I used to believe that being lovely meant never saying ‘no.’ My journey to self-care taught me the power of a gentle refusal.

I spent a good portion of my life believing that the secret to being loved and respected was to always be accommodating, never uttering that two-letter word: “no”.

Growing up in a conservative small town in Texas, I was taught that niceness was synonymous with compliance.

I carried this belief into adulthood, nurturing a reputation as a ‘yes’ woman, always eager to please, never one to ruffle feathers.

But then, life happened. I moved to New York City for my dream job, a city as unapologetic and assertive as they come.

Here, ‘no’ was not just a word, but an art form.

Initially, I found myself drowning in this sea of self-assured individuals who knew their worth and weren’t afraid to voice it.

Then came the health issues – crippling anxiety and stress-induced ailments that forced me to take a hard look at my lifestyle.

I realized that my lifelong habit of constantly saying ‘yes’ had taken its toll on my mental and physical wellbeing.

That’s when I embarked on a journey of self-care and discovered the power of saying ‘no’.

A gentle refusal, not out of malice or spite, but out of respect for my own boundaries and wellbeing.

t wasn’t easy, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. But this journey transformed my life in ways I never imagined possible.

Looking back now as I adjust to life back in Texas, the contrast is stark.

The girl who left this town seven years ago is not the woman who returned.

The transformation brought along its share of challenges – learning to navigate relationships, dealing with resistance from old acquaintances, and even experiencing what I can only describe as reverse culture shock.

And yet, this journey of discovering the power of ‘no’ has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

Here’s what it’s been like redefining ‘lovely’ in a world that often equates self-care with selfishness.

Finding my voice in the city that never sleeps

Moving to New York City was a shock to my system. The hustle and bustle, the sheer audacity of the city, it was all so different from the laid-back pace of life back in Texas.

Working in a high-stress corporate job, I was constantly juggling multiple responsibilities.

I found myself saying ‘yes’ to everything, whether it was taking on extra projects at work, helping out a colleague, or joining after-work social events.

I thought this was what it meant to be successful and liked.

But my body had other ideas.

The stress of constantly being on the go and not taking time for myself led to a series of health issues. I was tired, anxious, and felt burnt out. It was a wake-up call.

I realized something had to change.

So, I started therapy and began reading about self-care and setting boundaries. I learned that saying ‘no’ wasn’t mean or selfish, but necessary for my mental and physical health.

The journey wasn’t easy. There were times when I felt guilty or feared that people would think less of me.

But with time, I saw how saying ‘no’ when I needed to allowed me space to breathe, to rest, and to take care of myself.

The transformation was profound.

The woman who never said ‘no’ became someone who prioritized her own wellbeing without feeling guilty about it. And in doing so, I discovered a newfound sense of freedom and self-love.

In the next part of this story, I’d like to delve into why many of us struggle with saying ‘no’, and how this belief that equates niceness with compliance is often misplaced.

We’ll explore why it’s essential to challenge this narrative for our own wellbeing.

The illusion of niceness

Growing up in Texas, being ‘nice’ was a quality that was highly valued.

Niceness was equated with agreeableness, and saying ‘no’ was often seen as confrontational or unkind.

This belief, I’ve come to realize, is not just limited to my small hometown. It seems to be a widespread notion that to be kind and liked, one must always be accommodating.

But here’s the thing – always saying ‘yes’ does not make you nicer.

It makes you more accessible, yes, but it doesn’t necessarily earn you respect or genuine affection.

In fact, constantly agreeing to everything can lead to feelings of resentment and exhaustion.

Saying ‘no’ doesn’t make you mean or unkind. It simply means that you value your time, energy, and mental health. It means that you understand your limits and are not afraid to assert them.

Understanding this was a game-changer for me. It challenged the long-held belief that being lovely meant never saying ‘no.’ And it made me realize that it’s okay to prioritize myself, even if it meant disappointing others.

In the next part of this story, I want to share how I went about making this fundamental change in my life – the steps I took to reclaim my time and energy by learning the power of a gentle refusal.

Embracing the power of a gentle refusal

When I first decided to start saying ‘no’, it was scary. I feared rejection and judgment. But, I also knew it was necessary for my wellbeing.

The first step was learning to listen to myself. I started paying attention to how I felt when asked to do something.

If the request made me feel stressed or overwhelmed, I took it as a signal that maybe, this was something I needed to say ‘no’ to.

Next, I practiced saying ‘no’ in low-stakes situations.

Like declining an invitation to a party when I preferred a quiet night in or saying ‘no’ to that extra slice of cake when I was already full.

This helped me get comfortable with the word and the feeling it evoked.

Finally, I learned to communicate my ‘no’ effectively. Instead of offering elaborate explanations or apologies, I found that a simple, “I can’t commit to this right now” or “I need some time for myself” worked best.

It wasn’t easy and it took time. But with each ‘no’, I felt stronger, more in control of my life.

If you’re struggling with the same issue, remember this: Saying ‘no’ is not a sign of weakness or unkindness. It’s an act of self-care. And you deserve that care as much as anyone else.

Taking a step back and moving forward

As I navigated this journey of self-care, I realized that it was about more than just learning to say ‘no’.

It was about taking responsibility for my mental and physical wellbeing, even when societal expectations were telling me otherwise.

It was about understanding that the norms we are conditioned to accept are not always in our best interest.

I came to understand that:

  • Taking responsibility increases personal power, even when the situation is not your fault.
  • Breaking free from societal expectations leads to a more authentic life.
  • Acknowledging dissatisfaction or struggles is the first step towards change.
  • Embracing practical self-development helps in navigating life’s challenges.
  • Courageously tending to my needs can unveil a path to self-empowerment.

This journey wasn’t just about changing one aspect of my life.

It was about reshaping my reality, living life on my terms, and breaking free from the constraints of societal conditioning.

Avoiding blind positivity, I had to face the reality of my situation and make conscious decisions to improve it.

I found that dedicating time daily to practice self-improvement techniques – like meditation, journaling, or simply saying ‘no’ when needed – made a significant difference in how I approached life.

If you’re on a similar path, remember this: Your life is your own.

You have every right to live it as you choose, not as others expect.

So take control, question the norms that limit you, and embrace the journey of self-exploration.

Ava Sinclair

Ava Sinclair is a former competitive athlete who transitioned into the world of wellness and mindfulness. Her journey through the highs and lows of competitive sports has given her a unique perspective on resilience and mental toughness. Ava’s writing reflects her belief in the power of small, daily habits to create lasting change.

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