Marie Talks: The Power of No: Elementary Edition

Warning: talks about sexual assault

“Let today mark a new beginning for you. Give yourself permission to say NO without feeling guilty, mean, or selfish. Anybody who gets upset and/or expects you to say YES all of the time clearly doesn’t have your best interest at heart. Always remember: You have a right to say NO without having to explain yourself. Be at peace with your decisions.” –Stephanie Lahart

As a child I was taught to never be afraid of saying ‘no’, that the person will respect you and that word.  I was told that at any point I had the right to say no if for any reason I was against something, and I should say no and stick to that answer.  To me that seems like a straight forward word, and a pretty easy set of boundaries to follow when using the word. Personally, I never expected the rules and boundaries to change as I got older; however the older I got the more rules and fears began to accompany the word no. As the years went by more rules were placed on the word, and little by little the apprehension I had towards it grew.

Starting in elementary school the realization came that saying no was not quite as easy as it seemed. To begin with how do you tell someone ‘no’ without coming off rude or hurt the persons feelings? It was as though there was a science behind how to politely say no. Then came the disappointment, persuasion, and sometimes harsh words. That no matter why I said ‘no’ it was endlessly questioned or it wasn’t always taken so nicely. That taught that ‘no’ wasn’t a nice thing to say or that it could hurt people. What this taught me about the word no was to weigh the pros and cons of saying no and choose which path would hurt both parties the least.

I also learnt that even if something seemed wrong to me I could not always say ‘no’, particularly when a teacher or other authority figure asked something of me. Things such as dissections, sitting next to the person who bullied me, or doing those trust exercises when I didn’t want to be touched. It taught me that although something is against my morals/beliefs or I’m not ok with it I don’t always have a choice and have to do it because it’s expected of me. To be honest as a child this confused me, I questioned why [for instance] my teacher had the ‘right’ to disregard my wishes and my ‘comfort level’. What this taught me was that I had to pick and choose my ‘battles’ and that there were certain people (those with authority) who I could not refuse to do what they asked of me. However if the authority figure said no we had to comply with their wishes.

Around the age of seven I went camping in the summer right after my birthday with my daycare.  It was there that I learnt probably the hardest lesson about saying no I ever would: when saying no people don’t always listen. I was forced into an empty room in the cabin against my wishes by a much older boy. He tried kissing me and despite saying no repeatedly I still ended up in this room with him. While I was saying no and trying to get around him he managed to pin me to one of the bunk beds. He did end up getting the kiss he tried for, as well as my bathing suit top off. I managed to get him off me as he went for my bottoms and escaped the room. I was shaken, parts of my body had been touched and seen against my will and my words and actions had been ignored. I never told anyone as I thought it would put me in trouble with my daycare and with him, I was in the wrong, and I would be seen as overreacting or lying. The lesson I learnt was not only that people don’t always listen to you when you say no, they can also ignore the non-verbal display of noncompliance.

Things I had learnt about the word no by the time I was thirteen:
1. To weigh the pros and cons of saying no and choose which path would hurt both parties the least.
2. To pick and choose my ‘battles’ and that there were certain people (those with authority) who I could not refuse to do what they asked of me.
3. However if the authority figure said no we had to comply with their wishes.
4. That people don’t always listen to you when you say no, they can also ignore the non-verbal display of noncompliance.

Do you have any rules or boundaries you have learnt or been taught about using the word no? I would love to hear them.

Stay Loud, Stay Proud, Stay You,
Marie Olsson xx

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