As a two-year-old girl with a big attitude, big personality, and even bigger mouth that did not have any filter, my sassy little self had no problem telling people NO whenever my pride saw fit. I was always half the size of everyone around me, but my ego was 10 out of 10 twice as big as everyone else’s. I had a fiery temper, was as stubborn as they come, and toddled around with an iron fist, which would crack your nose if you so much tried to push me around. I was a fierce little spitfire and shamelessly allowed my Viking blood to flare more times than not. My poor parents had a wild one on their hands, that’s for sure!
Saying no is one of the first things we learn to say as little tots. If you are anything like me, you probably have cringy memories of your pride getting the best of you and out exploded some puerile bratty behavior, like telling your Mom no when she asked you to apologize for hitting your brother. I remember during episodes of my discipline my pride always dug me into deeper holes until eventually, by the grace of God, I began to feel sorry for those I hurt and could see them as loveable people and not just my enemy whenever they angered me. Thankfully my parents were able to teach me how important the faith is in moments when I would feel my temper boil and once my little heart began to find peace through prayer, my monstrous pride began to be overcome. I can’t say it’s gone entirely. I do get fired up when someone crosses a line with me, challenges me, thinks they can bully me, or threatens to take away my Swedish Fish candy. I still have no problem speaking my mind, but I like to think I have matured in my approach since my terrible twos.
Learning to tell people no became a different story for me though as I grew older and got roughed up a bit through relationships. I don’t know about you, but somewhere between throwing the word NO effortlessly around like confetti as a child to feeling so much guilt as a young adult whenever someone asked me of something and I wanted to say no, I lost the ability to feel okay doing so. It could have been something as little as dropping my homework and going to see a movie with a friend because she asked me to when, really, I had way too much homework due, I was coming down with the worst head cold, and I had a test the next day. I would sacrifice taking care of myself just to take care of someone else. I absolutely believe in the value of selfless love, dying to yourself, and going that extra mile for others without any selfish motive or anything in it for you. I am a big believer in being virtuous, gracious, generous with our time, and making beautiful sacrifices for others. Along with that though, I also believe it is important to be able to recognize the difference between doing a good deed with great love and doing a good deed with great intention, but failing to love ourselves (i.e. neglecting our health, our responsibilities, and our well-being, etc.) It took me a long time to let this really sink in.
I used to be the person who had so much backbone that saying no was second nature to me. I became the person who couldn't say no. It's scary where little decisions can get ya. When I couldn't say no, I was always committing to a million engagements, pouring myself into people’s projects, helping twenty people at once, running to and fro with whoever, adding more and more to my plate because if I dare say no to a single request I would feel incredibly guilty and selfish. I also felt I needed to step up to the plate when everyone else left someone high and dry. I refused to be part of abandoning someone and would emotionally invest myself so that their emotional needs could be met. I was everyone's shoulder to cry on, everyone's phone call away, everyone's go-to if they had a problem, everyone's fill-in for a need, and everyone's "best friend role" even when their energy sucked the life out of me. I felt like my pride was poking its ugly head in my way if I didn't spend time with someone, didn't make conversation with them, didn't excuse their passive aggressive jabs, and didn't be there for them even when they failed to treat me right. So what did I do? I did the unhealthiest thing an emotionally exhausted, used up, and naive girl does when they are clueless on when enough is enough. I would squash the urge to say no with a big smiley YES and off I would go on another coffee date, to another bar, on another car ride, running another errand, hosting another party, staying up to 4 in the morning with another heart to heart, and forfeiting my own needs. The needs of others were always at the forefront of my mind and I think many of you women can relate on this one. I was so caught up with telling anyone and everyone yes that I neglected my own health and failed to say yes to my wellness. I paid the price. It cost me my health, inner peace, joy, and quality of life.
I’m going to be real with you guys. I never had an epiphany where one day everything suddenly clicked and I regained the power of my voice and suddenly could understand exactly where this invisible line is drawn to differentiate when it is healthy to say yes and when it is healthy to say no. The lightbulb never went on for me. I hope it did with you, or maybe reading this it’ll hopefully flicker a bit. For typical me, it was running headfirst into a brick wall. (Not literally, although emotionally it sure felt like literally). I had run out of gas. I had been spreading myself too thin for too many years. I was on empty, unfulfilled, emotionally unhealthy, and really really confused with why I was feeling so ugh when all I seemed to do was love people. It was my rock bottom. You think the light bulb would have went on there, illuminating my mind with the obvious answer that I had been so busy loving everybody else that I had forgotten to first love myself, but it didn’t. After hitting the brick wall, rising from the ashes, and investing in a journey to rebuild a healthy sense of self, it was something I had to learn slowly.
