The not-so-subtle art of saying NO

“Hi, I have a doctors appointment in an hour, can you watch my kids?” “Hello, you are so talented at ________, can you help us with this project?” “So glad I caught you, can you make some food for this funeral tomorrow?” “Hey a bunch of us are going to out to party later, you’ll come won’t you?” “Can you take a look and edit my first draft of this book?” “The family always gets together on this holiday and we know you wouldn’t miss it, right?” “Can you please send these ten items to the school by tomorrow morning?”

And it goes on and on and on. Well-meaning people wanting (and many times, expecting) us to do things. And sometimes we want to and we do and it’s great…but this is about all of the times you want to say NO.

You want to say “no” and just hang up, or just text “no” or just say “no” and walk away. First your mind starts to compile a list of excuses: You are too busy. You have plans. You are sick. Your inner voice begins to question if you are a good person -a helpful soul- because hey, sometimes you need help too, right? What kind of bad person says no to a friend or a school or family? What kind of person lies to get out of doing something? Then the guilt hits and you say “Sure, ok, I can do that” kicking yourself the whole time for going against what your gut is telling you you actually want, OR if you really just can’t seem to pull a good excuse together you use one off of your pre-screened list all while apologizing profusely. What if I told you there is another way?

You can say NO. And then nothing. The first time I did this it was met with the most awkward silence. It went something like this: Marisa, would you come and help with ___________ (this really boring and completely unnecessary activity that you have always helped with in the past, that will shrink your brain, bore you to tears, and take a lot of personal time)? And I said, Thanks for thinking of me but NO. They sat there and waited for the excuses to start flying. I offered no such excuses. They kept waiting until I finally asked if there was anything else. They stammered around and then…THEY MADE EXCUSES FOR ME! Something like how they knew I must be busy with the kids and that life was sometimes just that way wasn’t it? We are so uncomfortable with the little word NO that we can’t just allow it to exist in all of its glory.

I’m going to address women here specifically. Women, we have got to do better. It’s ok to say no. It is ok to not want to do something even if you have plenty of time and resources and your health is wonderful. What is not ok is to lie and squirm and tie yourself into knots because you feel guilty for simply not wanting to do it. We are taught from the time we are very small to smile and be helpful and kind and nurturing and to try to make everyone happy but somewhere in this we lose the ability to feel ourselves. Your mind and heart and gut can be screaming NO, but the guilt inside of you is so strong that it becomes more powerful than anything else. You’d rather just do the thing because in the end the guilt is worse. This is where permission comes in. I give you permission to say NO over and over and over. You can use my permission until you can find your own. Tell people that you can’t because you have have to help Marisa. And you help me by listening to your inner voice and following it. Of course there are times where we have to do things we don’t want to do but they are FAR fewer than we think.

I don’t go to funerals. Aren’t I awful? Scum of the earth, right? What kind of a horrible person doesn’t go to funerals? Those poor grieving families. Don’t I have respect for the person who has passed on? I have my reasons, one of which is that I don’t like sitting in a room full of sobbing people wearing black. This does nothing for me at all. I prefer to mourn privately and then usually in nature. I personally don’t feel the need to mourn with others by talking about the deceased. I’m private and I keep my grieving to myself. That is a personal choice. It ‘s a boundary that I have set for myself. The only time I attend funerals is if my spouse or my children need me there to support them. Otherwise I just say NO. And I have been vilified again and again. Which leads me to my next point…what other people think about me is none of my business. At all. Ever.

I’m not living someone else’s life and they aren’t living mine. I allow them to make their choices and I make my own. I don’t need to understand their reasons, I don’t need excuses, and I don’t offer them. If they feel the need to talk about me behind my back and gossip to support their shock and awe at my actions then ok…what does that have to do with me? It says far more about the kind of people they are than the kind of person I am. I refuse to fill my life with endless projects and errands that I don’t want to do. You will piss some people off while they learn your boundaries so be ready. People tend to rage against what they don’t understand.

Is this always easy? Definitely not. But here is what you will gain by saying NO: a sense of freedom by listening to yourself, a better understanding of where your boundaries lie, a self-respect that you earn by listening to you rather than everyone else, and more free time to do the things you WANT to do. You’ll reclaim part of your life you never knew was missing. Cheers!

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