AND Separate Can From Will

October 19th, 2014

I have talked with several clients this week, all of whom are extremely capable, all of whom wake up at night questioning their decisions. Could they have done better? Could they have responded differently? And the list goes on.

A fascinating (to me) linguistic source of eroded self esteem is the unconscious use of can in reasoning that can lead to unconscious decisions. What I mean is that, as children we learned to do things we may not have wanted to do. We responded out of obligation to do as others, whom we wanted to please, expected. We developed an unconscious response system, particularly the women among us, to respond to others’ requests in terms of whether we are able to meet their needs or demands. AND just because we grew up doesn’t mean that the unconscious response system went away.

As a result, if we believe we can do something another has asked of us, we usually tell ourselves that we must do so because we have no good reason not to do as requested. What we fail to do is check with our hearts to ask ourselves whether we want to do what is asked, whether it is to attend an event or do a favor.

More often than not a voice in our heads, unconsciously learned as children, tells us that wanting is not noble and it is therefore selfish to choose to do what we really want to do—take time for ourselves, for example. If we were to step back and assess the situation objectively, we might recognize that we are not children and no longer need to respond from obligation.

It is tine to acknowledge those choices that we know supports our living from our greatest strengths. Sometimes choosing rest over helping another person with a situation is the healthier alternative and teaches others how we value our energy and health. It is not only not selfish to make such a choice; it is also healthier and more conscious to know what serves the highest and best in us so that we can bring the best of who we are to whomever and whatever we choose to invest our energy in serving.

For this reason it is helpful and healthy for every one of us adults to acknowledge that just because we technically can or could do something does not mean that it is a wise choice to do so. We need to consider any request for our time and energy in the context of what supports our highest selves—and often that does not conform to what others want from us. When we think in terms of what we can do and choose only in those terms we alternate from feeling stuck, as victims, if we say yes, telling ourselves we have no other choice to feeling guilty for saying no because technically we are able, and saying I can’t is a lie.

What is needed is to give ourselves permission to acknowledge within ourselves that yes we are able, and no that is not what we choose. Simple phrases such as, that doesn’t work for me right now, maintain the kindness without giving our power and self esteem to others to determine. We are accountable for our choices AND it is our work to make the best choices for us, whether others agree or not.

So the next time someone asks something of you and your body screams that it is not time to agree to one more thing, remember that just because you can doesn’t mean you will. And feel good about whatever you choose.

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