Choose Again, Choose You: Self-Love, Toxicity & the Art of Saying No

The most significant relationship we have is the one with ourselves. It is called self-love and it is a truth I have to gently remind myself of every single day. In a society of people-pleasers and sweet talkers fixated on the desire to belong, to be praised and to feel loved in order to validate our existence, it can be easy to forget self-love and surrender to unreasonable expectations within our society, our relationships, and our families. But when we succumb to the labor of making others feel good over our own well-being, we lose ourselves in the process. We lose our inner peace and authenticity. We find ourselves in a state of self-hatred and neglect. We remain stagnant and unchanged, manifesting uncomfortable situations, bad habits, and toxic partnerships.

We flail around in life until we decide to make ourselves a priority, until we learn to withdraw from the people and things that no longer serve us with grit and unshakable certainty.

Photography Alexandra Kacha

After finishing the book Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires by Esther and Jerry Hicks, I found myself greatly inspired by their teachings, but more specifically, deeply moved by a quote: “Your life and everyone else in the Universe is playing the part that you have assigned to them. You can literally script any life that you desire, and the Universe will deliver to you the people, places and events just as you decide them to be. For you are the creator of your own experience. You have only to decide it and allow it to be.” It made me look back on my life and all of the defining moments that have led me here, a place of reflective awareness where I have learned to take control over my personal experiences and love myself enough to become everything I need to become without reservation. I have lost friends and lovers. I have disappointed family members. My father has seen my boobs far too many times than I care to admit, and I have lost an absurd amount of Instagram followers. But embracing myself enough to live a life of truth is worth it. I am worth it, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

I wanted to write a piece that may inspire you to do the same. This post is about how to make yourself a priority. This post is for those of you out there who are in need of a new narrative, for those who struggle with the same storms, for those who feel trapped in toxic relationships, for those who want to find the bravery to evolve into the extraordinary human you were meant to be.

Love Yourself Enough to be Selfish

When it comes to self-love and choosing your happiness over the joy of others, you may become overwhelmed by a sense of selfishness. There is this universal thought that putting yourself first is inconsiderate, self-serving, or unkind, but being selfish enough to care about how you feel and to protect your precious energy is not about selfishness at all. It is about kindness and unconditional love. It is about knowing who you are and what you need. It serves as a catalyst for balance and brings you toward alignment within yourself and to the things you yearn for in this wildly seductive life.

The true definition of selfishness is to seek one’s own advantage or pleasure with a disregard for others, and while easily misinterpreted, there is a distinction between selfishness and self-awareness. When it comes to thinking about what is ideal for you first to become the best version of yourself, you are not being selfish. You are being mindful. When you are participating in activities based on your passions rather than the interests of others, you are prioritizing your inner joy. When you are declining an invitation to binge on Netflix and wine, you are allowing yourself the time to recharge. When you walk away from a belittling relationship, you are protecting your emotional well-being. But when you go in for the third slice—and the last slice—of pizza at a dinner party when you know damn well everyone was saving it for always late Lucy, you are kind of being a bitch.

One of the most challenging yet rewarding things you can do is abandon in that which no longer contributes to your greatest self. From far too many unfortunate experiences, I understand this is much easier said than done, but if you continually expose yourself to negative energies, poor environments, or toxic individuals with a bleak spirit, you become this dreadful masochist. You become a victim of self-sabotage—inflicting constant pain on your heart and blocking your unique self from healing and personal growth. But growth is a fundamental part of life.

When you grow, you evolve and when you evolve, you reawaken your inner magic and become a vibrant creature of light and love.

Photography Jana Sabeth

Walk Away & Evolve

It is not insensitive or an indication of failure when you willingly remove yourself from undesirable circumstances. Whether it be a particular environment or a particularly toxic human, a big part of self-love and making yourself a priority is breaking free of the people who make you question your individuality, cause hurt, or hinder your continuously developing self. Ending a toxic relationship—whether a one-sided friendship, an abusive romantic partnership or a dysfunctional family member—can be incredibly grueling. It hurts. It’s uncomfortable, and sometimes, we can get lost in a spiral of false hope. We can become influenced by outside projections, clinging onto our once-loved humans out of fear and comfort. But the discomfort is temporary and it’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to disagree. It’s okay to say no, and simply walk away.

When I was engaged and my relationship finally hit the depths of despair, I knew the harsh reality of the situation: I was a wild woman with a fiery passion for kink and he was not. We were incompatible. But I continued to stay out of crippling fear—fear of the unknown, fear of disappointing my family, fear of losing my home, fear of being a single dog mom, fear of never finding love, fear of forever regretting my decision to walk away from one of the kindest men I ever knew. I questioned my self-worth, I dismissed my needs, and I made really big compromises. I buried the parts of me that made me whole, the pieces of me that I thought I could live without. I began convincing myself that perhaps, he would change and that I just needed to practice patience. I swayed myself into believing that my sexual longings were negotiable, that instead, I needed to be a “normal” woman and reevaluate my priorities in the relationship. I had never felt so empty.

