Do you struggle to stand up for yourself? Do you find that people seem to push you around or make choices on your behalf? Do you struggle with assertiveness and confidence? If so, you may be struggling with assertiveness.
Standing up for yourself is a key skill to develop and hone if you want to be successful in life, not just in your career but in all aspects of your life, from your relationships, to your spiritual beliefs, to your family, to your personal growth.
It’s not always easy to stand up for ourselves, especially if we’re used to taking a backseat. Some of us have learned to hold back on our wants and needs and prioritize those of other people.
This behavior is often learned in childhood and carries on into adulthood, where it manifests as people-pleasing, being a pushover, and struggling to get our needs met.
If you struggle to stand up for yourself, don’t worry. Standing up for yourself is a skill, and just like any other skill, it can be learned, developed, and improved upon.
In this article, we’ll explore why it’s so important to stand up for yourself. We’ll also teach you some effective ways to stand up for yourself, so you can prevent others from controlling your life. Even if you consider yourself shy or passive now, the good news is that anyone, regardless of their current level of confidence and assertiveness, can learn to stand up for themselves and stop taking a backseat in life.
Why is it important to stand up for yourself?
Many of us struggle with assertiveness, whether in the home, in the workplace, in a social setting, or in a relationship. Often, those of us who don’t stand up for ourselves feel bad about making a scene or disrupting the flow of things.
We often confuse being assertive with being aggressive and would rather keep the peace, usually fearing that others will tell us we’re overreacting or that ‘it’s not that big a deal.’
One might shy away from confrontation or conflict, even when their needs aren’t being met because the thought of it makes them deeply uncomfortable, and they’d rather move on quickly. This tactic may serve the person in the short term in that conflict and confrontation are successfully avoided, but it does more harm than good in the long run.
If we don’t stand up for ourselves, we risk not getting our needs met. The way we treat ourselves is how we teach others to treat us, so if we neglect our own needs by being passive and letting others take the reins, we do an injustice to ourselves.
Standing up for yourself shows others that you respect yourself and that you are confident in your self-worth and self-esteem. It demonstrates a strong belief in yourself and teaches others that you won’t be walked over.
Standing up for yourself takes confidence, but it also creates confidence. If you don’t feel confident now, you might think that you’ll never learn to stand up for yourself. You may have even resigned to the fact that you’ll always be a pushover. However, before you give up on your confidence, understand that it’s created with small steps.
You don’t have to become a charismatic, highly confident person overnight. Confidence is built step by step. The great thing about confidence is that the more we do to assert ourselves and get our needs met, even if only through small acts, the more confident we become. With greater confidence comes a greater ability to stand up for ourselves, which creates more confidence, and so on.
The consequences of not standing up for yourself
If we don’t learn to stand up for ourselves, people are more likely to take advantage of us. In an ideal world, we would all be kind and compassionate toward one another, help others who are struggling and use our power and influence for good. However, we don’t live in an ideal world, and the truth is that there are people who seek to take advantage of others for their own gain.
People who take advantage of others are often skilled at identifying people’s vulnerabilities and weak points and use their own assertiveness to convince others that their way of doing things is the right way or that a person is wrong for having their own opinion or perspective.
Sometimes it’s a controlling parent; sometimes, it’s a toxic friend. Sometimes it’s a manipulative partner, and sometimes it’s a narcissistic co-worker. In whichever context you find yourself being taken advantage of, walked over, or manipulated, the effects of not standing up for yourself are detrimental to your health and well-being.
If we don’t stand up for ourselves, we may condition ourselves to believe that we are not worth it. The temporary comfort gained from avoiding conflict or confrontation is eventually outweighed by feelings of low self-worth, low self-esteem, and a lack of confidence.
How to stand up for yourself
Perhaps you’re reading this article because of a recent incident in which you failed to stand up for yourself. Maybe a co-worker suggested to your boss that you take on extra work because they wanted to get out of doing it, even though you already have a lot on your plate.
Perhaps your partner is consistently late to meet you for dinner, and you’ve finally realized that it’s time for a confrontation on the matter. Perhaps a parent is constantly criticizing you or trying to get you to follow a career path you don’t love. Whatever your circumstances are, you can always benefit by being more assertive, confident and not tolerating others’ attempts to walk all over you.
Below we have outlined some key assertiveness skills to help you become more confident and self-assured in whatever situation in which you find yourself. Understand that building confidence takes time and happens in small steps, so try your best not to lose patience along the way.
With consistent practice and conscious intention, you’ll help yourself grow significantly and become the confident, assertive person you want to be.
Ways to stand up for yourself
Being able to stand up for yourself is a skill you can develop over time. It may feel a little uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re used to letting other people be in charge and neglecting your own wants and needs, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a life-changer!
