I played hooky today. I am not usually the kind of person to do this, but today was different. Today I was supposed to give a presentation for students in my graduate program. Before this past year, giving a presentation to this group of people would not have been a problem (although I still would not have wanted to do it). But now, being around people in my program brings fear, risk, and uncertainty – because I was abused by a student in this program when we dated last year. Any event that involves my graduate program gives me an anxiety attack because there is the chance he will be there. And today, I was terrified that my abuser would show up to my presentation; that he would walk in right as I was starting to present and I would feel a thousand daggers going right through me, as I do every time I’m forced to see him; that I would have to give a presentation to the man who abused me and a crowd of ignorant bystanders who have no idea of the hell he put me through.

So I did something I have never done before – I skipped the presentation. I called in sick and spent the day doing things that make me happy. I got a massage, walked around the park, and went on the swings at the playground (something my abuser always forbid me from doing). For the first time in what feels like forever, I said No.

In an abusive relationship, we quickly learn that saying No and putting ourselves first can have very serious consequences – not having dinner ready in time, saying no to sex, not wearing the clothes that he deems as appropriate or fashionable. All of these things can lead to a hostile outburst from the abuser. All of our time and energy must be devoted to them, to following all of their rules to the letter in order to minimize chances of an outburst (even though that’s impossible). And this is why being with an abuser becomes a psychological prison – because we lose that basic human right of being able to say No.

Even outside the realm of abuse, women are implicitly taught from day one that “No” is a dirty word. We are taught that we must do it all – give everyone whatever they want when they want it. We must have the perfect job, get the big promotion, take the kids to soccer practice, and get dinner on the table by 6:00. But more importantly, we must do all these things and never let them see us sweat.

Now you have probably seen those memes and quotes that say, “saying No is a full sentence.” While it may sound silly (as I used to think), it is completely and undeniably true. We have no obligation to satisfy others at the price of our own sanity and well being. We have the right to turn down that extra task someone asks us to do at work, to not make dinner one night and let someone else do it, to say no to sex, to play on the swings, and to skip presentations. But above all, we have the right to walk away when a partner threatens us, hurts us, puts us down, and tears us apart from the inside out.

Like all things, it is easier said than done. But as I have learned today, saying No is liberating, intoxicating, and feels absolutely amazing. It means putting yourself and your needs first. It means claiming your life back.


22 thoughts on “Learning to say No

  1. “We have no obligation to satisfy others at the price of our own sanity and well being.” I need to print this out and tape it to my bathroom mirror. Thank you for writing this.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂 Yes I think it’s something a lot of people struggle with, including myself, but everyone has the right to say no. Wish you all the best- speak766

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  2. I’m happy you made the choice to do something that would not add to your stress. Women are expected to always be ‘on.’ It’s not possible. After your trauma, it’s important to care for yourself first. eden xox

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  3. Wow! We have similar backgrounds. We were abused by those we trusted. It’s so painfully uncomfortable to be strong in the face of the one that used us– abused us–and can still walk in a room and smile st us or breathe the same air.
    I write fiction. I have a book called Polishing Jade that has helped many women heal– stand with better posture and learn the techniques that make Demons take flight! Keep on writing. Keep telling your story and educating others.

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    1. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been through a similar experience. But congrats on your book! It’s amazing how writing and sharing our stories can really help others, and ourselves. Thank you for your support 🙂


  4. YES! Bravo you! So glad you read my poem and I found you. I can super relate… 7 yrs divorced from a 14yr abusive (mostly verbal & emotional) marriage. Remnants of contact remain with kids in the story. Anyway… again, bravo you for listening to your being and honoring yourself. I claimed 2017 as the year of radical self care! Good luck to you as you continue to heal. Thank you for your vulnerability as well

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  5. Thank you for being so honest in your post! We feel vulnerable when we talk about personal situations such as abuse, but once we let it out, we begin to heal. You are healing and taking control of your life. You aren’t a victim of your circumstance. You are creating your future. That is wonderful! I’m so glad you enjoyed your day. Well deserved. ❤️​

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  6. I am glad I stopped by and read this thoughtful piece. I also love your response, to step aside and look after yourself and be yourself- that’s a powerful way to turn away the wrong behaviour of another. Glad to have found this, I’ll be around to read more.

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  7. Glad you were able to put yourself first today. It’s clear you recognize the importance of that. 🙂 It’s cool that you are in a neuroscience program as I find the brain fascinating and I think it would be important for society to understand more on how the brain works and how we think. It explains so much in my opinion. I am saddened that this important academic work has been marred by not only having to face abuse, but having to see your abuser on a regular basis.

    I am glad you are trying to reconnect with who you are. Remembering your strength, remembering what things make you happy, getting in touch with that inner child. Maybe you should write a post of introduction to who you are. Not a blurb on the about page, but a reminder of your strengths, your passions, the things that bring you joy. 🙂

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