Saying No Is Not Weakness: Lessons In Self-Care

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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I’ve always had a hard time saying no. I’m a people pleaser. I don’t want anyone to be unhappy or angry at me. And I have a bleeding heart; I feel it when people are suffering, and I want to make it right. So I can’t help but reach out to anyone and everything, offer all that I can, and shove my own needs aside.

As you can imagine, this is both good and bad. Almost everyone who knows me views me as kind. People are rarely upset with me, and they think of me as someone who is eternally reliable with an enormous heart. But my heart is easily broken. More than once, I’ve found myself in a situation of intense giving where I have forgotten to give to the most important person in the room — myself. Self-care was not on my to-do list. In the name of kindness, I have accepted people into my life who are hurtful, soul-sucking, or manipulative.

I have thought I could change people just by virtue of empathy and love. But I could not. The only one who changed was me. I exhausted myself trying to help; I was crushed, depleted, a shadow of my former self. But recently, there has been a shift in me. I am choosing self-protection over self-sacrifice. Quite frankly, I’m done with that bullshit.

Of course, the shift had to happen as a result of a bit of a breakdown.

I had been a SAHM for many years, but had recently taken on many responsibilities. I was doing a bunch of freelance writing on top of maintaining a part-time business that I’ve had for a couple of years and a volunteer position I’d also maintained for the previous seven years.

Did I mention that I was also a SAHM of young kids with a husband who is gone for 10 hours each day and almost no outside child care? I was suffering. My husband was suffering. And my kids were suffering.

Something had to give. I knew what it was, but saying no to the people and commitments that I was ready to be done with was painful for me. People were relying on me. I didn’t want to mess anyone up. I wanted to be kind.

I remember I was on my phone, answering an email or a text from one of the many jobs/volunteer gigs I was currently committed to, and my 3-year-old came up to me saying, “Mommy, put down your phone. I miss you.”

Tears filled my eyes. The most important commitment I had was right there at my feet, exuding love to me, even though I had been ignoring him for hours, weeks, months.

Soon after is when I finally cut the cord. I left my position in the volunteer organization. (Guess what? They had plenty of other volunteers, and everyone survived.) I decided to put my part-time business on hold until my 3-year-old is in school full-time. And while I was at it, I went through my social media accounts, unfollowed a bunch of pages and people, unfriended people I didn’t know or who brought me down in some way and blocked others.

Boundaries are beautiful, beautiful things. And as much as it hurt to finally say no, now it feels so amazing I can’t freaking believe it.

There is this internet meme going around that really speaks to me. It goes like this: “You can be a good person with a kind heart and still say no.” That’s going to be my mantra from now on. No matter what I do, I will always be kind. That’s not the thing I need to work on. It’s the saying no part that needs attention and care.

I know I’m not alone. Many of us women — and maybe those of us who are moms especially — are prone to this. We want everyone to be happy all the time. We never want to leave anyone out. We think self-protection is a sign of weakness or defeat. It’s not. It’s a sign of strength.

It’s that strength that our kids need to see as much as the kindness — that we can stand up for ourselves, that we have the power to make choices that work for our lives. The fact is, we can’t make anyone happy if we aren’t happy ourselves. Self-care needs to be a priority for ourselves.

I give you permission to say no and kick the guilt to the curb where it belongs. You get to decide your life; no one else does. If you listen to your instincts, you will know exactly what you need to do. Listen to your heart. Act upon it.

Trust me, it will feel so damn good.

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