Saying No: An Act of Self-Care and Self-Respect

Imagine a river.

Its source can be found at the top of a mountain. It travels toward the sea; its water supply being renewed by rain and melted snow. The river winds through villages and towns, and along the way, it becomes strong and plentiful.

The people who live along the river banks use the water to grow their crops and sustain themselves.

They are grateful, but soon they begin to take the river and its abundance for granted. They have come to believe that the river will be there forever, filled with cool, clean water for them to use and support their lives.

Then, slowly, things begin to change.

There is a long period of drought, and the river is not renewed. The villagers continue to draw water as usual. Their needs are met, for now.

This goes on for some time until the river becomes a stream, a trickle, and eventually, it dries out. Now what?

What if I were to tell you that you’re the river?

And, if you are the river, is it possible to manage the water level? The river, by its nature, depends on weather conditions, and how humans behave and manage their resources.

You would think the villagers — the same ones who have always benefited from the river’s presence in their lives — would try to change their habits. You would think.

Unfortunately, it isn’t so.

Once you get used to taking, switching to giving becomes difficult. Here and there, some will rise above and try to do something different than their fellow villagers. Will it be enough?

You know what they say. It takes a village.

When it comes to you though, you are a human being able to take responsibility for your well-being and your own renewal.

Do you really want to give up this ability and depend solely on others for your nourishment?

If you are a perpetual and committed caretaker, chances are you are really good at saying yes, most of the time. You consider helping and supporting others an integral part of who you are.

It is possible that saying no makes you feel selfish and self-centered.

What happens though when you ignore your personal needs?

First comes exhaustion and a slow down of sorts. Then resentment and disappointment begin to take hold. Then comes anger.

When you consistently give in to other people’s demands and ignore your personal needs, the well dries out. There is not much to give when you don’t replenish the well. Not only that, but eventually, you begin to blame those who take you for granted. You may even lash out.

This is a pivotal moment when turning our gaze inwards can help us see things as they are. Who sets the ground rules?

When you act against what you know to be good for you, there is a feeling of letting yourself down, a sinking of the heart, a small voice whispering,“Did you have to do this? What about me?”

Every time you say yes when you would rather say no, and every time you ignore your instincts, you lose a little bit of your self-respect.

Being clear about your wants, needs, and boundaries allows you to say no before things get out of hand. Ultimately, it works best for everyone involved because when you choose to give instead of feeling obliged to, you give with love and an open heart.

Have you ever thought about how saying no translates to saying yes to what’s important to you?

Saying no is an act of self-care and self-respect. Although it may not come naturally to many of us, it does not have to be hard.

There is a way to say no gracefully if you don’t let things go too far. No, coming from a place of solid and quiet conviction, becomes a simple answer instead of an emotionally charged response.

People may not like hearing no. They don’t have to like it, but they do have to accept it. Some may even respect your newfound clarity and conviction.

Those who cannot accept or respect your needs may express their displeasure or bow out of your life. If they exhibit disapproval of the “new you,” you can choose whether to respond or not. If you do, make it short and sweet. No apologies needed.

If they choose to bow out, remember that all you asked for was their respect and acceptance of your needs. You want people in your life who can do that.

You may find that old habits die hard and tend to fight back. You may find yourself going weak at the knees and coming up with a thousand excuses why it may be best if you went back to being the way you used to be.

This is how you sabotage yourself. Say No anyway!

Like everything, learning to be protective of your time, energy, and well-being begins with a promise to yourself. It becomes a habit through practice. Go ahead and practice. Find your starting point and make it real for you.

Do you need support in making some much-needed changes?

Go ahead and sign up for The Power of Clarity and Intention, a 4-part self-guided course that is FREE to all my newsletter subscribers and a great starting point.

Or, sign up for your Clarity Coaching Session and explore how to gain the clarity and conviction you need to make mindful life choices.

If you like being part of a group, I invite you to sign up for our next monthly gathering. Read more about the gatherings here.

I hope you find what works for you and begin your way back to yourself, gently and mindfully.

Here’s to your well-being.


  • Ronnie Ann

    Thank you so much for your very kind and caring reply, Yota. Your site is a welcome oasis of kindness and wisdom. You are so right about feeling relief. While I honor the many years of friendship and the natural sadness/grief that accompanies endings no matter what the relationship was, I feel mostly relief. And I have no regrets.

    I once met a man at a MUNI stop in San Francisco. He shared the simple concept of asking yourself if you are operating from obligation or free choice. When obligation rules, it’s time to take a deeper look. In this case, the choice was remarkably easy. For me, it seems that the decision was in process long before I knew — and long before I made it. I too hope she can find peace and move on. Even if in her mind I have to become mean and evil. That carries no weight for me at this point, and (this may seem strange) I hold that space for her with love. 🙂

    Thanks again for your gentle and compassionate words. Blue sky and cold here too. Hugs back atcha. Enjoy! ~ R

  • Ronnie Ann

    Thank you for this post, Yota. Today I said no to a relationship I’ve had since college. Something happened a few months ago between us, and after years of making excuses for her behavior (and my ability to “take it” so as not to hurt her feelings), I finally asked for time apart. She agreed. The silence has felt fine to me. But obviously, not to her.

    Today she wrote telling me off and sometimes screaming at me in email caps. She said if I wanted to end the friendship, I should have the “balls” to do so. For reasons I’ll spare you and with her email as an extra reminder, today I did. It just felt right. Finding your post just now was the perfect added nod from the universe — well, and from you. 🙂

    Wishing you all good things. ~ R

    • Yota Schneider

      Dear RonnieAnn,

      I am sorry about how it all unraveled with your friend. It must be painful for both of you. At some point of our lives or another, we all find ourselves in a relationship that ran its course. It may have began with the best intentions and given us much joy but ended up in bitterness and deep sadness. I guess that’s how we learn, by doing.

