With thousands of charts and consultations to look back on, there are certain key issues that many, many people seem to struggle with. If I had to identify one of the top three it would be the difficulty people have with saying the word “NO”.

Why is that? I think there are lots of reasons. One is that NO feels prohibitive and we live in a culture where denial of any kind feels akin to an infringement of personal rights. Consider all the messages around consensus, such as “Getting to Yes,” or it’s “It’s a Win/Win situation” or “Don’t take NO for an answer”. In other words, there appears to be a rather powerful subconscious message that saying NO is somehow wrong. But common sense would suggest otherwise, which leads to quote that I particularly like:

“A NO that is constructive is a thousand times better than a YES that is not.”

So how do we know the difference and what does it have to do with astrology? The fact is that you can’t know what is constructive or destructive if you don’t know yourself, if you don’t know what your interests are, if you don’t know what you want. In general, clarity of Self tends to reduce confusion about when and why to say NO. But it’s important to understand the social constructions around the topic: because NO is perceived as prohibitive and negative, many of us are uncomfortable saying it (as well as uncomfortable hearing it) and start avoiding the word. And this confusion cuts across every relationship and circumstance: partners, friends, families, co-workers, etc.

In regards to a natal chart, there are lots of ways this difficulty with NO can develop. For example, it can be a temperament issue, like an excess of water in the chart making you too flexible, unable to take a stand. You may be willing, or simply unable to stop yourself, from giving up too much power. Here’s another scenario: you may be deeply divided about what you want. If your Sun is in Aries and your Moon is in Pisces, the internal dialog may alternate between “It’s all about me. No, wait, it’s all about you.” That’s a lot of tension to carry and potentially leads to behavior that is self-defeating, or that sends mixed messages.

So the need to know yourself is the prerequisite to knowing when and where to say NO. But it doesn’t address the issue of learning how to say NO.

To begin, let me propose a handy rule:

Start with a small NO.

If you’re having difficulty with NO, begin by becoming comfortable using NO in situations where the stakes are not high. Why is that? Because you’re basically building a muscle. If you didn’t work out for a long time, you wouldn’t being with a hundred pound weight, you’d start with a weight that was within the range of your strength and work your way up. The same with NO. Use it in situations that are fairly easy. Like, NO, I don’t want to go there to eat. Or NO, that’s not how I want to spend the afternoon. Basically, you’re looking for any situation where the pushback is not likely to be significant or forceful. Which brings us to the second rule of learning to say NO:

You don’t need a reason.

The fact is, a lot of people become stuck or defensive when their NO is challenged. But in reality, you don’t actually need a reason not want to do something. You don’t need a reason that the other party likes, understands, agrees with or any other reaction they might give. Keep in mind, if you’re having difficulty saying NO, then you’re likely to lose force by explaining your NO. This is again, by the way, the reason you start small. You want to become comfortable saying the word and you want it to mean something. To go back to last week’s quotation:

“A NO that is constructive is a thousand times better than a YES that is not.”

If you know what you want, if you know where you’re going, if you know what is in your best interests, then saying NO is not destructive. But the critical issue is knowing yourself.