Clinging on to foolish expectations is harmful and completely debilitating, and it is important to be mindful of the fact that often times, we simply love the idea of what someone could be, rather than who they really are. We are fond of their potential and we hold on for dear life out of familiarity or hope. We hold on to the people we used to know and the warm feelings they used to make us feel because it’s all we think we deserve. But when you recognize that feeling in your gut, that relentless inner voice telling you that a human is no longer meant for you, find the courage to walk away. Find the strength to tear out the pages and write a new story. Respect your heart and give it what it needs. Take responsibility for your emotional well-being and love yourself enough to be selfish, detach, and heal.

Photography Alina Vilchenko

Learn the Art of Saying No

Growing up in a Middle Eastern household, boundaries and saying no were basically unheard of. I said yes to everything and everyone—birthday dinners, baby showers, dinner parties, nonchalant family activities I had zero interest in, a third scoop of rice because God forbid my plate is empty and my stomach is full, outings that caused me nothing but migraines and misgivings. But it didn’t stop there. I dragged the habit of saying yes to everything with me into the workplace, into my romantic relationships, and into my friendships. I thought boundary setting would be frowned upon or harsh and I was afraid that saying no might disappoint the people I genuinely cared for. But saying yes to all the things was a fast-pass to emotional and physical exhaustion. It caused addiction, unpaid overtime, and a love based on lies.

As I became older, I started reading more self-help books and eventually began investing in myself with the help of two incredible life coaches, Anthony and Melanie Clark, who I have mentioned in another post. The two of them taught me about boundaries, the art of saying no, and how to choose my yeses more carefully. Whether emotional or physical, personal boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships to protect ourselves from being violated, triggered, or used. When you say no to someone or something, you do three things: you respect your heart, you set a personal boundary, and you make room to say yes to something more gratifying.

Saying yes out of obligation is nothing but a toxic people-pleaser habit. Saying yes to others to protect their feelings only encourages us to disregard our own, and in turn, causes us discomfort and anxiety. Not establishing clear boundaries makes us vulnerable to abuse and the challenges of others, allowing negative energy into our experiences and causing us to become weighed down and frustrated. It’s funny, as I am writing this post, my mother is nagging me to join a very large family Zoom call this evening—like 40 people large where we have a moderator controlling our microphones. Here is how the conversation is going:

Mom: We finally set up another Zoom conference for tonight with everyone from California and New Jersey! PLEASE JOIN, insert heart emoji. Can’t wait to see you, insert kissing lips emoji. (Side note, I get insanely agitated when my mother used all caps and a lot of emojis. It feels aggressive.)

Me: Mama, I love you, but I am going to decline this time. Thank you for the invite though.

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Mom: Why! It was really nice seeing everyone the last time. It’s quarantine. Do you have anything more important to do? (I really had to take a moment after reading this to ensure I didn’t respond with pure anger.)

Me: No, I don’t actually. I just do not feel like being part of the Zoom call this evening and I don’t need to explain myself. I joined the last one and stayed the full time as you asked. But today, I am politely declining. I truly hope you enjoy the family time though. I love you.

Mom: Love you too.

Here’s the thing: my mother will get over it in probably about ten minutes. Will she be upset? Most likely. Will she still FaceTime me for coffee in the morning like we always do? Absolutely. Will she still love me even though I have crushed her with a boundary? Of course. You see, if I agreed to join the Zoom call out of obligation and out of fear that I might upset my mother, I would resent her and my lack of interest in being present would be evident in the video with my family. And that, does not serve anyone. Truth is, setting boundaries and learning the art of saying no without guilt are two of the most loving things we can do for ourselves and for the ones we care about. Doing so can allow us to build flourishing relationships. It enables a strong sense of safety, an inner knowing, a feeling of comfort in our skin and in our environments.

Establishing boundaries protects our physical and emotional energies, allows us to be more compassionate, and lets those we welcome into our space know that we are in control of ourselves. 

Photography Alexandra Kacha

Practice Gratitude for Always

The other morning I was reading a book and the author raised the question: “If I asked you to name all of the things you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?” Wow, I thought. This is a big fucking question. So, now I ask you the same.

The practice of self-love and kindness are incredibly powerful and can have such a positive effect on our relationships and on how we view the world. While I am slowly learning how to love myself more each day, and to be grateful for the unique human I am, I understand how difficult it can be. I acknowledge those bad days—those days when we feel a dark cloud over our heads, those days when we feel disgusted with our bodies and binge, those days when a romantic partnership is falling apart and we are blaming ourselves. But in spite of our imperfections and unknowing, it is so important to adjust our mindsets and practice gratitude, especially for ourselves, our bodies, and the soft hearts beating from our chests.

Relishing in the gift of gratitude offers an unyielding power to bring you back to yourself. It encourages your well-being, allows you to disconnect from toxic emotions and behaviors, and it empowers you to shift your attention to the more positive elements of your life. It has been known to reduce our fears and enhance the love we hold for ourselves and for others. Whether speaking out loud or journaling in a notebook, showing appreciation will enable you to see moments in a new light and bring forth all of the things you might take for granted. It is an unstoppable channel of inspiration. Know your worth and make yourself a priority. Recognize how far you’ve come and practice thankfulness, for every miracle and every mishap. Accept the human that you are today and be grateful for the ever-changing human you are becoming.

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