How to Stand Up for Yourself

How can I find the courage to say what I need to say when someone treats me unfairly? I find it difficult to tell people when something bothers me because I’m afraid of getting into a heated argument and losing my words. Sometimes my father raises his voice against me, and I remain silent. Sometimes a colleague speaks to me threateningly, and I say nothing. Sometimes someone makes my child cry, and I still say nothing. These situations often feel like matters of life and death, and afterward, I blame myself for being weak. Sometimes I regret not saying anything so much that I can’t even sleep at night, replaying in my head what I should have said. What can I do?

Building Confidence

When you say you lack the “courage” to stand up for yourself, I hear that you lack self-confidence. One way to build your self-confidence is by developing skills. As your skills improve, so will your confidence.

Another way to boost your confidence is by addressing your mindset. Are there beliefs or attitudes that contribute to your lack of confidence? Unless you change your thinking, it is unlikely your behavior will change, regardless of new actions you take.

So let’s start there.

Mastering Your Stories

Instead of replaying what you should have said, it would be better for you to explore why you are stuck in this behavior pattern. In Crucial Conversations, we teach a concept called “Master My Stories.” The premise is that the stories we tell ourselves shape our interpretations of events and our behavior. Although we teach this concept in the context of conflict moments, it can be applied much more broadly.

Another word for a story is belief. I suspect that your lack of “courage” to stand up for yourself is not just due to not knowing what to say. It is likely based on deeply rooted beliefs and perspectives formed throughout your life. These beliefs are embodied and shaped by your experiences. What are they?

Uncovering Assumptions

Maybe you have stood up for yourself in the past, but it only made the situation worse. Maybe those attempts damaged your relationships or reputation. Maybe you find that no one listens to you. Whatever it is, somewhere along the way, you concluded, consciously or not, that it is better to remain silent than to defend yourself.

Uncovering these underlying assumptions does not mean you can eliminate them immediately. Changing our perspective often takes years of work. Awareness is just the first step. Based on my reading of your question, this is where I recommend you start.

As you uncover your beliefs, I invite you to replace them with this belief: you are a source of strength and responsibility in the world.

If you are not yet familiar with it, all our work is based on this idea. All our trainings and books offer a framework that invites us to see ourselves as agents in a world where it is tempting to believe we are not. This framework places power and responsibility within ourselves.

Destructive Behavior

Why is this important? In my experience, patterns of self-destructive or destructive behavior stem from beliefs that either (1) ignore our power to act or (2) justify attempts to avoid taking responsibility.

You might not be convinced of this idea. That’s fine. Some see what I have outlined as objective truth, while others think it is untrue. I am agnostic: maybe it is true, and maybe it is a useful story.

But if it is a story, it has, like other stories, the power to shape our interpretations of events and our behavior. In other words, our ability to change our behavior and outcomes depends on the belief that we can. Keep that in mind as you reflect on self-limiting beliefs. You need to develop a sense that you have a perspective worth sharing.

So what can you say now?

Respectfully Saying No

I feel that what I now suggest is insufficient. There are likely dozens of steps you can and should take to develop confidence and stand up for yourself, but I hope this gives you a starting point: affirm and maintain your sense of self-worth.

To affirm your self-worth, simply say no. “You cannot speak to me like that.” “No.” “You cannot treat me disrespectfully.” “I will not listen to this.” Find an expression that allows you to calmly and firmly affirm that you will not tolerate being treated disrespectfully.

To maintain your self-worth, remove yourself from the situation. Take a step back. Go to another room, a friend’s house, or a colleague’s office. State your affirmation and then say, “Excuse me.” And walk away.

Please do not interpret these suggestions as an excuse or a sign of weakness. In the words of Albert Camus: “Saying no does not mean giving up. It also means saying yes, with every gesture.” Say yes to yourself.

Ensure Psychological Safety

Finally, I have responded to your question assuming you are not in danger, but that you have developed the habit of allowing others to disrespect and ignore you. If it is worse than that – if you are being bullied – I urge you to seek professional help where you feel psychologically safe.


Training solution

Have more impactful conversations?

And don’t stop here. This is just a starting point. Keep learning and working on your communication skills. Attend a webinar or read 1 of our ebooks. Want to learn more skills to have impactful conversations well? In the Crucial Conversations training for mastering dialogue, you will learn 9 skills for having conversations where emotions run high and interests are high..”

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