No: Say it Loud, Say it Proud

By Sierra Talcott

I have a problem saying no. Not in all situations, I can say no in situations of consent but in terms of people asking for favors, I struggle with saying no. I love helping people and thrive on positive interactions so whenever someone asks me to do something, I automatically say yes. The problem with this is that it creates interactions that are not always healthy for me. I can get very overwhelmed with things I have to do, and yet when someone asks me to do something, I will immediately say yes. As you can imagine, this then causes me extra stress. While I love helping people, it’s also okay to say no when someone asks for something. This problem of saying no isn’t something that only I struggle with; many women have trouble saying no and setting boundaries for themselves.

As women, we are taught to be nurturers and put others’ needs before our own. As children, we are taught to help around the house and we often babysit younger siblings or relatives, which can reinforce this notion of women as caregivers. When we become pregnant, for nine months, our body is not our own and part of our purpose becomes sustaining life. After a child is born, it relies on our bodies to feed it and keep it alive. Even once a child is independently eating, children still need to be cared for and that burden falls mainly on women. With all of these caretaking expectations, it may not seem like it’s possible to say no but this makes saying no even more important. Women can burn out, mothers can burn out, and this is not healthy for us mentally, nor is it healthy for those around us.

Mental Health displayed on a computer screen.
Mental health is important.

There are a few major reasons why women have trouble saying no. These are the fear of missing out, perfectionism, and social conditioning. The fear of missing out is exactly how it sounds – it is the fear of missing out on a connection or an experience. This fear can trigger feelings of exclusion, self-loathing, and emptiness. This “FOMO” is also becoming increasingly common with social media. Other people’s lives are curated to look so perfect that you may feel like you are missing out on an aspect of yours. Rest assured, no one’s life is exactly like it is portrayed on social media. If you struggle with saying no because you are worried about missing out on something, try saying no but following that up with a plan to do something another time. If you are too busy to get coffee when your friend asks, suggest a different day to do this. That way you are still setting boundaries while not missing out on the experience. 

The next big reason is perfectionism. Perfectionism is wanting to do and be the best all the time. This is an extremely unrealistic way to go through life. A beauty of being human is that we are imperfect and our imperfections make us unique and help define who we are. There are so many commercials targeted at women, about how to look better and be better. These only further impose perfectionism and society’s unhealthy expectations. Focusing on perfectionism will not only add unnecessary stress in your life, but will also leave you more vulnerable to criticism from others. A good way to combat the feelings of perfectionism is to engage in a new activity. Try doing something out of your comfort zone, push yourself to do something you’re not entirely comfortable with. For me, I took a Zumba class. While I have no rhythm and felt I looked ridiculous dancing, it was fun to let go of my inhibitions and it helped me let go of the stress I was holding on to. Another good thing is to work on not constantly apologizing to people. Women often over-apologize for things that are not our fault. 

The last reason is social conditioning which I touched on previously. Women are often put in situations where they are required to do emotional labor. Emotional labor is the work of attending to other people’s needs, often before your own. This can also be called the third shift. The third shift involves doing menial tasks such as doing the dishes. To help alleviate this, work on self-advocacy. Speaking up for yourself is very important. Try phrases such as, “I am unable to do this right now” or “I am really stressed at the moment and would love to help, but I can’t right now.” While it may feel like you are letting down the person who is asking for a favor, remember that it is not always your responsibility to do other things for people. It is also important to not allow yourself to be used. People who are givers tend to be taken advantage of. Not only is this unhealthy for your relationships, but it can lead to feeling underappreciated. Setting healthy boundaries will help the people in your life value you more and appreciate the nice things you do for them.

Saying no is a skill, and learning a new skill takes practice. If saying no seems challenging try starting small. I often find it easier to say no when I offer an alternative, so starting that way might be helpful. An important thing to keep in mind is that you can’t please everyone. Saying no may make some people frustrated but if they can not respect your boundaries, they are not contributing to a healthy relationship. Also, in times of stress, don’t be afraid to treat yourself and appreciate yourself for who you are. You can try self-affirmation exercises to do this. Practice healthy boundaries and self-love and you will be a lot happier.

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