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Have you watched the movie “Ella Enchanted”?
At birth, Ella (played by Anne Hathaway) was cursed by a fairy who gave her the blessing of obedience. Ella obeys everyone and can’t help but say “yes” to anything anyone tells her to do.
When I first watched this movie, the similarities I had with Ella were palpable: instantly obeying commands and the inability to reject. Welp, I even felt happy that my “condition” was portrayed in a movie. She’s Ella, I’m Ely, and we’re both “yes” people.
The only difference was that Ella finally found the fairy, Lucinda, who cursed her, and she learned how to remove the spell. I had no fairy and no f*cking idea how to stop being so obedient. I needed help; I needed a “Lucinda” in my life.
That was the ugly truth: sure, of course, yes, alright, okay, sounds great, definitely were all words that shaped my reality for a long, long time.
Like Ella, I just couldn’t say no—to anything. In my previous career, I accepted projects that were either unpaid, low-paid, or boring. In dating, I kept seeing men even after not feeling any chemistry. In relationships, I stayed in toxic relationships when I was supposed to leave. Not to mention the plans I didn’t feel like engaging in only because I didn’t want to piss off my friends.
In the past, saying “yes” to everything was no problem for me. I thought my “yes” was rooted in kindness and selflessness. I didn’t like anyone to be angry with me, and even if a part of me wanted to say “no,” I refused to express it.
I utterly hated to hurt or reject someone. What if they don’t take “no” for an answer? What if I lose them? What if they think less of me?
It was just hard, so damn hard, to be firm and say what I really wanted.
A few years ago, saying “yes” started to suffocate me. Expressing it no longer felt the same. I stopped feeling kind; I started feeling weird. I stopped feeling like a caregiver; I started feeling like a people pleaser.
Obedience took its toll on me. I suffered from burnout for many years, not knowing that my constant “yes” was behind it. I traveled to my faraway past and discerned this pattern that I had exhibited since I was a young child. I wanted my teachers, my parents, my neighbors, and my family to think the best of me. I wanted them to praise me, validate me, love me.
I didn’t know how or when or why Lucinda cast her obedience spell on me, but I did know that I wanted to break it. Like Ella, I had enough.
And so, I learned a new word: no.
I still remember the first time I declined a dinner invitation. Saying no was the most difficult thing I had to do in my entire life. I kid you not, I started sweating. I politely declined and offered my honest, no-bullsh*t reason: I was too tired to attend and simply wanted to rest.
That. Felt. F*cking. Great.
“No” became my favorite word. It felt brave, empowering, and safe to declare what I wanted, without disappointing or hurting anyone. I can be kind and care for myself at the same time.
I’m still learning how and when to say “no.” I’m still learning to put myself above everything else. Saying “no” has helped me establish healthy and much-needed boundaries in my life.
Without that magical word, people will never know what they should expect from us. They will keep on taking, and taking, and taking.
Do you also struggle with being a people pleaser? Is “yes” your best friend?
I invite you today to dig into your childhood and discern repeated patterns. Maybe a member of your family wasn’t emotionally available or physically absent, and trying to please them was your only way to get their attention. Maybe you were bullied at school and making friends who like you required complete obedience.
The scenarios are many, but whatever happened in the past obviously lingered in your present. This, you should know. Once you know where the wound comes from, reassure yourself that you are enough and lovable and worthy without having to constantly please others.
There is a thin line between kindness and trauma response. Genuine kindness is rooted in compassion toward ourselves. And compassion toward ourselves begins where we learn how to draw boundaries.
Start small. Take baby steps. Take a deep breath.
No one’s going to hate you for saying “no.” You’re not going to disappoint anyone if you take a rest, if you leave, or if you decline. No one’s going to hate you for being you.
In fact, I’ve realized that people genuinely respect those who value themselves enough to say “no.” A great deal of yeses makes people feel entitled to take advantage of our goodness (in other words, our trauma response).
What are you going to say “no” to today?