so assholey, but this is what I knew). And he was like; “Seriously, I do not like that. Please do not do it again, ever.” Mind blown. I kid you not, that I said these words to him: “Oh my gawd, where did you learn that? Did you fucken invent that?” I had not ever observed a person to honestly and directly say No in this way. Without heat, volume, profanity and totally serious about it. Greg is amazing at saying No to me and I am getting better at saying No appropriately and honoring it when it is said directly, to me. Directness is essential. Passive aggressive no is more damaging than aggressive aggressive no because it creates unspeakable conflict and confusion…but looks better on the surface.

I can think of little which makes me feel more loved and safe than knowing that No means No. We are each allowed to say it and mean it without being mean or being hurt. Here is an example I did not share with S1, but hope to remember and so, will share here. In our first months of getting to know each other, Greg and I were kissing and he did something with his finger along the edge of my ear.(This was before he taught me the magic of NO). I pulled away with his face between my hands and said “do not ever fucken do that tickly bullshit again, please”. He processed it with grace, zero resistance. Later, I asked him “That was a little harsh, huh?” Without judgment, he replied: “Yeh you prolly could have been a lil more gentle about it.” I asked for an example. Boundaries 101. He said: “Maybe, like, hey I do not like that.” How could it be that I could say I did not like something and a person would stop???? Is this for real? The exact opposite of my family and marriage experiences. Boundaries, Gentle Truth Speaking, Consideration, Intimacy……These are the miracles of recovery. Without the work I am doing, I would never have appreciated someone as healthy as Greg. I love when he says No to me. I love learning how to say No better and that people who are healthy will respect it, even if they do not like it. People really show you who they are when you say No to them.

Favorite and I get big kicks out of saying No, cleverly to each other. I look forward to a time when saying no to my children will be more effective. And when No really will mean no. I am a work in progress. The second part to this lesson of No, is learning to discriminate between when a person has displeased us and when a person has genuinely done harm.. Having a clear and direct boundary and Saying No are healthy— not harmful….but definitely won’t win any prizes for people pleasing. And if people require me to please them, they are not my people. That is neither my job nor intent.

Much Love,
Magda Gee

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