The most important tool you need to stand up for yourself is the ability to be assertive. Not to be confused with aggression, assertiveness is knowing what you want and what you don’t and being comfortable with sharing that with others.
A research paper published in the Journal of the Korean Academy of Nursing defines assertiveness as ‘a core human behavior and is key to interpersonal relationships.’
When you’re assertive, you’re in touch with your wants and needs, and you’re willing to prioritize them. Thus, to be assertive toward others, the first step is to improve your self-awareness.
Instead of neglecting your wants and needs and eventually forgetting about them completely, bring your attention to what you need in each moment.
Do you need space? Do you need someone to respect your privacy? Do you need to say ‘no’ to extra work because you’re swamped already? Identify what you want and need before requesting others to support you. You might be surprised to find that people are more willing to help when you’re clear about what you want from them.
It can be hard to say ‘no’ to others, especially if you’re not used to it. Many of us are conditioned to believe by our parents, teachers, or authority figures when we’re children that saying ‘no’ is rude or disrespectful. However, it becomes a lot easier to stand up for yourself when you learn to say ‘no’.
Perhaps you’re a ‘yes’ person. You might say yes to every request, invite, or idea and feel bad if you return someone down. However, if you worry and stress over ever letting anyone down, you might become somewhat of a pushover and make it easier for others to take advantage of you.
For example, if your co-worker asks you to cover their shift several times because they tell you they have important things to do, it might be hard to say no. You might be a kind person and willing to help others, even if it means staying an extra hour or two at work. Later you see them post on social media that they’re hanging out with their friends at a bar.
In this situation, the next time you’re asked to cover, say can politely say no. You don’t even need to explain yourself. It’s not your responsibility to make sure other people get their wants and needs met, and it’s unhealthy to neglect your own in the process.
Saying no might initially feel uncomfortable and may cause a shocked or confused reaction in people who are used to walking over you. Still, if you are consistent and self-assured, they will eventually learn that they can’t use you as a doormat.
Make effective use of body language
We don’t only communicate through the words we speak. We also communicate through our body language, such as our facial expressions, our posture, the way we walk, sit, or stand, and how we approach eye contact.
‘In the course of our everyday lives, we pick up information about what people are thinking and feeling through their body posture, mannerisms, gestures, and the prosody of their movements’, explains Elisa de Stefani and Doriana de Marco in an article on the power of body language published in Frontiers in Human Psychology.
Positive body language is that which elicits greater communication, respect, and trust. Maintaining eye contact, sitting or standing up straight, and directing our body towards another person are all examples of positive body language.
The use of positive, open non-verbal communication increases our chances of being heard and respected when we make a request or have to say no to someone else’s question.
Negative body language hinders effective communication. Slouching, avoiding eye contact, and leaning away from a person are examples of negative body language and decrease our chance of being heard and respected.
Learn how to set boundaries
Boundaries are how you let others know how to treat you. We cannot expect others to uphold boundaries for us because people will do as they wish and may not always consider our boundaries. Still, when we set a boundary, we inform those close to us what we will and will not tolerate. If they choose to ignore our boundaries, they already know that there will be a consequence.
“It is necessary, even vital, to set standards for your life and the people you allow in it.” – Mandy Hale.
For example, imagine you’re dating someone, and they keep showing up late to dinner, and that frustrates you. They don’t let you know in advance that they’re going to be late, and when they eventually show up, they offer no reasonable excuse as to why they kept you waiting. You might forgive them without an issue once or twice, but if their behavior persists, then you could stand up for yourself by setting a boundary.
You could let them know that showing up late makes you feel disrespected and is inconsiderate of your time (note that the boundary is about you, not them – ‘I feel disrespected’). You could then explain that if they show up late again without offering an explanation in advance or letting you know that they can’t make it in enough time for you to arrange other plans, that there won’t be another date. If they want to continue seeing you then they will make the effort to respect your request.
Stay calm and grounded
If you’re faced with a confrontation and need to stand up for yourself, it’s important to stay calm and grounded. Sometimes when someone oversteps a line and forces us to make a stand, we can get a little hot-headed and go into attack mode. We might shout at the person, use aggressive body language, or even go so far as to call them names. This is not the wisest choice.
Standing up for yourself and not tolerating disrespect or being walked over is better heard when you confront it while calm, grounded, and clear.
If you want to get better at standing up for yourself, be patient. Assertiveness is a highly valuable life skill, and it’s something you most certainly should work towards developing, but it’s not developed overnight. It takes consistent practice, but the payoff far outweighs the cost.
Understand that self-assertion is not aggression. Remember that next time, and you get the urge to lash out at someone overstepping your boundary. Also remember that if a situation arises when you’re genuinely being assertive, but someone claims that you’re being aggressive. They may in fact be gaslighting you.