For years, I’ve had an ongoing conflict with a family member. It’s a conflict that I think many of us can identify with. The issue, in a nutshell, is that this other person believes that I should be providing something for her that (she believes) I am not providing. And, she believes that not providing this for her makes me, essentially, a bad person and someone she can’t trust.
For a long time, I worked hard to provide what she wanted, what she was demanding, not necessarily because I wanted to, but because I felt I should. But no matter how much I gave, it was never enough and I was never acknowledged or experienced by her as the person who was offering what she needed.
I was constantly arguing my case for why she was wrong about me, wrong for blaming me; I continued telling her how much I was doing, why she should appreciate me. But it never made a difference. I was forever stuck in the role of the one who wouldn’t provide what she really needed.
After what felt like eons of giving and giving and continually being told and experienced as the one that wasn’t giving, I started to feel differently. I started to feel like I shouldn’t have to provide these things that she demanded from me and felt entitled to. I started to argue with my own sense of should and rethink what I should be willing to offer. I also started to argue with her about whether or not it was right or fair for her to expect this service from me.
And so, for the next few years, we remained locked in a new battle, namely, who was right about whether or not I should have to offer the kind of help she required. I said I shouldn’t have to and she said I should. What was the truth?
More time passed but we both held our ground, each of us growing more stuck in our positions, convinced of our rightness. Resentment infiltrated our relationship from top to bottom.
But then something truly unexpected happened, for me. Something simple but utterly profound. I don’t know what it will mean for the relationship, but I know that it’s opened up infinite space inside me, a deep okayness and strength, and thoroughly changed my reality.
What happened was this: I realized that at the bottom of this lifelong battle with this woman was a simple truth, a truth that had been shunned, stepped over, stepped around, ignored, and never allowed to the table. I can say it out loud now, scream it from the rooftops, and here’s what it sounds like: I do not want to be responsible for providing what she needs.
It’s not that I shouldn’t have to (that’s a truth that depends on one’s inner universe), it’s not that I have been responsible and it’s gone unacknowledged; it’s far simpler than all that. I don’t want it—that’s the whole story.
‘I don’t want to’ requires no further dialogue, explanation, or justification. It sounds like a small turn, like something I already knew, but it was a revelation. It was a truth that for decades had been forced to hide in the shadows of should and shouldn’t; buried under all the effort, the thousands of words, arguments, and tsunamis of fear and guilt. This truth had been denied permission to be heard or even to exist.
As long as I was still relying on the argument that I shouldn’t have to, I was still dependent on her and everyone else to feel solid in my choice. The strength of my own truth didn’t yet belong to me. It was still a truth of consensus, one that had to be agreed upon, and thus something that her rejection was able to undermine.
That I could never be validated in the idea that it wasn’t fair to ask this of me, that I shouldn’t have to, meant that I could never really stand in my own shoes.
What freed me was that simple but awe-inspiring shift in awareness and perspective, the appearing of the real truth, the ‘I don’t want to’ reality. In that moment of awakening to my own not wanting, I realized that this truth more than any other had been the unacknowledged, unsafe to acknowledge key to unraveling the whole knot. It wasn’t about not being appreciated for it; it wasn’t about winning the fight that I shouldn’t have to. It was just about discovering the plain and simple ‘I don’t want to.’
Remarkably, ‘I don’t want to’ is not up for dialogue, discussion, or agreement. This truth is not a truth by consensus. It’s mine wholly, and to some degree, non-negotiable. When I found my ‘I don’t want to,’ I found my own two feet planted firmly on the ground, weighted and strong. I found clarity and with it, freedom. This other person no longer held the power to allow or deny me my truth.
What I’ve noticed since this awakening is that I am far more able to look at this other person without resentment. What is is and I don’t have to defend it anymore. And simultaneously, I don’t feel the same fear; fear of the guilt inspired by her belief about what I should be willing to offer, fear of being accused of being bad.
Oddly, it actually feels like I can enjoy her a whole lot more as well. The truth, awakened in me, allows me to look at this other person in the eyes, and stand in the light of what’s true, for me. Where it will take us in the relationship, I have no idea, but whatever happens, ‘I don’t want to’ has, for me, turned out to be the get out of jail key to freedom.
Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, author, public speaker, and workshop leader. For more information, visit NancyColier.com