The Art Of Saying "No" To Things You Don't Want To Do

"Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it."---Anna Taylor


A few weeks ago, I went to visit my godbabies. As life—and by "life", I mean God—would have it, all of us are Geminis which automatically makes us bonded in some pretty significant ways that only other fellow Geminis can even begin to comprehend. Anyway, as I was bonding with one who is right at three months and another who is 25—my bad, eight-years-old (she really is waaaaay beyond her years, though)—I was reminded of something that I truly believe about children—they come into this world with the ability to love unconditionally, to be remarkably creative and to be totally unapologetic when it comes to their "yes" and "no". It is our job as adults to nurture those abilities. Unfortunately, a lot of us…don't.

And since all of us were children at one point, this means that we also came into the world with these things. Some of us got them disciplined (in this case what I mean is beat) out of us (hurt people, hurt people…sometimes those "people" are our very own parents). Some of us were pressured to do and be anything but creative. And then there are those of us who had so many of our boundaries violated that, to this day, we don't know how to say "no"—or we feel guilty for wanting to.

I have always related to the quote, "Adulthood is about surviving childhood." Not that I think it should be that way, but it's simply the reality for a lot of us. But you know what? There's no time like the present to tend to the "inner child" and let her know what it is OK to love fully, live creativity and be fine with saying "yes" and with saying "no". "No" to what exactly? Let's start with this list right here.

Someone Disrespecting Your Boundaries


An author by the name of Suzette R. Hinton (who happens to be a Black woman which makes me like the quote even more) once said, "If the person you're talking with continues to press you for more or can't seem to accept your answer, then you are being harassed. I know that sounds hard for people-pleasers to accept, but it's true. No means no." Amen. Something that I'm very careful and cautious about, when it comes to my godchildren and children in general, really, is honoring their boundaries. I don't just scoop them up. I don't force affection on them. I try and put myself in their position and give them their space to come to me in their own time.

I think a part of the reason why I'm this way is because my boundaries—which are limits—were disrespected on so many levels while I was growing up. I didn't get the right to say "no" or if I did, I was treated like I was wrong for saying it or I was, as Ms. Hinton put it, harassed to the point of changing my mind.

Now? Don't even try it. Case in point, I was recently staying at someone's house and they asked me if I wanted to go out to eat early the following morning. I said "no". Boy, they spent a solid 15 minutes talking about the restaurant, how rise and shine time wasn't "that early" and why I should want to do it. Goodness. I said no. People tend to push past our limits so much that we don't even realize how much they are dishonoring us when they do. But even the Bible has your back on this—"But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one." (Matthew 5:37—NKJV)

Always remember—the same people who dishonor your "no" would have a fit if you did the same thing to them. "No" isn't being mean. It's simply a form of honoring yourself. Anyone who has a problem with that, has a real problem.

Abuse. Of ANY Kind.


Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Mental abuse. Spiritual abuse (if you wonder what that looks like, check out "25 Signs Of Spiritual Abuse"). Professional abuse (there's a good read on that here). Platonic abuse (toxic friends are abusive ones). Neglect. There's no simpler way to put it—you should not tolerate abuse of any kind. Ever and period.

By definition, abuse is "to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way" or to malign or misuse. But I'll be honest with you. As I shared in an article about date rape, if you have to wonder if you are being abused by someone, something is automatically really unhealthy. There are definitely some things that you should be putting your foot down on and saying "no" to. Anything that even mildly mimics abuse is one of them.

Toxicity. Of ANY Kind.


If there's one thing that we try and nip in the bud over here at xoNecole, it's toxicity. If you don't believe me, check out "The Self-Care Of Ghosting Toxic Girlfriends", "We've Said A Word About Toxic Fathers, But Who's Talking About Toxic Mothers?", "Why You Should Be Unapologetic About Setting Boundaries With Toxic Family Members" and "Blac Chyna & Tokyo Toni Are Proof That Your Parents Can Be Toxic Too". I think the reason why it's so important to have a profound aversion to toxic behavior and people is because when something is toxic, it is harmful, poisonous and malicious.

As I was checking out an article (off of the platform) that someone wrote about toxic individuals, I found it really interesting that aside from mentioning things like jealousy, manipulation, control, backhanded compliments and playing the victim, something else that made the list was "They can't take 'no'". A person who doesn't respect your no is showing signs of being toxic. Wow. Just wow.

Doing Something That Violates Your Values or Principles


A few weeks ago, I watched comedian Corey Holcomb on The Breakfast Club go on about his lack of interest in monogamy. Before he got into all of that, everyone was discussing something that I agree with—the world is getting waaaaaay too sensitive. "Sensitive" to the point of being tyrannical. It's like unless you agree with what someone is saying, you immediately need to apologize or be canceled. That's unfortunate too because a lot of people who feel that way would be HOT if someone demanded the same of them.

We all need to be considerate and compassionate. Hopefully, that goes without saying. But to expect folks to go against their core values, principles, passions or interest, simply because you feel a different way than they do is…dangerous.

