EditorialTRENDING

The Sacred No

Setting Boundaries in New, Unsettling Environments

by Joey Phoenix
Originally Read on Creative North Shore’s “Reasonably Well,” – Hosted by Kati Nalbandian

Disclaimer: My heart goes out to all essential workers and parents who consistently choose to put their needs on hold for the sake of their families and the health and safety of the community. I hope that mindfulness and self-kindness is possible for you in small doses and I hope that, if any of you are listening, if you need support that you are able to ask. I recognize that sometimes saying No IS a privilege, but for those of us with that privilege, making sure that we are our fullest, healthiest selves will give us the ability to support others in a way that’s helpful and nourishing. 

We need each other now…as much as we ever have, but this new challenge has pulled that into focus more than it has in many years. 

The Sacred No 

This world continually forces us to find our edges. We make adjustments and then something changes. We absorb it into ourselves and try our best to move on, to move through, only to meet some new challenges that we weren’t expecting. 

There is so much we say yes to. We say yes to taking on more responsibility than we are reasonably able to carry because we wonder who will be able to do it if we don’t take it on. We say yes to doing emotional labor for the loved ones in our lives because if we don’t, who will they have to talk to? We say yes whenever someone criticizes us, bringing into ourselves that we’re not good enough, believing that we are not enough. 

For our collective healing, our survival, it’s time we start learning how to kindly, compassionately, say no. 

The Sacred No recognizes that you too are worth your time, so much so that you can begin to prioritize the things that serve and nourish you and move away from the things that take from you without giving anything back. Saying No allows us to take a step back and to choose what’s best for us. 

Our time is a finite resource, and how we spend it is fundamentally up to us. Yet, we often find ourselves pulled this way and that because of external pressures and we don’t seem to have as much control over our time. There is a push to be productive, to do your part, and to pay attention.

We can only be so productive, our part might be different than we think, and there’s only so much that we can reasonably pay attention to. 

There seems to be this idea surrounding boundaries where if we create them then we will lose the people and the things that are important to us. For me anyway, I used to think that every time I said no to someone or something that I would either completely miss out on an opportunity or that the person I was saying no to would feel as if I were rejecting them personally. 

My reasoning for this was that when I was growing up in the conservative corner of Florida, whenever someone would tell me no it was often a commentary on who I was as a human being. Many people would violate my boundaries and when I asked for what I needed, I very rarely got it.  The word no often did translate to “you are not enough” or “you do not deserve”. And it has taken years of therapy and very intentional mindfulness practice to realize that I didn’t have to carry these rejections into my present. 

Saying no is a gift you can give to yourself. When yes is an automatic response, we are taking away our ability to be there for ourselves and our needs. There is nothing heroic about over-producing or overextending yourself to the point of burnout. Once you’re in that place, you will have no choice but to say no to things that maybe you would’ve otherwise intentionally wanted to say yes to. 

It’s important to note that I am still bad at this, but every day with self-kindness (and again, therapy) I’m getting closer to being the kind of human who recognizes my own self-worth and the importance of making sure that I have what I need. Having what I need gives me a foundation for holding a bit extra, and that extra I can spend on whoever or whatever I wish. 

Giving out of my empty does no one any favors. 

So what are some of the ways you can put this into practice? 

First, take a moment to check in with yourself. What are the things in your life that are currently taking more of your energy than you are actually intentionally wanting to give it? Consider ways where you can pull back enough from those things and give yourself the space to reconnect with yourself. This pulling back doesn’t have to be permanent, but taking a closer look at your existing commitments and relationships might grant you fresh perspective on some of the things which might have been automated. 

Secondly, if yes is your automatic response to new things, try introducing the word maybe into your vocabulary. For me, at the start of me realizing this people-pleasing habit of mine, I found it hard to default to no, and found that saying maybe at least gave me a moment to consider whether or not I wanted to actually say yes. 

Third, recognize that it’s not a matter of absolutes. No could simply mean less or different, and yes could mean more or different. Give yourself the space and flexibility to make shifts that are helpful, and small changes can introduce so many positive things. Finding balance isn’t always about reducing everything to minimalism, it’s about finding what’s right for you and taking care of your needs in the most helpful way possible. 

The Sacred No says that you are worth your time. You are allowed to take up space in the world. You have the right to ask for what you need. You have the ability to take a breath and reset. 

And then try again. 


Joey Phoenix is the Managing Editor for Creative North Shore, the Digital Content Manager for North Shore Pride, and the Host of the Chaos Within Podcast. To send pictures of Bobtail Squid or story ideas, email them at joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com


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