Every year, I take trips to NYC and Pennsylvania to visit my nieces, ages five and one, and my boyfriend’s niece and nephew, ages five and three.
The moment a child finds her No can be exasperating for a parent...yet I can’t help but admire my nieces’ clarity. At what point did I lose my No?
Even in my earliest memories, around age three, I don’t remember saying no very much, yet I must have.
When a little girl doesn’t want to hold onto something anymore, she drops it. She doesn’t care if it breaks, if it’s inconvenient for someone else, or if the dog eats it. She has no problem letting go of something that she’s lost interest in.
Her No is clear and instantaneous.
She says no even if she knows losing a battle is inevitable and that she will ultimately go to bed or brush her teeth.
Being the aunt, I find my nieces’ frequent use of no amusing and envy them a little bit. More than that, I want to tell them, “Always remember your Sacred No.”
I can’t remember an adult telling me that saying no is important or that I can and should exercise that power when needed.
“No, don’t touch me.”
“No, don’t speak to me that way.”
“No, I don’t want to go with you.”
“No, I don’t want to listen to you.”
“No, I want to do it my way.”
No one told me to hang onto my No, and for many years, I lost it. Looking back, I can list many times I wish I’d had the courage to say it.
“No” is enough
In my late 30s, a friend told me, “No is a complete sentence.”
It was a small revelation.
Even though I’ve made a lot of progress in setting boundaries, there are still moments when I feel the need to justify saying no and explain WHY I can’t (or don’t want to) do something, be somewhere, or say something.
“Because I don’t want to” seems like an immature and childish explanation, but kids don’t feel any need to justify their No, and I admire that. When did I first feel the need to justify my decisions? When did I start feeling guilty for saying no? Did I lose my courage at some point because I said no, and there were consequences from it?
The good news is: I got it back.
Now I use my Sacred No to set clear boundaries and let go of anything that doesn’t serve me, whether it’s toxic people, thoughts, ideas, or things.
When faced with these situations, I remind myself:
“Because it’s not in alignment with who I am.”
“Because it’s not what I desire.”
“Because it’s not going to serve my highest good.”
“Because it’s not going to support the way I want to feel.”
Because No is enough. Full stop.
If it’s not good for me or if I don’t have the bandwidth to do something, then I don’t owe anyone any explanations.
And...it’s the other person’s responsibility to not take my No personally.
As adults, we know that hearing no is not a reflection of who we are or what other people think of us. It’s simply information - and is always a preferable answer than ambivalence or saying yes and backing out later.
While it often makes us feel guilt, your Sacred No is actually a way of caring for other people. When you are clear about where you stand, they can make other plans and find the people who will be thrilled to work on their project, watch their dog, or go on that third date.
Exercising your Sacred No isn’t only about saying no to external demands on your time and energy. It’s about self-preservation and saying yes to the things that nurture and support you. Saying no is a way of actively choosing things, people, and places that are restorative and nurturing, like rest or self-care.
This, too, is a way of caring for the people around you. When you use your Sacred No as a way of saying yes to a life you love, you become a gift to others by showing up as the happiest, most energized version of yourself. Wouldn’t you rather spend time with a friend who is lit up from doing things she’s excited about rather than weighed down under the burden of obligations? I would!
Next week, I'll write about something that prevents us from exercising our Sacred No and what to do about it.
So I turn it over to you:
Where in your life can you exercise your Sacred No?
Share below if you know of one or two areas where you can play your Sacred No card, or a moment where you unapologetically used your No and felt empowered by it.