Time and again I have worked on facilitating my clients learn how to say no. Saying no to what is expected of them, but more importantly saying no to what is not expected of them and yet they end up saying yes to it.

As children we are taught saying yes to everything .To what food our parents tell us to eat, when to shower and what clothes to buy and wear, to our choice of school, who to meet and not meet, vacation spot, you name it, and a ‘yes’ is seen as a sign of obedience and good values. It’s very rare that children are given the choice of saying no and it to be accepted gracefully by parents.

As we grow older the context changes but the process of saying yes stays the same, whether it is the choice of career, life partner, and other adult decisions. For the majority this is the case and it’s a rare case where parents empower their children from the get go by giving them unconditional choices to make their own decisions and a choice between yes and no.

What we learn as children is that a no would mean conflict, arguments, negativity, reprimand from the parents. At times, children compensate by saying yes for their parents’ unhealthy relationships also. A friend once told me that because her dad said no to her mother for anything and everything, she compensated by saying yes to all that was asked of her.

So where does this so-called good parenting lead to? As adults, afraid of conflict and to avoid being criticised by others or at the risk of not being liked by them, we become yes-man.

In Pakistan especially, children are taught not to question authority, be it a parent or teacher or an uncle etc. “It is rude to ask questions from an elder” (Baron se sawaal nahin kerte batameezi hoti hai). So when even exploring the possibility of the yes that is expected of them, these children will become adult people pleasers who feel that just like they earned their parents’ love and acceptance by always listening to them back then so will others now.

This unhealthy process gets further entrenched in their psyche as people approve of this and call them understanding and easy going etc.

But it would be naïve to assume that saying yes all the time would not affect these individuals in some form or factor. Because it is such an unnatural thing to do it might come out in anxiety and depression.

To continue to say yes because others expect of you is an exhausting and dysfunctional place to be in. It’s also important to understand that when you say yes to someone else you say no to yourself time and again. You form unrealistic expectations of yourself and disempower your own place in the world and who you are, and it is self-harming in so many ways.

Nowhere am I suggesting that compromise isn’t a good thing. Of course, one should incorporate others’ wishes time and again; this world is all transactions and you give some and you take some.

But some people feel anxious even when considering no. I also feel saying yes comes from a place of fear of losing someone or something. If I say no to my boss for the extra work he gives me might make me lose my job, or I if I say no to a friend who always asks me to pick her up might make me lose her friendship or if I say no to my partner he will love me less.

It all invariably boils down to the fear of losing relationships and loved ones. But think about this. You were conditioned to say yes and that actually made your first and most significant relationship conditional. You learned that you will be loved only if you become a robot without your own say, feelings being a factor in that relationship with your parents. You continue to use the same dynamic now with your adult relationships firmly believing that love and acceptance will only come with saying yes. You will be respected and valued more as a person if you say yes and it validates how you value your own self.

Break free from these conditions that you have implemented on yourself and if you really want honest relationships then start with saying yes less often and a no more frequently and find out if being yourself is enough for your loved ones without dancing to others’ tunes. Most likely you are scared to get an answer to that question because of years of being conditioned to think one way.

But most likely you will be surprised by the answer you get that can free yourself to be the real you and accepted as that with a yes and no both.

Zara Maqbool

The writer is a UK-CPCAB (Counselling and Psycho therapy Awarding Body) registered individual and couple psycho therapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at zaramaqbool