Somewhere along the way I discovered that saying NO can actually be one of the healthiest forms of self-care. I remember disliking the guilt anytime I felt like it would be better if I just stayed in and rested. I remember feeling bad anytime I wanted to say no to someone because I honestly didn’t have the time. I remember feeling like I was rejecting someone if I was to turn down their idea. I remember feeling bothered that this pressure hovering over me had some kind of power over me. If you know me at all, I’m a big advocate for not falling victim and rising to victor in one’s life. These little emotional red flags were warning me that something wasn’t right here and that it’s not good to keep trying to pour out of an empty cup. I realized that in order for me to pour into the lives of others I first must pour life into my own well-being. This is through learning to say NO and feeling free to do so with no strings of guilt attached!
I put together a list of some valuable ways that helped me nurture this lost area within myself that I had been so disconnected from for so long. In other words, I had forgotten the power of my voice and the need to be intimately in tune with it. These solutions not only brought back my strength, but empowered me to take things further and to actually delight in the power of my words. I also included some bonus insight for you lovelies because I love ya and think psychology can boost everyone’s momentum!
1. PRACTICE SAYING NO WITH BABY STEPS
I highly suggest this for people who have been abused through co-dependent relationships and have a hard time connecting with their lost sense of self. Your own thoughts, own feelings, and own needs matter and by practicing to say no to little things that do not align with what matters to you will help you restore a healthy boundary between you and other people. Keep in mind that it is healthy to have different thoughts, different feelings, and different needs than your partner. You are your own person and that is a good thing! It may feel selfish and silly right now, but just by saying no to something as simple as how you spend your evening will add a little strength back in your voice.
2. YOUR HEALTH IS PRIORITY
Your health is more important than a drive-in movie, a night at the club, an errand downtown, a favor for a friend, or making someone happy. If they truly cared for you, they would be happy that you took care of your health first. If you need to stay home from the bar, be okay with that. If you need to call it an early night, be okay with that. If you need to have some relaxing YOU time, be okay with that. You need to take care of yourself because it is good for you and you need it. Giving yourself permission to rest, recoup, recharge, and enjoy your own company is a GOOD thing. You are refilling yourself with life and there is no shame in that.
Self-love and self-care are not selfish! Finding that you are worth pouring love into is a game-changer. When you cherish your worth it will begin to light the way to fulfilling your needs and getting back in your own good graces. You will fall deeper in love with the process and find yourself looking forward to giving yourself some peace of mind, some attention, and some love’n. For my simple solution to doing this well, read my article ONE SIMPLE SECRET TO LIKING YOURSELF BETTER. When you become habitual about expressing self-love warning signals will begin to appear on your radar when you are coming to a fork in the road and sense something unhealthy approaching. It won’t feel right in your soul and you’ll know what choice of path to take.
4. HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
Learning to say NO to toxicity is a must! This is saying no to abuse, no to codependency, no to mistreatment, no to bad influences, no to unloving friends, no to disrespect, no to pressure, no to pushy or invasive people, no to narcissists, no to needy, emotionally unstable, and destructive people, no to situations that pop the red flag, no to allowing unhealthy people access to your health, no to excusing unethical behavior, no to people crossing your boundaries, no to people crossing your values, and no to your impulse to ignore your gut. DO NOT IGNORE YOUR INTUITION! You have inherently GOOD intuition to keep you safe and healthy. LISTEN to it big time. Learning the importance of healthy boundaries will protect your well-being and keep you from giving toxicity access to your inner life. When we lock arms with someone who is harmful to our spirit and is detrimental to our health we lower our integrity bar and begin to find reasons to excuse their inappropriate behavior and permit them to mistreat us. Common lies we tell ourselves to excuse the damage: "He loves me though." "Oh she's always been that way." "He'll change if I love him long enough." "She seemed really sorry this time." Another classic example of lowering the integrity bar is when women excuse betrayal, lies, gossip, backstabbing, bullying, belittling, mocking, passive aggressive attacks, and other non virtuous behavior as “friendship”, and then carry on in catty war while the healthy, faithful, and fulfilling friendship they could have had if healthy boundaries were in place, burns to the ground. It takes two to tango of course, so when the other person crosses your healthy boundary and is unwilling to treat you well, astalavista baby! (Read more about the importance of who you choose to fill your life with in WHO YOU CHOOSE TO SURROUND YOURSELF WITH, YOU BECOME)
5. GET TO KNOW YOURSELF
Growing in self-awareness is really important because only by learning your needs, your likes, your dislikes, your wants, your sense of self, your personal space, and how you function as a human being will you know what is appropriate to add to your life and what will run you down or harm you. Grow in tune to your intuition and act upon it! Nourish it. Feed your spiritual life, emotional life, mind, and physical body with nourishment that will move you to growth. Spend time with just yourself. Understanding that everyone functions differently, we all have different energy levels, personality types, habits, strengths, weaknesses, and like to live life in different ways are good to keep in mind. What may be too much for you may be just right for someone else, and what may be not enough for you may be overwhelming someone else. Don’t feel ashamed if your workload doesn’t measure up to someone else’s and you’re already in tears while they juggle like the greatest circus act of all time. Don’t freak out if your plate has twice as many responsibilities than someone else’s and they seem to be losing it and you’re sitting here wondering if you’re not “in tune to something in you”. You’re fine. You’d be losing it too if you weren’t. Do what you need to do to be healthy and let them do their thing. Nobody’s alike and that’s what makes life so amusing.
