Say No to All the Crap You Can't Take On Anymore

Aligning the part of you that wants to do, succeed and please with the side of you that just. can't. anymore. is no small feat. Let yourself off the hook with this expert advice.

By Katheryn Romeyn
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Sure, count me in!

Every woman knows the instinct, the Pavlovian response, the unthinking reaction that leads to the ubiquitous “yes”—no matter how inconvenient, banal, annoying or exhausting a situation it causes. “Saying yes when inside we are screaming ‘no’ is old patterning that has come from the shadow side of the feminine,” says women’s circle facilitator Paula Mallis, founder of WMN Space in Los Angeles. “The women who came before us did the best they could with what they knew at the time, but this old patterning no longer serves us.”  

Rethink Your Approach to Self-Worth

Amy Hawthorne, whose auspicious title at Tucson’s Canyon Ranch is director of life management, backs up the culturally ingrained theory. “It’s a socially learned coping mechanism, as much of our worth and value from a young age has been derived from how others around us feel. Thus, we learn very early on that sacrificing ourselves, to whatever extent, bodes well for a favorable reaction in others, which then reinforces our choice to sacrifice ourselves.” It’s not a one-time lesson, she says, rather a subtle and consistent experience witnessed within our families and culture over a lifetime. Hawthorne has had clients who equate being a strong woman with the ability to tolerate intolerable things, which, she says, “is a tremendous fallacy and does a great disservice.” 

For Hawthorne personally, “‘No’ is more than a two-letter word, it’s a powerful statement about our worth, our value and our ability to take care of ourselves.” It’s a way to set boundaries, heal from trauma, build self-worth and attract healthy people into our lives. Adds Mallis, “Saying yes to everything is an energy sucker and a way of people pleasing. I love to check myself by asking myself, ‘Am I people pleasing or is this an opportunity to be of service from a place of love?’” 

This is an essential step not only because the constant stream of “yes”can have cumulative negative emotional, physical and spiritual effects. Ever felt rundown because you had an insurmountable load on your plate? Obviously. Some tools: pause, slow down and check in. “Ask yourself honestly, ‘Does it bring you happiness? Fulfillment? Integrity?” 

Saying “No” Means Learning How To Put Yourself First

Also worth considering: Is this taking you away from meaningful experiences with those you love? Are you saying yes out of fear? Does this person drain your energy or emotions? Does saying yes compromise your sleep or another coveted activity? Do you know deep down this is not in your best interest? 

Still, ingrained patterns die hard, especially when they’re hardwired, as the trigger to our sympathetic nervous system is when we feel we might disappoint someone. It literally takes re-wiring our brains. “It was so hard in the beginning because I had not honored myself in the past,” says Mallis, “but now I can say that making self-honoring choices has been life-shifting. We are powerful superwomen, we multitask and can do it all, but that doesn’t mean we should. It’s disempowering and doesn’t serve anyone or any situation.” Perhaps the best epiphany: This adjustment is not actually contrary to our caretaker instincts—it’s only by caring for ourselves that we can truly serve others.

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