By: Nina Motlagh
It sounds simple enough, right? For some of us, it was our first word. Or maybe one of the first that we managed to jumble out during our terrible two’s. the two-letter, simple word “no.” Yet, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that I never knew the true meaning and weight that the word truly holds.
The word “no” has liberated me. It’s given me power. It’s enabled me to go far beyond any boundary that I set for myself, or that others set for me. All of this happened soon after I learned to true meaning behind the word “no.”
Throughout high school and for the first four years of college, I was a complete “people pleaser”; this meant I constantly craved validation from other humans, which lead to me doing whatever it took for them to like me and to feel like I did tons of favors for them. Even in my relationships, I did whatever my partner wanted, regardless of what I was feeling or needing at the time. This may not seem like a huge problem at first glance; in fact, I think it was this exact characteristic that gave me any form of popularity in high school. But once I became sexually active, once my relationships with men became more serious, then my willingness to do and say whatever it takes to keep the other person pleased began to take a toll on my physical and mental health. I would say yes to their every whim, even if I had set prior plans for myself. I would skip out on exercise, trips home to see my family, work opportunities, and time with friends, just to please the person I was with. In terms of sex, it turned out that I have a condition known as Interstitial Cystitis (IC). This means that intercourse can be excruciatingly painful. When I discovered how painful sex could be, I would often cringe at the thought of having intercourse with my boyfriend. But, as I was a people pleaser, I allowed him to do it. Whenever. For however long. And even when I told him I was in pain, he did not stop. He continued until he was finished. In many ways, I blame my people-pleasing tendencies, because they made my ex think that I would do anything at any time. But, then again, he could have simply been a decent human being and stopped. When I realized the latter, it was years after we had broken up. I felt angry. I felt sexually assaulted and abused. I felt like I had let myself down. This, combined with many other experiences after my ex-boyfriend, ignited a flame inside me that was at first very faint, but that is now a roaring fire. I realized that all it took to take control of my life, to avoid ever having anyone take advantage of me again, was to say the word “no.” A firm, definitive, sure-fire NO. Simple as that. Yet it took me months to gain the actual strength to use the word correctly. I have to make people know that I mean no, that there isn’t a “maybe” or “but if..” hidden behind the no.
I use the word no as my shield against people who will potentially walk all over me. I use it to protect myself from unwanted and painful intercourse. I use it to make sure I have enough time in my day for the things that I want to accomplish. I use it to set boundaries, to assert my confidence in my decisions, to make my opinion and status be heard. I use it to demand respect.
If it wasn’t for the word no, I would not be as successful and confident as I am today. I am sure of that. The strength, self-respect, and power I gained because of the word no is continuing to grow exponentially. I encourage all of my fellow women to try saying no. You may say it softly at first, but trust me, your volume will increase. Your power will increase. You will learn the meaning of the word no, and you will never allow yourself to live in any other way.