Learning to say the word “no” to people has been a huge learning process for me. I’ve always been the type to overbook myself with projects and favors and events. And growing up as a girl definitely did not help. We’re socialized at such a young age to not want to let people down and to take on others’ burdens. Girls and women who say “no” are seen as “unpleasant” and “bossy” (and labeled as “bitches”).
This was me. So much so, that last summer, I remember waking up at 6am to go to my day-job one morning and feeling like I was going to explode. At that point in my life, I had taken on a helping with a friend’s personal media project, building two websites for an organization I was passionate for (but not getting paid for), freelancing for two non-profits on social media advisement and teaching sex ed classes any chance I got at local colleges and high schools. All of that on top of my 8am to 6pm office job in a misogynistic, homophobic and racist work environment.
To say I was overwhelmed and overworked is the understatement of the year.
But then I started working full time at GO and decided to start saying “no” to all of the side projects that were depleting me and not adding substance to my life. I decided I wanted to focus on the things that mattered the most to me while also creating time for my own side hustles—instead of pouring my energy into projects that weren’t mine.
This proclamation of deciding to say “no” to the things that were no longer serving me, started to spread into other areas of my life as well. And I embraced it as an act of self-love.
I wasn’t just rashly turning opportunities or people away from my life. I simply started making a conscious choice to live with intention. To allow myself the time and space to really think about what ~energy~ I wanted to invite into my life. I was willing to take on certain projects as a volunteer if it was something I feel passionately about. But I was no longer blindly saying “yes” to everything anyone was asking me to participate in and it was incredibly liberating.
Saying “no” is a practice of setting boundaries. And it’s something that I’m still actively working on. With this learning curve, I’ve grown and learned a lot about myself.
I want to share some advice if you too are feeling overwhelmed, babes, and have a hard time telling people “no”.
1. Accept that some people might not understand your “no” at first. And that’s totally OK!
If you’ve been a “yes” girl all your life (like me), some people might be shocked the first time you bestow them with a “no.” They will come to you with their usual favor or request and you will set your boundary saying that you, unfortunately, don’t have the bandwidth to assist them right now. They might act like it’s the most preposterous thing you’ve ever said! That’s okay. This is a new process for you—and for them.
Whenever you start to set boundaries with people who are used to you having none, they might even get mad at you and act like you’re mistreating them. One of my dearest friends favorite sayings is “You have to teach people how to treat you.” And that is so true. Once you show them that you might not be able to take on every supportive role that you used to, they’ll start to get used to it.
And then this magical moment will happen when they start to appreciate your yes responses oh so much more! They’ll have more gratitude and thanks for you when you are able to help with that extra project or process their recent breakup with them. And your relationship will have more equilibrium in the long-run.
2. Start practicing the art of intentional language.
When I first started learning how to say “no” as an act of self-love, I was super messy about it. I didn’t know how to communicate exactly why I was saying no. I just knew that I needed more energy for myself. But how the heck do you tell people you love that?! So instead of saying, “I need to take a break from helping out with your project so I can focus on self-care for a bit.” I’d make up excuses as to why I couldn’t go to certain meetings or respond to phone calls.
I was running away instead of boldly owning why I needed to say no. And because I couldn’t own up to it—I was hurting people. Then I slowly learned how to practice intentional communication. I took time to brainstorm well thought out responses and let people know why I needed a break from their project or event.
3. Sometimes practicing self-love is messy and challenging. And again, that’s OK!
One of the reasons I needed to start letting all my side projects go was because I didn’t have enough time to focus on myself. All the hours of my day were spent working, helping someone else or walking my dog. I would then pass out and repeat the next day. Even my weekends were getting swamped with meetings and phone calls for all of these projects. It was too much and I was losing myself in the process.
When I started having more time for myself, I didn’t really know what to do with it. Finding out what self-love meant to me took time and it wasn’t always easy, trust me. Sometimes taking care of yourself means being uncomfortable and challenging yourself. For me, it meant to going to the events I was actually interested in, alone. It meant journaling through my relationships with people I love. It meant figuring out what the word “boundary” means to me and then practicing setting those boundaries. It meant questioning my need to quickly respond to everything, instead of giving myself time to communicate with intention (see point 2).
Sometimes it was really hard to go outside of my comfort zone to get to a new realization about myself. And trust me, babes, I’m still on my way (aren’t we all?).
4. You might feel that pang of guilt.
Oh, guilt. She’s such a bitch. And she really gets us all. I mean, how many women and femmes do you know that are plagued by the phrase I’m sorry? Growing up anytime I would say I’m sorry, my mom would yell at me and tell me not to say that when I really didn’t mean it. But to this day, I still say the word sorry more times than I actually mean it.
When you start practicing the art of saying “no” when you want to, people will try to guilt you. They’ll say “But just this once, couldn’t you?” And they’ll make you say “no” over and over again until it sinks in for them that you really don’t want to do what they’re asking of you. It’s hard to stand your ground. And that pang of guilt will get you sometimes. Preserver my babes! You’ll be so proud of yourself afterward.
5. There’s never really a perfect, harmonious balance in life.
Life is never a perfect equilibrium. You might fall off the balance beam and you’ll teeter back and forth as you find your way. That’s what this process has been like for me in the past year. I’ve tried to figure out how to balance my needs and what the people I love need from me—it definitely hasn’t been a perfect ride. I’ve found myself burned out on emotional labor at times. I’ve also found myself overstepping another person’s boundary by asking them to show up for me when they simply didn’t have the bandwidth to.
But there have been those times when it has totally worked out. And I’ve hard amazingly ~deep conversations~ with people about how to navigate boundaries and self-love. That’s when it feels so good. Because not only are you growing but you’re growing with your community and loved ones. That’s powerful, babes.
What are your thoughts on learning how to say no and setting boundaries? I’d love to chat! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.