What It Means to Say No

It’s common to hear the phrase: “Just say no” in reference to illegal drugs or acts of violence. All bad stuff. Very bad. And when it comes to the emphatic word “NO!” women are often taught that we need to change ourselves in some way to be assertive enough to handle the word. Whether we realize it or not, we tend to associate the word “no” with self-defense, with aggression, with distress. It’s a difficult word to say not only because of these negative associations but because we’re unsure of how we’ll be perceived after we say it.

In My Answer Is No…If That’s Okay With You, author Nanette Gartrell writes:

“Our strength as women is grounded in the ability to reach out and lend a helping hand. We consider the thoughts and feelings of others as we conduct our own lives. We can be firm when we need to be, though usually, we prefer to be kind. Saying NO can feel alienating, distancing, and harsh. It clashes with our belief in being generous.”

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the act of saying “no” lately. In my professional life, I’ve said “no” to students when they ask if they can have an extension on a paper. (I also realize that when I do this, I have to justify it with a reason: “It’s to teach them responsibility, how to meet deadlines.”) I also recently said “no” to a job offer, something I’ve never done before. My struggle manifested itself like a tug-of-war, as the voice inside my head asked: “Will I be perceived as selfish/arrogant/rude for turning this down?”

The answer: NO

As I contemplated the meaning of the word and how it feels to say it, I realized that saying “no” is just another way of letting go. Saying “no” is one step closer to your goals. This small yet difficult act keeps you on your path, not someone else’s. As Danielle LaPorte writes in her awesome White Hot Truth blog:

Empty your hands and your heart. Regularly.
Take deep breaths. Often.
And move stuff over and out.
Make space (what a creative act! space-making!)
The space is full of what you really need.

Remember: saying “no” is never a bad thing when it gives us space to breathe and reflect.

 

2 Replies to “What It Means to Say No”

  1. Saying “no” has always seemed so finite to me, like slaming a door that will never open again. I think we learn as children that the word “no” is a bad thing, since it was always someone in authority saying it to us, about something we thought we wanted at the time. However, as an adult, saying “no” to ourselves can be a very liberating experience, i.e. like saying “no” to that piece of cake we know we want but will feel guilty for when we step on the scales the next day.

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