This is an interesting and eye opening question for sure. It was for me at least. One of my spiritual advisors asked me why I was feeling the need to explain myself in a fairly innocuous situation. I looked at her somewhat shocked, and didn’t answer. I had no idea I was even doing it, let alone why I was doing it. She said to me,”you never have to explain or justify yourself to anyone”. The simplicity of her statement soothed me, but at the same time shook me. After the truth of what she said sunk in, l observed that I had been doing it all the time. Everyone around me was doing it. Not only that, but everyone around me was programmed to expect others to justify and explain themselves. I had now become aware of a prevalent cycle of behavior I had never seen before.
One of the most common examples of this is when you are invited somewhere. Let’s say you are busy, or just plain don’t want to go. Take a moment to think about how you would respond. Most of us have been programmed to explain our reasons for not attending. What is your default response? I was surprised by mine. I had been responding mindlessly and with no awareness of what I was doing. We are taught by our elders, and society in general; to put others ahead of ourselves, be concerned how we make others feel, protect others from feelings of hurt. While being considerate of others is virtuous and important, it can sometimes be ill-advised or misused. I believe this can be said when referring to this example. Once again, it is subtle, yet no less true. When we feel the need to explain ourselves to others, we are functioning under a belief that they can’t handle being told “no”, or they can’t handle the truth. Therefore when we explain ourselves to another, we are communicating the idea that they can’t handle it. They are fragile. They aren’t strong enough, or mature enough. Keep in mind, this is all happening at the subconscious level. While it’s subconscious, the message is still being sent; “You need to be made to feel better about me declining your invitation, because you are fragile and can’t handle me just saying no”. That causes the other person to believe they need to be given a reason. Thus the cycle has started.
The cycle doesn’t stop there. It goes a step further. There is something else that causes us to justify ourselves. We feel it is not enough for us to say “no thank you”. We somehow need to make sure we convince the other party of why we can’t come. We are needing their approval. We are needing them to accept our reasons. It is so subtle. Unless you take a step back to look at it truthfully, you may miss it. I certainly did. This puts us in a place of disempowerment. Of lack. Of needing another’s approval. At its root, is the belief that it’s not enough for us to say “no thank you”. We need someone outside of ourselves to validate us and our reasons. This gives the other person power over us. This can be illustrated by what would happen if the person said in response to our reason, “That’s a dumb reason. I don’t see why you still can’t come.” How would we feel? Uncomfortable? Rejected? Invalidated? Would we be hurt somehow? If we’re being honest, most of us would feel a negative emotion.
We also feel the need to justify things to ourselves. It’s the same pattern, for the same reasons. We are communicating to ourselves that we need a reason. We soothe ourselves by given reason upon reason. Notice thought patterns with yourself. For me a great example of this is when I am feeling tired. Sometimes it affects my activity level, participation in things, or I just want to nap. I find myself thinking, “Well I did go to bed late last night”, “It is allergy season”, or “I did wake up a few times in the night”. Explaining it and justifying it sends the message that it’s not ok for me to feel tired. That I did something wrong that needs to be fixed. When in truth I could just think, “I’m feeling tired today”. Thus giving myself permission to be tired, and not feel the urge to explain it, or more importantly fix it; as if it’s not ok for me to feel tired. This approach facilitates self-acceptance and self-care.
I invite you to experiment this week. That’s what I’ve been doing. Practice just saying “no thank you” if you’re not able to attend something. Add a “thank you for the invite” or a “thank you for thinking of me” if that feels better to you. Be aware if you do this in other conversations for other reasons. What if it was always enough for you to say “yes” and “no”? With no other expectations or baggage? How freeing would that be? How empowering? How simple?
Then I challenge you to take the experiment a level deeper. When do you feel the need to justify yourself to you? Can you identify a range of ways you do this; from something very small to something larger? What if you could honor and accept yourself no matter how you felt, and no matter what you did or didn’t want to do?
Let your “yes” be “yes”, and your “no” be “no”. (Matthew 5:37)
Be impeccable with your word. (Don Miguel Ruiz)
With love and belief,