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Session Four​: The Myth of Being Open (all the time)

If you don't have a NO your YES is meaningless.


  • Why does NO feel so hard to say

  • How do we say NO - practical suggestions

  • What does NO feels like in our bodies

  • Why we get sick if we can't say NO

  • When we say NO what are we saying YES to

In theatre there’s a rule that states we must say "yes, and" when improvising.

"The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.


Now, obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.


As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?


The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill. But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere." 

This is good advice, especially when we're actually really truly in agreement and onboard with what is being proposed to us.


Conversely I watch people "disappear themselves" because they have no boundaries, stretching themselves in relationships and work to be everything to everyone all the time.


I don't so much worry about people "finding their YES" because I feel once people have a true NO, and are able to set boundaries to keep themselves safe, their YES will step forward. 

What the heck are boundaries (NO) anyway?

I was a counsellor for years and still couldn't wrap my head around this word until someone said this.

"Boundaries are simply being a good friend to yourself."

How do you know if you struggle with finding your no?


-when an interaction bothers you you often think and talk about the other person’s perspective and where they’re coming from (eg. my mom had a really hard life, there's a reason she behaved the way she did.)

-when you feel angry you rationalize it away or assume you're overreacting, "I shouldn't feel this way, there's no real reason for it."

-you don’t feel like you have your own skin.

-you find yourself resentful and talk about it with your friends. 

-you have a hard time telling someone what you need or don’t even know what you need.

-you have a hard time understanding what you want, even for supper sometimes.

-you feel unclear and fuzzy a lot of the time and get caught solving esoteric problems.

-you want to run away from situations and the thought of addressing them directly freaks you out.

-you don’t say anything and then explode.

-you work really really really hard in relationships.

The somatic perspective of saying NO

It's easy enough to say "just say no." However, if we weren't allowed to express "no" in an environment that welcomed and supported us as kids, our bodies are going to have a heck of a time getting that word out our months or even considering that is' an option. I have seen people squirm, tense up, and recoil at the thought of saying "no." A classic is smiling when we're angry and trying to say no.


If this is the body reaction we can guess then that somewhere in your history saying no meant bad consequences, and by bad I mean something as mundane as a slight break in the connection between you and your dad where you were shamed or blamed in some way. "You're my kid and I like you as long as you're cooperative." 

Our NO is connected to our primary energy (sometimes experienced as anger). Often, if our no wasn't respected as a child and we weren't not given allowance to be ourselves, then we move from the possibility of fight or flight to freeze (a collapse or helpless response often associated with what we've come to call "depression"). In order to heal we must begin to activate the NO or primal energy in our body and begin to move ourselves out of the collapse. This happens slowly and with good support in the room. It's a process that doesn't work so well alone as being in the presence of another, while experiencing anger, is a large part of the healing.

Myths about boundaries:  

  • Boundaries don't always feel good (initially).

It often feels we are doing something "bad", "wrong," or "mean" when we start to set boundaries. We are so used to caring for others needs that caring for our own feels foreign and we might feel guilty. I often describe unhealthy guilt as the 'leaning out' of our own needs and into the needs and assumed feelings of others, taking responsibility for them.

  • Just say "no". Unless we're in a dangerous situation, we never "just say no."

In the resources you will find some tips on how to kindly and clearly say no. It often helps to know clearly what the NO is allowing us to say YES to.

  • You can't love someone and set a boundary.

Before I'm about to set a boundary with someone I care about I make sure I'm very clear in my body of two things. One, it's ok to say NO in relationships. Two, I love this person and this NO is in an effort to bring more connection to our relationship (again, what am I saying YES to by saying NO). I may even say something like, "I love you and this is not okay with me, and I love you."

  • Boundaries are one-sided conversations (I'm setting this boundary and you must comply).

Often conversations about boundaries may be had through inquiry. Ie. What are our feelings in this house around the division of labour? What do you believe is fair? What were you taught is fair?

  • Boundaries must be iron clad and unchanging.

The healthiest boundaries in a safe environment or relationship have some movement to them. Think of the classic example of the tree, it has to have some give to it or it will easily fall in a storm. 

  • That boundaries and openness are black and white.

I must be open all the time with everyone or I shouldn't let anyone in. We must be discerning in the moment to moment interactions. What do I need to share with this person? Are they trustworthy? ow clear must I be or can I be open to negotiating this boundary with this person.​

What's the big deal anyway?

If we don't say no our body will, is what Gabor Mate argues in his book "When the Body Says No."


We will either start to assert ourselves in our relationships, expressing our emotions, needs and wants, or we will direct our no inward, giving ourselves the message that "I'm not ok and shouldn't have these emotions, needs or wants." When we direct it inwards, the body eventually says NO. This manifests as depression, illness, and auto-immune diseases. Our work and relationships struggle and we may feel trapped in our own lives.

Gabor Mate argues that saying NO is more than squeaking out the word when we need to. Finding our NO actually means developing a high degree of emotional competence.


“Emotional competence requires

• the capacity to feel our emotions, so that we are aware when we are experiencing stress;

• the ability to express our emotions effectively and thereby to assert our needs and to maintain the integrity of our emotional boundaries;

• the facility to distinguish between psychological reactions that are pertinent to the present situation and those that represent residue from the past. What we want and demand from the world needs to conform to our present needs, not to unconscious, unsatisfied needs from childhood. If distinctions between past and present blur, we will perceive loss or the threat of loss where none exists; and

• the awareness of those genuine needs that do require satisfaction, rather than their repression for the sake of gaining the acceptance or approval of others.


Stress occurs in the absence of these criteria, and it leads to the disruption of homeostasis. Chronic disruption results in ill health.” 

― Gabor MatéWhen the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection

  1. YES + NO

  EXTERNAL RESOURCES:          ​​​

  • a written (more cognitive) exercise


Write for half an hour using the following as prompts:

  • I need...

  • I want...

  • I need to say no to ____ in order to say yes to _____.

  • The damnit list: I  ______  damn it.

  • Someone you know who has your back and would stand up for you (present or past).

  • body-based practice

This is an exercise you can use when you need to take a stand or find your voice. Once you understand it it takes about 3 seconds and can be done throughout the day. 

After you've done this first exercise and have grounded yourself into your body, you may want to go directly into this second exercise. If you didn't grow up with the sense that you are allowed to say no in your relationships and stand up for yourself, it's often helpful to resource yourself using the image of someone in your life or does, or who did, have your back. This allows your nervous system to settle and feel supported.



Grounding - Lisa Voth
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a person who has your back - Lisa Voth
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