Respecting and valuing “no”

By AVP Educator | 2019-12-09 | Commentary

Image of a person with their hand extended out in front of them with their fingers spread out as if to signify "stop" or "no." Behind the person is in parking lot that has colourful walls

Rejection… for some folks, just the thought of it makes their hearts ache, their bellies rumble and their hands sweat. However, in many ways rejection is a regular part of everyday life. Since we aren’t mind readers who can anticipate other people’s needs, desires and boundaries, it’s inevitable that we will receive a ‘no’ from someone. The reality is that the better we get at practicing consent, the more often we might encounter “no’s” as the people in our life have more space to reflect on what they want, as well as feel more comfortable setting boundaries with us.

Whenever we run our Understanding Consent Culture workshop, I try to take a moment to encourage people to think about rejection. Part of practicing consent is learning to receive and respect people’s “no’s,” while realizing that our reactions to someone’s answer can impact whether they feel comfortable enough to give us an honest answer. If we react with attempts to pressure them, or respond with anger, hurt, or even great disappointment, we run the risk of creating an environment where someone may not feel able to say anything but “yes.” This is especially true when there are power dynamics at play within our relationships that already make saying “no” difficult for the other person. Taking time to think through our own feelings about being “rejected” can help us manage our reactions and be more open to any response. 

It can even be helpful to practice responses to receiving a “no,” because a positive response is unfortunately rare but extremely powerful as it can convey to another person that we not only hear their “no” but that we respect and value them sharing their boundaries with us.

Here are some ideas for responding to “no”:

  • “Thanks for being honest”
  • “Okay, cool”
  • “I really appreciate you being direct”
  • “Thanks for setting a boundary”
  • “Okay, I won’t ask you again. If you change your mind though you can let me know”

Now, I don’t want to deny that hearing “no” and feeling rejected can cause all sorts of emotional reactions including disappointment. What I am suggesting is that we examine the times that our feelings about rejection are due to a sense of entitlement to other peoples’ emotions, time and energy. Ultimately, no one is responsible for fulfilling our wants (things that we enjoy doing, that give us pleasure or turn us on) but ourselves. While it can be exciting and empowering to share these things with others, other people are never responsible for fulfilling our wants. This is sometimes contrary to what we’ve been taught, or the dominant expectations that we see portrayed in TV and movies for various forms of relationships. For example, in movies, rejection is often not taken seriously and not part of everyday life; if it is portrayed, rejection is the motivation for a character to just “try harder” to get someone to say yes. Receiving a “no” is not an invitation to pressure someone. Boundaries are healthy for all forms of relationships, whether they’re with with coworkers, friends, family, or intimate partners. Just like we can never meet everyone’s wants, other people will never meet all of our’s. 

I’m a strong believer in the power of self-investigation and inquiry as a means to support and better care for those around us. So the following are some thoughts and suggestions for interrogating our own responses to rejection.

Ask yourself:

  • Why am I feeling disappointed/angry/sad?
  • How can I meet this want in a different way? (For example, could I ask a different friend to hangout with me?)
  • What sorts of expectations did I have for this relationship? Have I checked in with the other person to make sure we are on the same page?
  • Is there something I can learn from this rejection? What can I learn about my want or someone else’s? 

Consider:

  • It’s easy to be hard on yourself after rejection, but try to be mindful of your inner critic that might be telling you unhelpful or untrue things about the situation, or catastrophize by telling you this one situation says something about your worth or how it will always be. 
  • Being mindful of rejection is not the same as suppressing emotions or bottling them all up. Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling. 
  • It can be helpful to take some time alone to process your feelings, or to find support from people in your life. (It’s important to find people other than the person who has just set a boundary.)
  • If you’re struggling with feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety or depression, it might be helpful to seek out supports such as a help line, a counsellor, or a peer-based support.

Feeling through rejection can be messy and hard work, so remember to be gentle with yourself.

If you want to talk more about rejection and consent join us in an Understanding Consent Culture workshop or our Men’s Circle and remember you can always come by the Anti-Violence Project for support. We’re here for you and able to talk further if you have any questions or thoughts.

Feeling through rejection

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