Why Saying ‘No’ Is The Most Important Act Of Self-Care You Can Do

Illustrated by Florence Given.
The following is an extract from Women Don't Owe You Pretty by artist and writer Florence Given.
In the past, I have utilised little coping mechanisms and pockets of joy that temporarily felt like glue, filling up the cracks caused by trauma and helping to make me feel whole again.
This could be dating someone new, having a casual fling, ordering myself take-out, or spending money on skincare products to make the outside feel better. But as long as we keep using things that afford us only temporary, transient relief for a much deeper and complex problem – and we keep reaching for the quick-fix coping mechanisms – we never fully heal.
We need to stop relying on quick-fix solutions or insubstantial "glue" to fill our cracks, and instead allow the cracks to heal properly on their own, forming bonds with each other and making stronger ones through self-reflection and accountability. You cannot heal by using external factors and validation. It has to come from within.
At our lowest points, we tend to reach for things that can quickly and effectively "fill the void" or temporarily relieve our sense of it. Some use mind-altering substances, others use dating apps or go shopping. The thing with short-term gratification, however beautiful and effective it feels in the moment, is that it is fleeting. If left unchecked and not regulated, it often results in long-term self-destructive behaviours which end up prolonging our suffering, making us weaker and less able to take care of ourselves. Self-sabotage could be anything from binge-drinking or binge-eating, to checking up religiously on your ex’s Instagram account, or frequenting the same places as the person who ghosted you in the hope you "bump into them". You might not even realise you’re doing it, but all are acts of self-sabotage and will prevent you from getting out of the position of needing an external factor to help you survive. To say "I’m healed" isn’t the goal – the goal is to get out of the place in your head where you are an obstacle to your own progress.
Image: Florence Given
Finding the power to say "no" to things, people and habits that block my journey back to finding myself, has been the single most important act of self-care for me. In a world that encourages selflessness in women, and in which we are encouraged to be caregivers and nurturers, it seems we have neglected ourselves in the process. Bouncing back from self-neglect will be sold back to you in ways that improve your appearance, as opposed to addressing your mental state and wellbeing. But years of self-neglect is best healed through deep introspection. It involves discomfort. It involves being willing to admit that everything you thought you knew about the world, people and yourself may be just what you told yourself, so that you could cope and stay in a comfortable, familiar state of suffering. These are called "limiting narratives", they are the stories we tell ourselves over and over again to justify why things might not be working out for us in life. The only way to escape this cyclical, insufferable hell is to examine our behaviours and ask ourselves what needs to change. What behaviours might you keep exhibiting to enable you to remain in a comfortable and familiar state of suffering?

Don’t be afraid. By questioning everything, you can only become a more refined version of your already incredible self.
Florence Given’s Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, published by Cassell, £12.99 hardback, is out now.

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