I love to say “no”. It is a word and choice that I was unable to utilize till I went into therapy about twenty-five years ago. My niece, whom I love, telephoned me the other day. I told her that I was almost done crocheting the blanket for her cat Thea. She wanted to know what colors I had used. I felt my desire to keep it a secret since I wanted it to be a surprise. I said “no, I want it to be a surprise”. My niece pushed, and insisted she wanted to know…now. I resisted the urge to give into her needs rather than respect mine, and repeated my desire to keep it a secret. She informed me that I am strange sometimes. I laughed and said she was not exactly the poster child for normal. (I have yet to meet anyone who would be suitable for this!) She admitted this, but maintained that I was strange. Chuckling at her response to my abiding by my desire, I was not offended but amused since I know she loves me. I credit my ability to say “no” to excellent therapy and the book Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud. Although, it has a Christian bias, it is useful to anyone who wishes to have better boundaries in relationships. If you were abused as a child, boundary setting ability is often non-existent. You feel that you have to do what others want you to do at all times. Even feeling that you have to think as others do also. Another recent use of my ever-increasing ability to use the word no involved a dear friend who has had my back innumerable times over the years. She is fairly obsessed with her own weight, going to the YMCA five times a week and taking at least two classes each time. One day, she texted me about missing a third day at the YMCA. I had gone twice that week, but was unable to go the third time because I was having strong PTSD symptoms. She texted me angrily calling me lazy and telling me I would stay fat because of this. I texted back telling her she was being hurtful and that I wanted an apology. She was unapologetic. Instead, telling me that I needed to hear the truth. This was followed by two texts in the next weeks warning me that I’d need very strong and large tires on the bike I had recently purchased or they would burst from my weight. It was time to set very firm boundaries with her if we were to continue our friendship. I texted her that I cherished our friendship and loved her but these type of comments were hurtful and not at all helpful and she needed to stop treating me this way. (I had actually stopped going to the YMCA because I didn’t want to see her and felt embarrassed.) I told her I needed her to promise to stop making comments about my weight. At first, she tried to avoid doing this but I insisted that this was non-negotiable and she finally agreed to stop. She has kept her promise for two weeks now and I have returned to the YMCA. I share all this to show you can set boundaries and say no and still keep important relationships. But, sometimes you can’t. My first husband, who had mentally and emotionally abused me for a decade, refused to respect my new boundaries where I insisted on being treated with respect and moved out six months after I had set them. I later used my “no” again when he came to pick up our son and I smelled alcohol on his breath. He didn’t get to drive him for over a decade.
Sometimes, I am like a two-year old who has learned the word no. I have days where I just say it because it feels so good to assert my autonomy. There’s a quote by Descartes that says “I think, therefore I am”. But mine is “I say no, because I can”.