That's what this current president of ours is on. It takes courage to do or not do something based on your own core set of beliefs, but if someone tries to bully you into doing just that, while it may not be popular right now, it's still OK to say "no".

Doing Something Before You Are Ready to Do It


One of my favorite quotes of all time is "You'll never be good enough for a man who isn't ready." When someone is ready to do something, it means that they prepared, equipped and in the right condition. On the relationship tip, it is NOT our job as women to "get a man ready". It's actually violating and pretty disrespectful to volunteer to take that role on. I actually know many a man who are now husbands who are pretty miserable because they were "ultimatum-ed into" their marriage; they were pushed to move before they were ready to do so. Not to say that those men don't need to take some personal ownership for being pushed because if you're not ready to do something, you need to say "no". At the same time, the person hearing that needs to either accept the response or move on.

The same thing applies to all other matters. Being ready requires desire, time and focus. I don't care how "ready" someone thinks that you might be, only you know how ready you truly are. If they respect you and your knowledge about yourself (ain't it a trip, how many folks think they know us better than we do?), they will respect your "back up, not yet" or your flat-out no. It really is as simple as that.

Conceding to Compromises That Offend Your Spirit


A writer by the name of Stephanie Lahart once said, "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."

There are some things that I will say "no" to, for no other reason than it doesn't sit well with me. Sometimes even my friends will look at me like I am crazy, but if my spirit isn't at peace, I'm not at peace. Peace of mind can keep you out of all sorts of unforeseen or unpredicted foolishness. Don't ever betray your spirit. It's got your back in a way that no one else ever could or would.

Relationships That Lack Reciprocity


Almost every chance that I get, I bring up how important it is to have relationships that are reciprocal. To tell you the truth, when you think about the fact that the root word for relationship is "relate", I'll take it a step further and say that if you're in something where mutuality does not exist, it's not really a relationship anyway.

People who are willing to take without giving in return are users. Not all of them are entirely conscious of this fact, but they still are. And you know what? Your time, resources, and heart are far too valuable to be out here sharing yourself with those who leave you empty in return. The sooner you say an emphatic "NO!" to folks who drain rather than fulfill you, the better off your quality of life will be.



I recently read an article on Inc.'s site that said having a self-deprecating sense of humor is connected to great leadership skills. By looking deeper into the piece, I agreed with this line—"People that can admit to their failures or shortcomings with a smile are more approachable." But it's one thing to not take yourself so seriously, to be self-aware enough to know what your own flaws are. On the other hand, it's a horse of a totally different color when you don't know how to take a compliment, you try and make yourself the butt of every joke and you are constantly speaking negatively about yourself.

For one thing, it seems like you're begging for attention and affirmations which can become exhausting. Secondly, it does a real number on your self-worth and esteem. So, while we're out here talking about all of the things outside of yourself that you should say "no" to, self-deprecation is an internal issue that you should deny, each and every time the temptation to tear yourself to shreds comes to mind.

Cyclic Patterns, Habits and Behaviors


Along the lines of what I just said, sometimes, the main one you need to be saying "no" to is yourself. Whenever you do that, it's called self-control. I once read somewhere that people who can control their appetite for food and sex are empowered in ways that few ever are. I get why they said that because when you can master how not to give into urges, simply because you have them, it trains you to become unstoppable in so many ways and on so many levels.

It's an article within itself to explore what constitutes as an unhealthy—or at the very least, counterproductive—pattern, habit or behavior is. But for the sake of time and space I'll just say, anything that holds you back, keeps you stagnant and encourages you to be the kind of person that you don't want to be or become, that is something you should definitely say "no" to. Right now, please.

Someone Wanting You to “Justify” Your No


I remember being in my late 30s and my mother asking me if I had ever had sex with a particular person that she had known since he and I both were kids. Then she looked at me like, "Well?!" Sometimes, I think people don't realize that receiving any kind of information about someone else is not a right; it is a privilege. This includes parents who want to know the business of their adult children.

Saying "no" doesn't require a follow-up statement. Anyone who feels otherwise, I don't care who they are, they are not honoring the limit that you set by saying "no" in the first place. When you are pushed past your no, when you are expected to defend or justify it, they are basically telling you that they don't respect your limits and you need to provide enough information until they do. That is not even close to being the truth.

Whew. I don't know about you but even writing this has gassed me up to find something to say "no" to (kidding…kinda). Bottom line, "no" is not a bad word. It's an empowering and necessary one. Use it with care, intention and maturity but do use it. Today, if necessary. Tomorrow and the next day too, chile.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

Why You Should Be Unapologetic About Setting Boundaries With Toxic Family Members

Does Your Life Need Personal Boundaries? Take This Quiz To Find Out

Being A People-Pleaser Taught Me The Power Of The Word "No"

I'm Good Luv, Enjoy: How Saying 'No' Keeps Your Life Balance In Check

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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