How Saying “No” was the Key to Finding my Self-Worth

A self-discovery piece on healing from trauma

I have a recurring dream, one where I keep running from something terrible and scary. Not knowing what I am running from, only that I just have to. This dream has had many variables from someone behind a door, to someone chasing me down a long narrow corridor, to actually facing the fearsome one and freezing before frantically waking up. After waking up, I always wonder why I couldn’t have fought back, why I couldn’t squeeze the word “No” out of my mouth, even in my dream.

Like many women I know, I live with trauma stemming from sexual harassment and assault. The journey of my life struggling with trauma has been anything but easy, and I try to not let my trauma define me. Some days, I am able to forget and forgive, but on other days, I struggle with trivial things that leave me confused. I wanted to share three things that I have learned about myself so far, in hopes that this will help your journeys as well.

I have trouble saying “No”

I have always struggled with saying “No”, whether it is because of the strictness of the household I grew up in, or the powerless feeling I had every time I was confronted with a perpetrator. Even after I got into a healthy relationship, I still had trouble saying “No”, or expressing what I want. I realized that I kept pushing aside what I want for other people’s needs without even realizing it. Everything from what to have for dinner, to what I want my life to look like. I did not realize that this had a tremendously negative affect on my mental health.

It was as if I was living in a cage of my own making without knowing that I could open the gates and fly.

I realized that this was a habit from childhood. I was living my life on other people’s terms, whether that is what my parents expected of me or what my friends wanted. And I didn’t even realize that I had the option to say “No” without consequence.

In hindsight, I would tell my younger self: “If your family really loves you, they will honour your wish. They will not want to impose on you what you do not want. All you have to do it voice it.”

I don’t trust my decisions and my instincts

There is something about surviving sexual assault, the strong feeling of powerlessness and regret that changed the way I make decisions on a daily basis. It stripped me of my confidence to a level where I don’t trust my instincts because I know it did not stop me from the trauma. Perhaps I blame myself for allowing it to happen, for not saying “no”, for not seeing the signs and for being weak.

Trying to start trusting my own feelings and instincts takes a long time. I started with small things like trusting my instincts when taking care of the houseplants, trusting my instincts when cooking without getting bogged down by recipes. I found these practices incredibly liberating because I do not usually trust myself with them. Knowing that something I made following my instinct turning out good gave me a sense of validation and a hope that I will recover and heal overtime.

My relationship with my body is confusing

Growing up, my relationship with my body was a conflicting one. Being a shy quiet girl with glasses, I was often ignored and bullied until my teenage years hit. I started to develop some feminine curves and I started to get attention from people that never acknowledged me before. I really enjoyed this shift, because I was no longer bullied and I felt validated. On the other hand, it almost seemed like my body’s growth became permission for boys to harass me and touch me without consent. So my teenage years were filled with the need for validation, but confusion and regret when it went too far.

Flash forward to my adult years, I started gaining some weight (which happens as a normal part of a human life) and I realized that how I saw myself depended heavily on how others saw me. It is taking me years (and still counting) to come to a point where I genuinely accept and appreciate my body regardless of what it looks like and what people thought.

These revelations were important for my healing process. I needed to be mindful of my reactions and unlearn things that do not serve me anymore. That way, I gain the power and control over my own life and I hope to eventually no longer be controlled by the perpetrator in my past.

Good news that happened when I started this healing process was that the dream that I mentioned in the beginning of the article eventually started to change. Instead of frantically waking up scared, I started to fight back in my dreams. Sometimes kicking and punching so strong that I would wake up with my hands and feet in the air. It is like I am training myself in my dream to fight and finally stand up for myself.

If you are struggling with similar issues, I want to tell you that it will get better, you will heal and become much stronger as a result.

Please be kind to yourself. Peace and serenity to you.

A social impact worker learning the importance of gentle self-care and less self-judgement. Advocate for the benefits of mindfulness and yoga.

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