The Free Motion Quilting Project: Judgement for Saying No

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Judgement for Saying No

Do you know the most powerful word in the English language?

Do you know how to use this word?

The word is: No.

No. No. No. It feels so good to say it, I want to say it some more! No! No! No!

Yes, this will be one of my weirdly personal posts so please read this if you want a kick in the pants to stand up for yourself, to say "No!" when you need to, and to feel good about it no matter what. And if you'd prefer not to read it, click here to check out designs from the project.

I've known the word "No" for a very long time. Kids learn that one pretty quick and James already knows that "No" does not mean "Yes" when it comes to candy, naps, or playing in the street.

But here's the problem - I did not know how to SAY no.

It's not something I, or many kids from my generation were really taught. We're taught to share and be nice, and girls in particular are taught to look pretty and not get dirty. I needed to be "ladylike." I needed to be "NICE."

Saying "No" even if it was something as small as sharing a toy - that was NOT NICE.

Not nice. That's what people will think of you if you say that word. Do you want people to think you're not nice, or worse....MEAN?

What will people think?

What will people think?

What will people think?

If I could destroy one question in the English language, that would be it. I'm so SICK and tired of worrying about what other people think!

Guess what!? You're going to think whatever you WANT to think, and I can't do ANYTHING about your thoughts!

What will people think if you wear that shirt? What will people think if you make that quilt? What will people think if you stop talking to your mom? What will people think if you cut off your sisters? What will people think when they know you're so mean?

This is what has been sounding off in my head all year. What will people think?

Last year, I found the word "No" sitting on the shelf somewhere back in the recesses of my mind and I pulled it out, dusted it off, and used it for the first time in a few years.

I said it to my mother: No, you cannot hurt me anymore.

I said it to my sister: No, you cannot abuse me anymore.

I said it to my other sister: No, you cannot disrespect me anymore.

This was not the first time I've used this word. In college, I had a terrible "friend" who enjoyed tearing me down to make herself feel better. I put it off for many months, trying to be nice, but finally one day I yelled "NO!" on the top of my lungs and ended that so-called friendship for good.

Saying "No" puts you in control like nothing else in the world. It's a simple word, and even whispered, it has the amazing power to change things instantaneously.

Saying it last year, I finally felt in control of my life and my happiness which could no longer be destroyed by the negative people in my former family and their constant desire to belittle me.

But soon I began to wonder "What will people think?"

And like a poisonous seed, this thought has wormed its way through my mind, accusing me, judging me, condemning me.

What will people think about a girl like you? A girl so mean to cut off her own mother? A girl so vile as to stop talking to her sisters? A girl with the capacity to sever ties with half her family?


That is what people will think. This is why we don't say "no," why women so very rarely use the most powerful word in the English language.

We're afraid of what everyone else will think of us when we say it. We're afraid that if that word slips out from between our lips, no one will like us. We will be ostracized, outcast, abandoned.

Saying no is a bad, bad thing.

Or is it?

Saying "No" is sometimes the ONLY thing we can do. It is the only recourse, the only action that makes sense in an impossible situation.

When it came time for me to make my decision about one sister, I'd spent the entire evening on the phone with her, trying to apologize for a fight we'd had more than 2 years before, trying to make an old wrong right again, but all she wanted to do was hurt me.

Had I said "yes" to this, I would still be on my knees begging for a forgiveness she was utterly unwilling to give. I said "No" instead and walked away from the situation, and from her abuse and manipulation, forever.

Does it really make me bad or evil to say no to pain and abuse?


A full year later, a year of peace and silence from that toxic member of my family, I find myself lacking in no way from an absence of her company. If anything, I am stronger, happier, and smarter for having severed that connection before it got any worse.

When it came to saying "No" to my mother, it was after years, and years, and years of trying to deal with her alcoholism, of trying to manage her jealousy, her pettiness, her rage so she would feel good.

I said "No" only when I finally realized that she wanted me to be nothing: to be small, insignificant, poor, broken, and lost in order for our relationship to flourish.

Does it make me bad or evil to say no to to this abusive expectation?


Even though she was my mother, even though every book in every religion says to honor and respect her, when it comes to a choice between preserving myself or preserving our relationship - it was our relationship that had to go.

When it came to my last sister, my "No" started as a whisper spoken when I was 6 or 7 years old and she was 10 or 11 and already verbally and physically abusive. For so many years, I couldn't see her as anything other than a big, mean monster always ready to tear me down.

Then I finally woke up one day and realized - I'm 27 years old and I don't have to take this any longer! I don't have to deal with this! I really CAN say "No!" to her!

Am I really terrible for finally waking up and seeing the truth?


I stand by my decision and I will defend it. I have said "No" to these women and to many others in my life. I have turned my back on a handful of "best friends" who were really just lighter versions of my sisters and I have NOT suffered for these decisions!

I think there is a lie perpetuated by women that to say "No" and to be mean is the ultimate sin of un-ladylike behavior. To say "No" is to mark yourself out from the pack. What a freak!

If that is the case, if being named mean, evil, or freak is the price I have to pay to protect myself, I will pay it daily, and I will pay it gladly.

Because NOTHING is worth having these people back in my life.

For an entire year I have not missed them. I have not wanted them. I have not needed them. And I do not see this changing anytime soon.

I've heard from many people when it comes to my About Me page and these occasional personal posts - most of it very helpful and beneficial from those with similar past experiences of abusive families who know the treacherous tight rope it is to walk away from.

But there are always those people who share advice that I just really don't want to hear.

That advice is to keep a door open and a light burning for these people in my family.

To maintain a hope that maybe one day they will change and we will be able to get along wonderfully and dance in the yard with fluffy kittens and bunny rabbits.

To which I reply with the simplest, yet most powerful answer: No.

No thank you.

No, that path is not for me.

No, I have walked this road too far and known these people too long to know that they will never change.

No, I will not question my decision to slam the door in their face and lock it with every latch at my disposal. That is a door that I have closed and will not open again. I do not want them back.

I'm done worrying about what other people think. Here's what I think (which is far more important): This is the best thing for me and my family. This is MY life and it's about time I started living it.

Now let's all go quilt,



  1. Bravo, Leah, for being strong and taking care of YOU!
    And thanks for all your wonderful FMQ!

  2. Congratulations for having courage to say "No" to intrusive, insensitive people. I relate to your story, my father was the alcoholic and the family dynamic similar to yours with my siblings. I've enjoyed your work since early days of your blog and I also appreciate your candor. Thanks, you are an inspiration. Cheers,

  3. You really should watch Designing Women. I remember watching it when I was a little girl and Mary Jo was the meek ladylike character and one day she almost got robbed and she was talking about how she didn't want to say "NO" even though she saw the man approaching her and felt he was going to hurt her because it would have been rude to basically call him out on being a criminal on the slight chance he was not. One of the other characters said "well I'd rather be a *itch than a doormat." That stuck with me. I am lucky with my nuclear family being great but that doesn't mean I don't have some nuts in my family tree I could do without.

  4. You deserve honor and respect too!

    It's fabulous you've been able to sort this all out for yourself. Sadly, some people never do.

    I agree. Let's go quilt! :-)

  5. Good for you. Block the toxins out and move forward for your own healthy family. :D

  6. Bravo, Leah.... There's nothing ladylike about being a doormat or punching bag! You are doing what you need to do to be true to yourself and your family. You need never apologize or defend your decisions. The only one who knows enough to know what is best for you is the talented and beautiful soul who looks back at you from the mirror in the morning! Now go quilt!

  7. Well said Leah.... the world did not stop nor cave in, nor anything castrophic when I said no, but I felt so much beter and was so much happier... well done to all who say NO..
    many hugs

  8. Powerful blog post and good for you Leah ! Although I am in fairly good terms with my family (they all live in different countries) I always say we can't choose our relatives. Being empowered releases us from suffering. And "NO" is a good word... Totally stand by the phrase "lets quilt!"

  9. I have to congratulate you for your courage. I finally said NO to my husband and his mother with regard to her abuse of me for the last 29 years. (he never believed she did what she did to me.) She belittled me and I was ok with that. I took care of her when she had multiple surgeries for a badly broken arm, and was honored to do it. I drew the line when she told my chilren a horrible lie about me. I am done and refuse to put myself in her path again. I know what you went through and am so happy for you that you had the courage to say NO! Thank you for sharing your struggle. If you give just one of your readers the courage to STOP being abused by saying NO, then you have accomplished something wonderful.

  10. WOO HOO for you!!! and NO you are not mean, NO you are not evil, and NO you are not a freak, You are living YOUR life now, congratulations. I too have cut off my mother a year and a half ago, have not missed her one day during that time. She has called me once in that time frame, the call came out of left field, I was speechless, didn't have a clue what to say if anything, so I let her say whatever it was she called for, said Ok, and the conversation was over. My life moves on. Life without the drama is great! Life without all the BS is great! Life without all the negativity is great!!! You only get to live once, glad you have finally figured out how to do that happily!!!! Who cares what anyone else thinks, I couldn't agree with you more on that one either. Great post!

  11. Another thing about the word "No" is a complete sentence. Explaining is not necessary! I have tried to teach a friend or two that if they cannot just say "No", all by itself, to say "No, I'm sorry, I can't." And repeat as many times as necessary.

  12. Rock on girl, do what you need to do. Just because someone is related to you does not automaticly make them a good person. Sometimes we have to rise beyond our upbringing and the people who were a part of it. The most importing thing is that you have changed the patterns and your kids will have a chance to grow up differently than you did. Give yourself a big hug and let the shoulds, what ifs, guilts and opnions of others go.

  13. Dear Leah, I applaud you for taking your life in your own hands. We certainly can't choose the family we're born in but we can sure put a stop to negativity and destruction. You are one strong woman and I thank you for opening up. Opened my eyes. Hug for you, Anita (the Netherlands).

  14. Good for you. I was 19 when I refused to go to one brothers wedding as it was just for show. I wasn't going to be rolled out for the sake of his in-laws and pretend when he normally treated me like shit. I was called hard and tough by most people but only my Mum really got how hurt I had been.
    Since then I have cut out all three of my brothers and hardly have any contact with my sister.
    If anyone that knows me doesn't realise there was valid reasons that I did this, when I am normally a kind, generous, tolerant person then stuff 'em. They are too thick to worry about anyway.
    Do I miss them? Not at all. They only ever brought me pain!

  15. Well done Leah and remember you are NOT alone in having to do this for the sake of YOU.
    My Mother has had to say NO
    My Husband has had to say NO
    Our Friend, whom we are helping at present is having to say NO
    I've had to say NO
    and I know of a few friends and acquaintances that need to learn to say NO
    We all, in some way don't want to 'rock the boat' but, are happy, for a while, to be rocked and tossed about, but suddenly, enough is enough, and we have to move on by saying NO and meaning it

  16. You are so right, there are many occassions when I just try to be 'nice' rather than saying it as it is. While it seems easier at the moment to just try to make the problem go away, it won't go away, especially when it's not of my making. We encourage our children not to tolerate bullies and bullying, and yet tolerate adult bullies?! I will try to follwow your example and say NO when I need to say it. THX heaps for your great example!!!!! xoxo

  17. Well done Girl!!! I am From Belgium and when I did read you story it is, if it is my story years ago.I to had to say "No" to my sister and my mother ... From then on my live did started like I wanted. Don't feel sorry it is somethinmes nessesary. And No is not a bad word but a good one.
    Big Big Hugs

  18. I hate all this must honor your mother and father (and whoever else) Why? They are just people having a particular title doesn't make them super wonderful. By saying Yes then its OK for others to continue what they are doing... and OK for you to continue to be hurt and live in pain. I don't think so. Why do these do-gooders always blame the child for not honoring the parent - and never stop to think the parent may well have been the instrument of their own fate. As said before, I think you are very very lucky to have found this awareness of what's good for you and yours, so young.

  19. It's good to get that off your chest, isn't it?
    (sorry, couldn't resist that)
    Good for you!
    Because saying that word is diffucult.
    And I think what Tulip Patch said/quoted is so right:
    I'd rather be a *itch than a doormat!!

  20. You are an amazing person to be able to do what you do and to have the courage to not only do it but to share your journey with so many others. Thanks for letting us in to your life and for sharing your insights into life, love and FMQ

  21. I have finally learned that is not a bad thing to say no in order to take care of yourself. I am working on being able to say it before I want
    to scream it

  22. Well said, and well done you! My granny is the toxic one in our family, however my dad refuses to believe his mother really means what she says when she's running you down, and comparing you with the rest of the family and gossiping about you - argh! Still, living 300 miles away prevents too much contact, and she's too cheap to ever pick up a phone, even on my birthday, so I generally get to avoid her!

  23. Sorry to return once more, but I read this on a friend's blog and thought it was a completely appropriate quote for you:

    'Your time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.'

    the late Steve Jobs

  24. I could say so many things to you Leah, but truly, while reading your post, all I could do is wish you peace. Enjoy your life, and don't feel guilty for doing so.

  25. I keep a list by my kitchen phone:

    1) Oh, that sounds like a lot of fun, but I will not be able to join you. Thank you for the invitation, have fun without me. Bye bye.

    2) What a great idea. Hope you have a wonderful time doing it. I am unable to participate. Bye bye.

    3) Thank you for calling, but I am really busy right now. I am sure you will be successful. Bye bye.

    4) Oh, gosh, no thank you. Bye bye.

    5) This time our planets are sure in time warp. Have fun without me. Bye bye.

    6) Thank you but I cannot join you in this activity. Good luck! Bye bye.

    7) If I told you my kitten is having kitties or will be having her kitties that day or might be pregnant would that change your mind that I am in charge of my own life? I didn't think so. Have a wonderful time. Bye bye.

    These are not used frivolously but saved only for users, abusers, etc.

  26. Leah - I have no idea what occasioned this post but I applaud you for being so smart so young! I said "no" to my brother years and years ago, and for years have heard the "family is family," "forgive and forget", "he's your only brother" stuff from people who know nothing about the situation or about me. You have two families. One you are born into. The other you choose. If you're really lucky, some of the first will become part of the second. If not, that's the way it is. Good for you! Go forth and say NO!

  27. I cannot imagine what kind of life had lead you to have to make these decisions but I aplaude you for your honesty I am sure it is going to be of help to someone in similar circumstances.
    I also love your quilting and wish you and your family peace, happiness and success.

  28. I put up with a verbally abusive sister far longer than I should have. When she didn't get her way when our Dad died, she started on my son and daughter-in-law. That was IT for me and I haven't spoken to her since (including another sister and younger brother).
    The thing that amazes me is, while I miss what I thought we had, I don't miss them at all or the chaos that all that abuse caused me. I always thought it was me and something I had done.
    I know we all have our demons and I'm certainly not saying that I'm the best person out there, but I am a kind and loving woman and never felt it with them.
    Thank you for your courage to say all this. I really admire you and appreciate your candor.

  29. Good for you, Leah. You deserve peace and happiness in your life, and you were wise and brave to stand up to the bullies and remove them from your life. You're so much better off without them.

  30. You are 100% right to say 'no' to abusive people. Everyone has the fundamental right to self-defense. I recently went 'no contact' with my emotionally abusive mother. It feels so good to be free of her.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your strength is inspiring!

    BTW, I love the creative side of your blog, too!

  31. You are a very strong woman Leah. And loking after one's self and your own family is most inpartant. beacause if you do not look after yourself those closest to you will feel your pain as well. Sew now you can say yes to you and happiness love and laughter Take care.
    Now I can see where your power quilts come from.

  32. Leah, hooray for you girl! This post today came just in time for me. I am one who doesn't like to No. It scares me and I have paid dearly because of it. I know I am facing something today where I need to stand up and simply say No. No more no less. And your post has empowered me and made me know that I cannot be guilt tripped into doing anything and I am right in my decision. Thank you so much for being real with us and just being who you are.

  33. YES! Good for you. My mom gave me good advice many years ago, something along the lines of "people can't treat you like a doormat unless you lay down in front of them." Good for you for standing up for yourself.

  34. You have a lot more wisdom at your age than I did! I have just recently learned that saying NO is fine, and that the opinion of others is only as important as I let it be.

  35. happy for you Leah, you are on your way to such wisdom. It takes the first steps to start the process. I'm 55 and love every year I have because of wisdom which will free you. Now lets quilt.

  36. *APPLAUSE* I know where you are coming from. I find it very hard to say no, myself, and even harder NOT TO APOLOGIZE, when I do. I always hate myself when I do that. AHHHH,the gulit of NO. It really has to stop.

  37. The "NO" lesson is a good one to learn early in life that is for sure! How much time we waste giving outher people power over us. Bravo!
    PS Am trying the hosta leaves design today. Love it and all the rest!

  38. A powerful & 'freeing' quote I often revisit is, "You'd worry less about what others think of you, when you realize how seldom they do.". ;)
    I wish you continued serenity in your personal journey, and inspiration in your artistic creativity.
    And, Happy Birthday! :)

  39. Great post! I have recently come to a similar decision regarding my brother. He has made me feel bad about myself for the last time. At least you figured all this out at a young age. I just turned 50 and have had a contentious relationship with my brother for about half that time.



  40. Not an easy post to read or for you to have written. Even though I had not your family troubles, I needed to learn to say no also, to all the requests for my time during my children's school years - you know you wear yourself out when people ask for your labor for FREE. Interesting how they value what they pay for, and as soon as they need to pay for your time, they don't need you. When that happened to me at the kids school after 7 years of volunteering in a job they decided to hire for, I went and got a much better job and never looked back, and also learned to value NO as a really handy sentence. ;) Hang in there Leah, you are one tough cookie, and so successful at your chosen field! Bless you.

  41. Reading your post I just have to comment. You are not a mean or nasty person, on the contrary yopu are a brave and strong woman! I said 'no'to half of my family ten years agon and I never regretted. sometimes it is the only thing you can do in order to be YOU. Take care and stay strong!

  42. Bravo, Leah, what courage you have.Not just to say no but to be able to write about it. You have my full admiration. I've lived longer than you have and still have trouble with saying no, but I will keep your words at the back of my mind the next time I say NO!

  43. Bravo, Leah! You are a fast learner... what you learned at 27, I leaned in my 40s ;) Still, age is irrelevant; what matters is that we got here!!
    Keep looking to the light~

  44. No judgement here. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Well done, you're one brave lady

  45. two Lynnes in a row? what are the odds...

    Anyways, I'm proud of you! {{{hugs}}}

    (the Lynne who misses quilting on a longarm) :p

  46. Oh Leah--I have done the same thing--After my mother died I no longer had to accept a sister who always put me down--always when we were alone and no one else could hear.) I do not miss her--just like you....I know i am looked at as evil--but does that pain have to last forever????

  47. Great post on a difficult topic. Toxic family members can hurt you like no one else, and sometimes the best thing you can do for your mental health is just to walk away, because the truth is you can't change people. Kudos to you for having the strength to do that. You're so right about choosing to deep six a friendship from someone who wanted to just drag you down. Surround yourself with people who want the best for you and who love you for who you are. Best wishes to you and your family.

  48. I have a toxic family too. It is so nice having them OUT of my life. No eggshells, all peace.

    Shake that dust off your sandals!

  49. Leah, I didn't read all the comments so might repeat something... but in your case, saying YES to abuse is enabling the abuse. This can never be a loving thing to do, for love does not want people to sin, not against you or against others. Saying NO might be the only loving action anyone could do for them (as well as protecting yourself). If you allow it, you enable and enabling others to do wrong is never a great choice.

  50. Leah, I admire your clarity and honesty. I struggle with the same issues and have had 8 months of peace from painful "family" relationships. I am making my own true family with people who I truly care for and who truly care for me. Best to you, Jenny

  51. I understand your post in many deep ways. I too, have said, no. Well actually it was a way of not commenting to defend myself that lead to the no contact. Anyhow it had the same result--peace for me. Thanks for sharing.

