Why it’s important for women to learn to say ‘no’


Laurel Deppen

Editor’s Note: This is a personal essay by Laurel Deppen.

I spent a majority of my life just letting things happen to me. I continued this pattern through my first semester of college. It’s in those few months that people say you’re supposed to go throughout some sort of radical change.

Without realizing it, I did too. I’m not going to act like I’m not still learning and growing from all of the things life throws at me, but last semester, I hit a wall of self-realization.

The issue I saw within myself is one that I think many women experience. I realized that I lacked the ability to say no.

Saying no seems easy. How hard could it be, right? If you don’t want to do something, you just don’t do it. If only that were the case.

More often than not, I would find myself in situations I didn’t want to be in. I neglected my work, my time, my physical and mental health and my own best interests, quite frankly, just to please other people.

I hid most of my real feelings and intentions and changed them based on what I thought other people wanted.

“I’m just floating,” was the response I often gave. It’s a perfect way to avoid saying no. It’s noncommittal, and it’s vague enough to be interpreted however the receiver wants to.

That’s where the issue comes in. If you never take a stand for what you want, people can take advantage of your passivity and push their own agendas.

It starts off small. You agree to have dinner at the same place where you had lunch because that’s where your friend wants to go for dinner. Your friend is having a great time at the party and wants to stay. You have to get up early tomorrow and you’re not having fun anymore, but she’s having fun. You can’t ruin that for her.

But if this behavior continues and you continue to agree to everything, you might find that you’re not living your own life.

If you say yes to everything, you’re not in control of your own life. Other people are. Refusing to say no leaves you in limbo in a life that’s not entirely your own.

It never occurred to me that this was a problem because it’s so common in our culture for young women to smile, agree and do whatever other people want them to do.

Standing up for your own best interests as a young woman is scary. We worry that if we’re too vocal about something we’ll be labelled as over-emotional, stupid or crazy.  Even worse, we feel like the people we love and respect the most—family, friends, boyfriends or girlfriends—won’t like us anymore.

It was almost like I expected my loved ones to change their opinion of me after I refused them something. If that really were to happen, I’ve learned I wouldn’t need those people in my life anyway.

I wish I could say that I no longer agree to things I don’t want to do. I still do, and it’s still more often than not, but making a change like this takes time. Saying no to small things has been such a liberating experience for me.

I have become less apologetic about what I want. Once you start respecting yourself, people have more respect for you.

Features reporter Laurel Deppen can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected].