How I learned to love the word "no"

I've been dog-sitting a shiba inu this week, and I've decided if you want really want to learn boundaries, shiba's are fine teachers.

This breed of dog reacts strongly to the word "no." They take it as a personal affront. They make good teachers because you have to be 100 percent committed to your boundary to set a limit with a shiba inu.

The problem most of us have with our boundaries, is we lack commitment to "no."

I believe commitment to our boundaries, our own rules, our own use of "no" are essential. I find it interesting that young children in every culture around the world develop a sense of "no" as toddlers. It is as if we are biologically equipped with refusal skills. In our backpack for life, all of us have an inner "no."

Whole cultures have developed to shake the "no" out of people. History proves again and again that humanity will find its way back to "no."

Having an inner yes and an inner no are essential for finding our way through relationships at home, at work, everywhere.

It sounds so simple, a yes and a no, but it is very complicated. We like yes. We struggle with no. We have a hard time accepting that when we say no to something in our life, we may need to radically change. We may need to move, leave a job, leave a relationship.

Sometimes we bury our inner no because we don't want it to be true.

We wait for yes. Yes is full of energy, willingness and hope.

Yes is positive, optimistic. There are claims that it is even good for your health. Let's face it, yes has convinced us that it is easier, more bearable, than no.

Don't be fooled by this illusion. If you look back at all your instances of yes you will see that these too involve hard work.

The problem that most people run into is they don't really like the bitter taste of no. I fell in love with the word no years ago. I admit, it wasn't easy at first. I had to throw off years of conditioning. I had to unbury some truth. On my way to looking for my no, I learned all the ways I avoided it. I learned all my tricks. I was amazed at how far I would go, how much I would sacrifice, before saying no. I decided to embrace no, save myself a lot of time and trouble, and go to it as soon as I recognize it.

I made a place, a welcoming place in my life for no, and stopped resisting, ignoring, burying it.

Now, in therapy, I work with many people on figuring out how they relate to their own yes and no.

My week with the shiba inu is nearing an end. She hasn't exactly agreed to my boundaries. All she knows for now is that if I say no, I mean it, and I will stand firm on that.

This summer check for the local Women on Whidbey event June 30 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts where I will be sharing more on the topic of boundaries. There will be no shiba inus there, but plenty of women sharing on great topics.

Sarri Gilman is a therapist and freelance writer living on Whidbey Island and director of Leadership Snohomish County. Her column on living with meaning and purpose runs every other Tuesday in The Herald. You can e-mail her at column appeared March 27, 2012