I don’t know how many times I have found myself talking with a friend about some issue I’m having and hearing the words come at me, “You have to stand up for yourself.” I immediately imagine myself with a cape flying behind me, standing on an actual soap box with everyone around attentively listening to my feelings and taking notes. Except nothing like that has ever happened to me.
So what is standing up for yourself after all? And how do you do it?
For me, standing up for myself is as simple (and hard) as telling the truth. Being honest in the moment about my feelings instead of “going with the flow” even if it’s not in my best interest. It’s saying yes or no according to what I actually mean. It’s no longer being quiet simply to please others and resenting it later. No cape or soap box required.
This is easy in theory, right? Just say what you mean. But I would argue that we all, but particularly women, are conditioned to please others. Most of us get the message early and often than martyrdom is an important part of being who we are. And many of us self-sacrifice in the name of being liked. I would even argue that this is so ingrained in our habits that often it’s hard to realize we are even doing it until the moment has passed.
The good news is that like most things, standing up for yourself gets easier with practice, and I’m happy to share the process I have for this:
Breathe into your whole body. Pay attention to how you are feeling. Are you uncomfortable? Upset? Do you disagree? It’s hard to notice if you aren’t present in your body. Breathing can bring you there.
Be polite and direct. I think sometimes when we think about standing up for ourselves, offering a difference of opinion or even just saying no, we equate this with inherent conflict. But saying what you mean doesn’t have to result in confrontation. It can absolutely be kind. I would assert that saying what you mean is more kind than pacifying others by misrepresenting yourself. Be polite and say exactly what you mean.
Let go of the outcome. It’s good to keep in mind that being honest doesn’t mean everyone will throw you a parade either. You may not get exactly what you want. You might sometimes disappoint someone. But being present and honest means living with integrity and that is worth it. So let go of what comes next. Hold space that it will all go swimmingly, but don’t let the fear of the possible outcomes keep you from honoring your voice.
Consider the alternative. I try to remember that I want others to operate with integrity with me, and that helps me to do the same. I would never want someone to do something for me, something that they didn’t want to do, out of a sense of obligation. I wouldn’t want someone to not express their true feelings for fear of ruffling my feathers. So I hope to offer the same. Consistent, polite, clear, and honest. It serves no one and feels awful to not stand up for myself or express myself as I feel I need to.You don’t have to start today by telling your boss something big and scary that’s been weighing you down for some time. Start by using no as a complete sentence next time you mean it. Too scary? Perhaps just being honest about what you want for dinner might be a good place to start.
There is no path to being liked by everyone all the time. It simply doesn’t exist. Being clear and direct about your own thoughts and feelings can be scary at first, but it will also help people get to know who you really are. In the long run, people respect the kind of integrity it takes to stand up for yourself when you need to. It actually feels really good. And even if it’s a little scary, you absolutely deserve to be heard.
*Adapted from Girlsgonestrong.com, 2015.