Being able to stand up for yourself is a major part of maintaining your integrity and sense of self. Unfortunately, it’s hard to do and often puts you in tough spots. So, it’s understandable that many people don’t do it.
Still, today is as good as any to start. If you don’t know how, here’s how I did it.
Why we don't stand up for ourselves
When I quit my second job, while it didn’t feel great at first – uncertainty is a scary bitch – after a couple of days I started to feel a lot better. Since it was the first time, I’d ever been bold enough to quit at job directly, I’m kinda feeling’ myself.
Looking back at why I rarely stood up for myself in the past, I can see that it was only fear that held me back. At the time I denied it because it didn’t feel like fear, just a feeling of paralyzing unease. Does this sound familiar?
We often forget that emotions don’t always feel like we think they should.
When it came to standing up to my boss and eventually quitting, I had many unrecognized fears:
· What if I’m wrong to feel this way?
· What if I get fired?
· What if they hit me?
· What if they blow up at me?
· What if I’m embarrassed?
At the base of all these questions lies doubt in my ability to handle what may come my way. I know I’m not the only one who deals with this. I’ve dealt with this in increasing intensity for the past … all my life. Most people don’t experience it as crushingly as I do, but everyone has worries like this from time to time.
Experiencing doubt and worry is not only normal, but healthy. How you handle these situations is all that really matters.
How to start standing up for yourself
The best way to get better at standing up for yourself is to stand up for yourself. The more you do it, the easier it will be, and you’ll come to know yourself better as well. For a lot of people who can’t or have a hard time dealing with these issues, they have a long history of learning to do just the opposite.
I was bullied and otherwise abused a substantial amount as a kid by adults and peers alike – even my own mother joined in on the fun. Through all of this, my mother held firm that I was always to hold my tongue and be a better person, especially when it came to her offenses. After years of this crap, I learned that not reacting would make the various abusers get bored and I’d feel a false sense of power and control.
Years of holding my tongue and being the “better” person gave me a fear of responding to conflict – especially with authority figures. Inevitably, I start to feel angry, scorned, and resentful toward the people who’ve hurt me. Instead of working it out through calm conversation, I usually end up running away somehow – until I started taking small steps.
Express your preferences – Building complex habits, like standing up for yourself, often happens due to simple preferences. For example, most people like to be liked and will hide parts of themselves if they’re not certain to be accepted. So, they may do simple things like refuse to pick where to eat and default to “I don’t care,” when asked about a problem they’re experiencing.
An incredibly effective way to turn this around is to simply figure out your preferences and express them every chance you get. Even if you hate something, but are kind of meh on another, being able to narrow down where your heart lies are an important skill. It can help you identify things in your life that are dragging you down.
Admit when people have hurt you – People tend to excuse their pain as unimportant. In truth, the pain we and others experience is real, valid and important enough to deal with. When people say or do things that hurt your feelings or cause negative emotions, say so.
Telling someone they hurt you is a difficult task; hell, it’s hard enough just admitting to yourself that you’re hurting. There are so many negative reactions the other person can have and there’s no way to stop them from reacting in a way that compounds the pain you’re feeling. Still, people are better than we give them credit for; they’ll usually try to feign concern, even if they don’t empathize or sympathize.
Even if the other person does happen to have a wild overreaction or become unworkably defensive, that alone is important information. Why should you surround yourself with people who would treat you that way and react so badly in the face of your truth? You shouldn’t and, if they do, you can write them out of your life accordingly.
Educate yourself – A lot of life’s small struggles turn into life-long battles is because we simply don’t know there’s another way. If we don’t know there’s another way to live, we can’t begin to work towards getting there. So, your best defense is a strong understanding of what it takes to be content in yourself and lead an authentic life.
If you’ve landed here, you’re on the right path. If this particular piece didn’t speak to you maybe there’s another here or somewhere else that will connect with you in a meaningful way.
There’s a ton of incredibly helpful podcasts, blogs, books, movies, activities, and communities available to you thanks to your old friend Google. Also, you friendly neighborhood therapist might be a great resource, even if you don’t think you need therapy.
Practice – Nothing will ever make you feel as confident as seeing yourself doing what you though you couldn’t. In this situation practice, is more of a comfort building exercise. Even if you don’t know you’re capable of standing up for yourself, you are. Instinctually everyone knows how to protect themselves. Practice will allow you to reconnect with that voice.
Combine all 3 previous steps and you’ll be able to build a practice routine for yourself. When someone says x, you’re going to say y. When you feel x, you’re going to do y. Simple equations are the easiest way to start. They easy to remember and implement in moments of panic.