Have you ever stewed about an argument after the fact and thought about all the things you could or should have said in the moment?
Or been filled with self-loathing for not defending yourself in an unfair situation?
If so, you’re not alone.
All of us have experienced situations in which we have held back from standing up for ourselves for various reasons, then kicked ourselves for that hesitance later.
If you find that you have difficulty standing up for yourself, it’s important to understand what may be holding you back from doing so. Once you can recognize the cause behind your inaction, you can address that and learn how to be more proactive and assertive in the future.
This article explores both the causes and the actions you can take.
Why standing up for yourself is important.
There are many life situations in which standing up and advocating for yourself will be vitally important. This may involve ensuring that you’re treated fairly in the workplace, for example, or that healthcare providers are listening to you and respecting you instead of trying to railroad you into acquiescence.
Other times, standing up for yourself may be vital for both your mental and physical well-being. If you’re being bullied, for example, showing those who are behaving abusively toward you that you won’t be pushed around is often the only way of stopping that kind of behavior.
Or if you’re being mistreated by a parent or partner, they will keep disrespecting you and overstepping your boundaries if you aren’t confident about upholding them.
Sometimes, standing up for yourself can even mean the difference between health and a hospital stay. For example, this is often the case if someone has a food allergy and is served something they’ll react badly to at a restaurant.
They may be surrounded by those who insist that their bad reaction is “no big deal” and that they should just eat what they have and not cause a scene. Meanwhile, they’re not the ones who may end up in hospital with anaphylactic shock.
Instead of advocating on your behalf, they’re more concerned with not being embarrassed or having their authority undermined.
In many situations you’ll encounter over the course of your life, the only person who’s going to stand up for you is you. As such, you’ll need to learn how to be your own greatest champion.
Reasons why you struggle to stand up for yourself.
There are several reasons why people have difficulty speaking up for themselves. Those listed below are some of the primary reasons.
People who were dominated by their parents often have difficulty being assertive when they get older. If and when they ever tried to stand up to unfair treatment, they found themselves on the receiving end of threats, abuse, and draconian punishments.
As such, they grew up with the awareness that any attempt to stand up for themselves would result in consequences and suffering, so they simply take whatever mistreatment unfolds.
Some religions also promote meek, obedient, subservient behavior in their followers. While this may be great for promoting overall gentleness and kindness between flock members, it’s far from ideal when one is being mistreated or taken advantage of.
We’ll all have to deal with bullies and tyrants at various points in our lives, and they rarely respond well to gentleness and reason.
You don’t want to be the “bad guy.”
Quite often, people refrain from standing up for themselves in various situations because they don’t want to be seen as the “bad guy.”
Even though any witnesses would see that the other person is being the antagonist, you might end up being seen as the jerk if you call them out on their behavior.
A perfect example of this is when an elder relative is being inappropriate toward you. Maybe you have a creepy uncle who’s making lewd comments or a grandparent who’s being judgmental and insulting.
If you stand up to them and let them know that their actions are unacceptable, you’ll end up being told that you’re being disrespectful, followed by a litany of excuses as to why they’re “just the way they are,” and you need to be more tolerant, and so on.
You’re trying to keep the peace.
Countless people end up tolerating awful behavior toward them because they don’t want to make the situation worse. This often happens between couples when relationships are breaking down.
One partner will be absolutely wretched to the other, but since they’re still stuck living together for the time being, the one being mistreated inevitably puts up with it in an attempt to keep things from getting worse.
If they stand up for themselves and fight back, they might escalate the situation to the point where items get broken and someone even calls the cops.
Even if things don’t explode into a serious domestic dispute, they might get much more uncomfortable—especially if everyone is going to remain stuck in that situation for a while yet.
As such, you may choose to bite your tongue or walk away instead of standing your ground and defending yourself properly.
You’re dependent or otherwise reliant on them for something.
Many people hesitate to stand up for themselves when and if they know that their security or well-being is at risk. This is particularly common in children of narcissistic parents or partners who may withhold care or support if they aren’t sufficiently pandered to or obeyed.
It’s easy to tell other people how to behave when they’re being mistreated, and far more difficult to stand up to mistreatment when the one who’s abusing you is paying your bills or driving you to healthcare appointments that are keeping you alive.
If you’ve been in a situation where you need help from someone who’s treating you horribly, then you know firsthand that it’s often easier to stay quiet and take it rather than stand up for yourself and risk unemployment or homelessness.
13 tips to help you stand up for yourself:
Now that we’ve covered why it’s so important to stand up for yourself and what might be holding you back from doing so, let’s focus on the how.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you learn how to stand up for yourself. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.
1. Find an inspiration to help you cultivate traits you admire.
Many of us have heroes or idols who inspire us. Some may appreciate stern stoics who comport themselves with unparalleled self-control and poise, while others gravitate toward strong, fierce warriors who tolerate absolutely zero BS.
The more people expose themselves to others who embody the traits they admire and respect the most, the more they’ll start to echo and mirror those traits as well.
As such, find the archetype that inspires you most and determine which behaviors and traits you admire in them. Then consider how you would go about incorporating those same traits into your own persona.
