Breathe Issue 24

Yes, I can babysit. Yes, I can host book club this week. Yes, I can go out for a drink. Yes, yes, yes. I can do lots of things. But. Do I really want to? No. Is it the most convenient option? No. Do I really have time? No. And, really, in whose best interests is it anyway? Not mine.

This might be familiar territory. Those situations when a relative, associate or friend puts in a reasonable – even sociable – request to which an affirmative response seems the only option. To do otherwise would risk appearing unhelpful or unfriendly. To do otherwise, to say no, would be negative and risk rejection. Or would it? Answer: no. Why? It’s complicated. Because yes isn’t always positive and no isn’t always negative. It’s more nuanced and emotionally fraught than that.

To say yes to a family member’s plea for a babysitter when body and mind are crying out for an evening lying on the sofa listening to music isn’t positive; to say yes to an associate’s request to take over book club-hosting duties despite being on a late shift isn’t positive; to say yes to a friend’s offer of a drink even if it means missing night-class isn’t positive. What might be more positive here? Answer: no.

It doesn’t mean that alternative options can’t be offered – another relative who’s at a loose end might be able to cover the babysitting; book club can easily skip a week; and how about another night for those drinks? But it does signal a positive affirmation of self-worth.

There are, of course, times when no might be negative, especially if it comes through fear – of failure, of imperfection, of not being good or worthy enough. These might be identified as the instances when the heart says yes but the mind will allow only the word no to be articulated. At these times it can help to pay close attention to how the body feels and to question if an inner-critic is holding back personal progress.