For many of us, taking a stand for ourselves doesn’t come naturally. Whether it be for fear of confrontation, of humiliation, of “rocking the boat”, or simply a lack of confidence, voicing our opinion and being assertive can feel like an incredibly intimidating feat.

Why do I struggle to stand up for myself?

Believe it or not, expressing yourself should be relatively instinctive and natural. Oftentimes, the reason some of us struggle so much to stand up for ourselves is rooted in the past, for reasons such as:

  • A learned belief that your needs are not as important as others (this may even be totally unconscious).
  • Your needs being overlooked while you were growing up.
  • Growing up with very strict parents who did not hear your voice, resulting in an instinctive need to suppress your wants and needs.

The good news is, there are lots of small practices and skills we can teach ourselves to put a stop to submissive behaviour, build self-confidence and start standing up for ourselves!

Be kind in your self talk

This is a first and foremost, foundational kind of step. Being kind in our self talk increases our self value, and increasing our self value increases our confidence, which then again increases our ability to speak up for ourselves. Start by asking yourself: would I treat or speak to my best friend the way I do myself? And go from there. Learn to look for negative self talk and gently pull yourself up on it.

What types of situations are you putting yourself in?

It’s also worth considering the types of situations (or relationships) we are putting ourselves in; are they risky? Are they likely to be harmful to our efforts to become more assertive? Are we living a self-fulfilling prophecy by undervaluing our needs?

It’s time to get assertive…

Assertive behaviour essentially means to assert our opinion, control or balance in a calm and positive way (note: not aggressively!). The first step is to get really clear on your needs, ask yourself how you want to feel, what you want from your relationships, your career and your life. Start your sentences with “I want…”, “I would really love if…” or “It’s important to me that…:”.

“I” is the most powerful letter…

From basic assertion all the way up to really taking a stand, “I” proves to be the most powerful letter in our alphabet. Being super clear and straightforward about your feelings, wants and needs without all the unnecessary “padding” makes a huge difference to how we are perceived by others (and ourselves!). Use language and statements like…

  • “I need to leave ten minutes early”
  • “I understand where you’re coming from, but I disagree”
  • “I feel anxious”

You can use what we like to call the “broken record” method, where you have a prepared statement that you repeat. For example, if someone continually asks you for money, continue to answer them with “I don’t have enough money to give you”.

Remember your body language!

Assertiveness comes from what we say, but it also comes from nonverbal communication – keep your voice calm, maintain eye contact, try and keep your physical tension low, stand up straight, keep your shoulders back.

Learn to deal with the guilt

If you are not accustomed to being assertive, it’s very possible that you’ll feel a little guilty. Learn to acknowledge it, but also teach yourself that it’s not a helpful or relevant emotion.

Time to build your self confidence and learn to be assertive? Reach out to the Mind Matters team to start your journey.

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