6. YOU DON'T NEED TO GIVE A REASON
No means no. You don't need to explain your why every time you give someone an answer. You are not obligated to air all your personal business or need to justify why your answer is no. I think a lot of times when women feel guilty of telling someone no they feel they need to back up their answer with a long-winded explanation of their reasoning. It's not necessary. Letting them know your answer should be enough for them to back off from you and respect your decision. If someone is rude enough to press you for more personal information, push you more than is comfortable, or try to guilt you into their way, dig your heels in and push back. Don't be pressured into disclosing more than you want to or giving in because you feel you don't have a choice. A lot of manipulators (esp in sales or control freaks) will use making you feel awkward as a strategy to pull your yes out of you (aka your wallet if we're talking sales, or your consent to anything if we're talking relationship!). They'll keep coming back because they learned that persistence will get their way. They will sugarcoat disrespecting you with flowery compliments, highlights of the product, and glamorizing their motive. They will try to convince you that you want the product (if we're talking about sales here) even after you told them them that no you actually don't. Stop allowing their slimy tactics to control you. People give in easily when they feel uncomfortable. Stand your ground girl! If they won't respect you and can't accept a simple no don't accept the conversation. This also aligns with establishing healthy boundaries.
7. DANGERS OF INABILITY TO SAY NO
There are NOT just two types of people in this world that fall into the categories of 1. STRONG AND SELF-RESPECTED (able to say no without a problem) 2. A PUSH-OVER (can't ever stand their ground). Although these two types can be easily spotted and sadly #2 is targeted by all those manipulators, narcissists, control freaks, and bullies, a lot of times people fall somewhere in between. They stand their ground on certain subjects (values for instance), but find themselves always buying products from their friend's business because they feel bad telling her no even though they don't need the products or perhaps don't even care for them.
The dangers of inability to say no to little things slowly chips away at your ability to say no to bigger things. Ever thought you were a strong self-respected person, but somewhere down the road you woke up one day and realized you were in an abusive co-dependent relationship? It's little decisions that led you there. Of course you didn't make this big decision and throw away all your integrity, values, self-respect, and healthy life for a depressing, destructive, hurtful, empty, and abusive relationship where your spirit went to die. It were those little moments where instead of saying no, you found yourself saying yes. When you felt someone cross your boundary the very first time, but you excused it, your standards lowered just a wee bit. When someone spoke to you disrespectfully, but you let it slide, your integrity bar lowered a bit more. When someone mistreated you a little bit one day, then a little bit more the next day, then a bit more as time went on, then eventually a lot more, to the point of abuse, and each time you found a reason to believe some excuse they gave to somehow makeup for their behavior, you were losing your grip to your integrity bar. You were slowly losing sense of your self-worth. You were slowly becoming more emotionally dependent on them because your boundaries were slowly disintegrating. You were no longer relying on your own strength because it was slowly weakening. Scary stuff! I'll be diving much deeper in an upcoming article all about co-dependent relationships so stay tuned if this stuff resonates with you!
Meanwhile, I don't mean to scare you into thinking that if you can't say no to buying a beauty product you will end up in an abusive relationship. Of course not. It will lead you down a slippery slope of unhealthy living though and put you at risk for becoming sucked into unhealthy relationships. Little decisions make up your life. It's important to have a strong sense of self, strong backbone, and make healthy choices in order to produce healthy life patterns. Saying no is one of the best forms of self-care because it reestablishes your healthy boundaries, your sense of self and self-worth, and it teaches others how to respect you. If you do not have the strength to respect your drawn lines then others are not going to respect them either and will cross them.
So those are a few things that got me reconnected with my core, my voice, my healthy boundaries, and strengthened my stance uber much! I feel so much happier, so much more at peace, so much more grounded, and have not only regained my backbone, but have grown it to be twice as strong (imagine that!). I am also proud to say I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty when I choose to decline someone simply because I feel like it or I believe it’s best for me. I have dismissed toxic relationships, have shamelessly left unhealthy situations, have a healthy budget, intentionally feed myself healthy sources, and I feel good when I utilize my power and speak on what is good for me. I enjoy my me-time, nourish my needs, balance my workload without stressing to the point of breaking out (glowing skin is where it's at ya'll!), and find myself smiling more because I no longer struggle with saying no and actually feel freedom saying YES TO ME. I am proud of myself for successfully getting back in the driver seat of my life and going where I want to go and not desperately clinging to the back of someone else’s vehicle. I feel in control, powerful, and strongly clear in my intentions for the quality of life I want to cultivate. It’s a good feeling guys, and I want you to feel it too, especially if you got beaten up a bit through life and forgot what your voice sounds like. You’ll be roaring like a lion soon enough!