Friday Wisdom: The Word “No”

No. It’s a powerful word. It makes people angry, makes them sad, upsets them, and makes them rail at you. If you’re not used to using it, it confuses people when you do.

It’s also essential to your sanity.

When I was growing up, saying “no” got me in trouble. It got me yelled at. I was about 12-13 the first time I dared tell Mom “no”. It was kind of stupid … I’d bought a pack of stickers with my allowance that I really liked. Mom liked them, too, and couldn’t find them anymore at the store. So she asked if she could have mine. I said “Mom, I paid for these with my own money and I really don’t want to give them up.” I kept the stickers, but paid for them with a screaming match that ended with both of us in tears.

I learned that Mom didn’t handle it well when she didn’t get her way. You gave her what she wanted or faced a whiny lecture, a spanking, or worst, a screaming fit. I learned to do what she wanted and never mind what I wanted, just to avoid getting yelled at. I’ve continued with this conditioning for a lot of years – I always caved quickly in any disagreement to avoid a fight – until I realized that I was so busy catering to everyone else’s wants and needs that I had no idea who I was. I was literally losing myself because I wasn’t saying “no” when “no” was what needed saying.

Your wants and needs are just as important as anyone else’s. Not more, not less. Equally so. What’s more, you don’t need a better reason to say “no” than “I don’t want to.” If someone is emotionally healthy and respects you as a human being, that will end the discussion. Any attempt to argue or plead or guilt you into it to get you to change your mind is manipulation. That’s toxic, and sometimes that toxicity can come from your own mind. Look for “I should/shouldn’t”, “what will X person/group think if I say no?”, and “have to” in your thinking, to decide whether you really want to do something or not. If you catch yourself thinking in any of the terms above, you don’t want to do whatever it is.

Learning to say “no” to the people I love was one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had, but it’s freed my mind. Some of them still don’t handle it well, and that’s okay. They don’t have to like it. I can’t care for those I love if I can’t care for myself, and caring for myself sometimes means saying “no” to other people.