Boundary setting is the greatest skill I’ve learned. I used to live raw with zagging, undefined edges. I was open, and I am still open, but I existed open in a way that left bits of me trailing in every footpath. Because I was warm, I had hangers on that trampled me. I was a bleeding bruise, always hurt because I never closed up my skin for just me to live in.

Empathy only works if we mark a bit off for ourselves. In the last 10 years I’ve learned to draw lines and honor them. To say no, to bar passage. To protect myself.

It took an effort to get used to prioritizing myself. I still struggle to do so. As a mother, wife, friend. As a person who always wants to support others, it is incredibly important that I keep in the practice of saying no while saying yes. Learning to say no means I get to say yes more often. Why? Because by protecting myself I strengthen myself. When it is time to give, I can give more because I have more.

It seems incongruous.

But doctors sterilize their hands before touching their patients. I shore up my heart before receiving another’s pain. Once it was fearful work–what if I was too closed off?–but now it is second nature. In fact, all this work I have done to be able to say no is a simple return to instinct. I am honoring my intuition. I am living consciously aware of my own needs and the needs of those I must tend versus the needs of those I want to tend.

What I have learned is that my giving is greatest when I meet my own needs first, and that prioritizing me is not selfish in any way. I no longer burn out or suffer because I carried more than I was capable of sustaining. There exists balance. Saying no does not mean turning my back; it means balancing my yes.

Do you practice saying no even though it feels unpopular? 

This post is Day 2 of the 30 Day #LinkYourLife Challenge. Participate by finding the challenge here

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

Discussion about this post

  1. Exactly right! A hard lesson I had to learn also. Too often were my boundaries non-existent and my life laid bare for others to trample on. Saying “no” to me was absolute. I’ve never liked absolutes. I still don’t, only when discussing friendships or relationships. That’s the only absolutes I have.

    Yet saying “no” I have learned through life is only a stop-gap whilst I collect myself to have the power to go on. Like you say.

    Lovely post 😀

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