  52. Well done Leah, Very similar to my experience, true it takes guts but well worth it in the end . just love your weekly posts,please keep up the good work !!!! much appreciated . Ann New Zealand

  53. Leah, you are exactly right. You have done exactly what you must do to "break the cycle" of abuse that you have suffered. You can compromise to the point where you lose your true self, becoming someone you no longer know or like. All you have in this world is you. You have to be right with that person before you can have a healthy relationship with others. Love your insights and your creativity. Thanks for sharing.

  54. No! It is a great word. I said NO to the way my brother treated me. He didn't talk to me for a year. Things are different between us but it is better than me just taking the verbal assault. My situation is different because he wasn't always like that. He is a good guy and he cares he just lost his way for a little while but I still said No.

    You have to stand up for yourself and often when you do you cause ripples. If you have to give up abusive relationships to preserve your life so be it!

  55. good decision. don't look back, only forward. and STAY STRONG! :>)

  56. When I first found your quilting on line I thought this women has a heart of an artist. You are 1000% percent good enough. Love your boys,don't believe the lies in your head believe the truth in your heart. Things have a way of falling into place living life that way Happy belated birthday,you really should celebrate for the entire month. I love your quilting

  57. You are an inspiration. This post touched me deeply, as I've had people in my life like that and I feel so guilty for not wanting them in my life, but you said it, it is ok to say no, and I need to be stronger! Thank you

  58. Wow. Good for you. I had to say No and goodbye to my sister and my parents 3 years ago. No regret life is now free of chaos, self-doubt, defending myself to my younger sister. I'm so glad you didn't wait as long as I did. It takes a lot of courage to do this.
    oshnpashn at gmail dot com

  59. Thank goodness that you have taken a stand for yourself. I too had to take a stand against some significant people in my life several years ago now. I recently had a conversation with my oldest daughter who remembers me in my doormat days. She recalled a few incidents that I would rather forget but she also told me that she was so glad that I finally stood up for myself. Not just because it made my life better but because it also demonstrated to her and her siblings that saying no and taking care of themselves has made their lives better as well. You may have severed your relationship with the toxic people in your life -- and good for you! But you have actually forged a better future for your spouse and children as well. Bravo!

  60. "Even though she was my mother, even though every book in every religion says to honor and respect her, when it comes to a choice between preserving myself or preserving our relationship - it was our relationship that had to go."

    Leah, the biblical tenet of "Honor Thy Father & Thy Mother" means to obey them when you are young, as I expect you did, and take care of them when they are old. Despite your mother having turned in her parent card long ago, I'm sure you would do what you could, should she need care.

    The bible does not command us to remain in a relationship that has deteriorated into abuse.

  61. I have had the exact experience as you, except that my sister and I are united in our rejection of years of abuse, alcoholism, and drug abuse that our mother heaped upon us. It seems everyone, whether they have known me forever or just met me hours ago, feels free to give me their unsolicited opinion. Often that I am somehow cruel and unforgiving. My mother was dying and I thought I should go to her, tell her I forgive her, even though I haven't... to make her passing easier. Then my niece said. You don't have to lie, it's not your job to make her passing easier. I did go see her, I wasn't unkind but said try as I might I just can't seem to forgive her, I told her my reasons why. She was unable to speak but nodded that she understood what I had said (a gift from the universe). I acknowledged that I remembered the good things about her and thanked her for those times. I told her goodbye and walked out of her hospital room. I felt a weight lifted off of me, and smiled as I walked toward my sister who dd not want to see her but did want to support me. She died last week and it was good. I have no regrets. I wouldn't have done anything different. My sister and I flourished when we cut her out of our lives. My sister and I had different ways of thinking and reacting, and it was all good, all of it was right for us. So to all who have an opinion on what is wrong and what is right please remember that what is right for you may not be right for me, and it's okay. Whatever the situation, support us, love us, and be the good friend that we all want to be. You are awesome Leah, for many reasons. Your feelings and reactions are valid and perfect for you. Enjoy your life :)


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