I was thinking recently about what it feels like to tap into that inner well of strength we all have, for the first time.
I was remembering how it feels to be in those early stages of figuring out how to make space for the things we want, to unearth and stand by our boundaries, and to be fierce advocates for our own happiness and well being. It’s such a liberating feeling! And particularly for those of us who have spent years unknowingly training ourselves to put harmony in our relationships ahead of our own real wants and needs, it’s a pretty life-altering shift to make.
But through another lens, that same ultra-liberating shift can feel distinctly negative at first.
In reality, the everyday practice of setting boundaries and sticking to them isn’t all that glamorous or magical - in fact, it frankly looks and feels a lot like saying “no” more often, walking away more readily, and recognizing when something isn’t okay with you. And when you’re not used to doing that, it can feel like a whole lot of negatives and “no”s taking over your day-to-day. And more than that, it can feel like an unwelcome change in who we are and how we perceive ourselves.
For sensitive souls, there’s something unsettling about suddenly feeling more like a “no” person than the role of sunny “yes” person we’ve grown accustomed to filling in our relationships.
It’s easy to equate “yes” with warmth and “no” with coldness, and part of being a warm-hearted human is loving the positive. We love harmony, we love when everyone has what they need and gets along with each other, and we start seeing “yes” as a small price to pay to keep that harmony alive. But in striving for that harmony - both with the people we love, and with ourselves - sometimes it can feel like it has to be all or nothing. You’re either the kind of person who goes all in with “yes”es (even the ones that quietly compromise on your values, or encroach on what you’re comfortable with, or drain your energy reserves...) or you’re all “no”s (all scrooge-like and cold, turning people away and shutting them out, all scowls and eyebrow furrows all the time).
If you’re like me, this can spiral pretty quickly into fears about not only saying “no”, but becoming a “no” person. Yuck. What does that mean, or say about me? Will people stop seeing me as a warm, likable person? Or even worse: Does saying “no” more often take away from my ability to be a positive, giving person? Do I not get a spot in that column anymore?
I remember the fear that getting comfortable with saying “no” meant negativity would creep into my worldview, or that I’d be training myself to be more aware of what’s bad or not working, vs. the good and what IS working. I thought it would make me jaded, and that made me sad.
Here’s the thing, though: saying “no” when you need to and finding your lines in the sand doesn’t have to dictate your general disposition - in fact, intentional “no”s open doors to the people, things, experiences, and choices that will bring out the best in you.
“No” doesn’t have to become our perpetual angry soapbox, our excuse for lashing out, or our mechanism of choice for putting up walls between ourselves and the people around us. It doesn’t have to condemn us to a life of pessimism. Instead, “no” can empower us to know our worth, make space for the things we want and need and deserve, and reject the rest. The right “no”s will create energy, and enhance your brightness instead of dulling it. Saying “no” with intentionality means making space for the things that fuel you. And the trick is to retrain yourself on how you view the act saying “no.” Reframe the thing.
When you’re saying “no” in favor of your values or your boundaries or your sanity, that’s not a negative. It can’t be. Because more than anything, you’re making space for all the things you’re implicitly saying “yes” to.
It’s reasonable to expect that ushering in a new wave of “no”s might feel foreign at first, or strike a weird chord, or even feel selfish. But the trick is to know better. Stick it out, be patient with yourself, and trust that being a warm, generous person and being someone who upholds her boundaries aren’t mutually exclusive.