      Relationships of any kind do not come with a map but there are signs along the way. Tolerating toxic behaviors and being “nice” when we’d rather set some kind of boundary or redefine the relationship, almost always ends in disaster. We keep going until one day, utter exhaustion sets in and we can’t take another step. It’s at that moment that both parties have a choice to make. Do we reflect, acknowledge responsibility, change our ways, and regroup, or do we take the time and space to individually do our work?

      I am happy to hear that you finally followed your instincts and gave yourself the time and space you needed. You felt the weight lifting in silence. You exhaled and found relief. These were all signs that you did the right thing for yourself. At some point, maybe the two of you could have come together to speak your truth but obviously this wasn’t the case. It’s ok. Trust the process. One day you’ll look back and see how valuable and defining this experience has been for you. I wish the same for your old friend too.

      I hope you feel better this morning. As I’m writing this, I look outside and see blue, sunny skies. It’s cold and it’s beautiful.

      Thank you for visiting and sharing. Always a pleasure talking with you.

      Big hugs,


  • Kathleen Lauterbach

    Babs wants to know if you have a Nanny Cam.
    She thinks you hit the nail on the head and wants to know how you could describe her perfectly in signs of not taking care of yourself. Perhaps this problem is one that many on this page has experienced!

    We did do a little creative problem solving to get to Vermont. Good to have the time to think together.
    Asking for help is a biggie and your nanny cam friend, Babs, has a hard time with that.
    Will keep working at it.
    Thanks for responding.

  • Kathy

    We read you blog aloud last night. Babs question is “how do you resolve the conflict. When you know something would be good for you but you also know helping someone else would be good too. “. I tend to feel it in my body – on overload need a break. I love the saying no creates self respect. Much better than when it creates guilt.

    • Yota Schneider

      Hi Kathy and Babs:-) Thank you for the great question. The first answer that comes to mind is, “Why does it have to be conflict? How can we take good care of ourselves and care for those who need us?”

      Like you say Kathy, it’s always good to follow the signs. A growing sense of irritation, dissatisfaction, and resentment. Physical symptoms such as lack of energy, headaches, not sleeping well, feeling tired more often than not, etc.
      Once you notice, you can ask. “What’s going on? What are these feelings / symptoms telling me? What do I need to do for myself?”
      For instance, you may tend to identify with the “caretaker” in you and you’ve lost sight of who you are outside of this role. You may have put your personal needs in the back burner for so long that you don’t even know where to start. As a result, taking care of others prevents you from taking care of yourself.

      Then, you begin to notice that your health and peace of mind begin to unravel. Ideally, you don’t want to get to that point. Even so, it’s never too late to make different choices.
      Ask yourself . . . How much of what I do needs to be done by me? How can I empower others to take responsibility?
      Who can help me out? What are the resources available to me?

      As you can see, it’s not about resolving a conflict or making the choice between you or the people you care for. It’s about using your creative problem solving skills and being willing to change your ways. It’s about asking for help, building a support system, and making different choices.

      It’s also about standing your ground and being willing to stand up to the perfectionist in you. There is more than one way to get things done.

      Hope this answers your question.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hugs. Y.

  • Linda Samuels

    Oh, Yota! Did you write this post for me? Seriously! You must have been a fly on my wall!

    Self care is always important, especially if we’re usually the care givers and nurturers. Our rivers will surely dry up if we don’t. But knowing this isn’t always enough. We have to purposely seek the moments short and long to do the self-caring.

    For me it can come in the form of a walk, a good night’s sleep, a conversation with a loved one, sitting still, being by, in or near the water…and the list goes on. And there are times when the self care is just a big nudge that says, “Linda…it’s time to just stop.”

    • Yota Schneider

      Good morning Linda,
      Thank you for making the distinction between knowing and acting. As you say, self-care is about being consistent and deliberate. We have to do something every day, big or small it doesn’t matter. I love your list of how you care for yourself and keep your river flowing. I see a part II coming:-)

  • Ellen Delap

    What a wonderful analogy! Yes, we need an abundance of fresh energy to conquer new tasks and be mindful of our connections.

    For me saying no starts with feeling the energy of responsibilities. Some of them feel like obligations instead of fun. That has been my starting point for saying no.

    • Yota Schneider

      Good morning Ellen,
      Thank you for stopping by. Obligations . . . yes, we can spend a lifetime responding to those, can’t we? I think it’s all about balance. We can’t totally avoid obligations but we can include and honor our obligation towards the “self”. We matter and, as you mentioned, when it starts feeling like all we do is extend ourselves and having no fun, what’s the point?

  • Melanie

    It’s so easy for anyone to fall into the trap of giving to others all the time while leaving your own soul unattended. I know I’m guilty!

    Even though being “selfless” is considered a respectable and admirable trait, Yota, I’d like to be (maybe the first) to point out the word, “self” in there! Taking care of one’s self is more important, in my opinion, than taking care of anything or anyone else. After all, if you don’t put yourself at the top of your priority list, who will?

    I love your analogy and how we can go about keeping our rivers flowing abundantly. Beautiful and worthwhile message!

    • Yota Schneider

      Hi Melanie,
      It’s complicated, isn’t it? Giving is how we express love. We forget that everyone is involved in the act of giving which means at some point we’ll have to receive. And, yes, we can talk about the word “selfless” for hours:-) Thank you for pointing this out.
      Always good to have you here.

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