This is a huge reason why we value action movies. When we watch a John Wick movie, our appreciation has less to do with the flashy martial arts or gun skills and more to do with his mental poise and focus in one crisis after another.
He’s completely self-assured, never loses his cool, and continues to act effectively in any given moment, surviving and triumphing over incredible adversity. How can John Wick be this poised? It’s because he’s capable.
Think about the character(s) you admire and respect the most, and make a list of their traits that you’d like to embody. If you don’t already have the seeds of those traits sown within you, think about how you can go about making them a reality.
2. Identify your stronghold, and fortify it.
Every individual will stand up for themselves in a manner that suits them best.
For example, one person might find that it comes naturally to them to diffuse tense situations and advocate for themselves by using humor, while another may find it easier to become very cold and terse when needed.
The method that comes to you most naturally will be the best for you to use, since you won’t be trying to be someone you aren’t.
Think about the traits in which you’re most confident, and work on honing them. Are you articulate, with an extensive vocabulary? Then your voice and your mind are your greatest assets. Are you tall? Hold yourself even taller and move like you’re in command of everything around you.
3. Determine the areas in which you’re weak and strengthen them.
Do you lack self-confidence because you don’t have much physical strength? Determine the best way that you can become stronger with exercises that suit your personal interests.
Do you hate the fact that you burst into tears easily instead of remaining stoic? Learn some meditative or breathing techniques that can help you get a stronger handle on your emotions.
There’s no shame in having weaknesses and shortcomings—we all have them. The key is to acknowledge them with compassion and grace, and then take action to strengthen them.
It’s great to have a strong upper body and core, but if you skip leg day, you’ll tip over. Work on strengthening the areas where you need extra help, and you’ll be more confident overall.
4. Learn to make and hold eye contact.
People who are best at standing up for themselves know how important it is to make and maintain eye contact.
Body language speaks for itself, and eye contact is a nonverbal form of language that asserts sincerity and confidence. In contrast, avoiding eye contact implies furtiveness, insincerity, and weakness.
Studies have shown that people who maintain eye contact in interviews and negotiations are considered to be more trustworthy, competent, and confident than those who keep looking away.
Think about situations in which you’ve had important conversations with friends or partners. If they didn’t meet your eyes, you likely assumed that they were lying to you. Maybe they were hiding something important, or they weren’t sincerely invested in the discussion.
Eyes are the window to the soul, and when your eyes lock onto someone else’s and tell them that they shalt not mess with you, that’s a message they’ll remember.
5. Stop caring what others think of you.
If you truly want to tap into the ability to stand up for yourself whenever you need to, make it a priority to stop trying to be liked by everyone.
Many people hold back from calling people out on unacceptable behavior because they don’t want anyone to dislike them. This is especially common in those who have people-pleasing tendencies.
They feel as though they have to tamp down their own emotions and boundaries to ensure that they remain in other people’s good books.
This is why it’s so important to stop giving a damn what other people think of you. You don’t exist to be liked by everyone around you. In fact, it’s guaranteed that you won’t be liked by everyone you come across.
Furthermore, unless you’re dealing with people you truly love and want in your life forever, it doesn’t matter if they like you or not.
When and if someone crosses a boundary or treats you disrespectfully, step fully into the emotions and thoughts their actions evoke. Then determine whether you want this to continue happening or not.
If you don’t, remind yourself that you don’t have to people please and disrespect yourself in favor of making others happy. It’s okay if they get upset with you—if they’re resentful or salty, that’s their problem.
What’s important is putting them in their place and ensuring they won’t pull that crap on you again.
Things may get very difficult if the people you need to stand up to are abusive family members. If they threaten to hurt you, you’ll need to be prepared to call the authorities and charge them with threats or assault if need be.
This would undoubtedly cause the extended family to get up in arms, but what they think doesn’t matter. All that matters is your health and safety, so you’ll need to let go of worrying about what they might think as well.
6. Get over your fear of confrontation.
This expands upon the previous tip, but focuses more on how you feel inside, rather than worrying what others may think or feel about you.
Think about what it is you feel when someone disrespects your boundaries. Do you feel angry? Hurt? What is your first instinct when it comes to responding to it? Do you feel like you need to call them to account immediately? Or does it take you a little while to process your thoughts and emotions so you can respond with greater clarity later?
Once you’ve sorted out how you feel about this type of behavior, determine why it is you’re afraid of calling attention to their actions right then and there.
Are you afraid of the potential repercussions, such as discomfort or hard feelings in your home or work environment? Or reprisal on the other person’s part?
Think about worst-case scenarios that may occur if you were to stand up for yourself. The absolute worst thing that could possibly happen to you likely falls short of you being thrown out a window or otherwise dispatched to Valhalla, right?
Anything other than that can be dealt with. When you know in your heart that you’re capable of handling anything that may occur from defending yourself and demanding respect, it’s a lot easier to confront those who are mistreating you.
7. Expose yourself to the triggers that cause you to feel scared.
You don’t have to do “one thing daily that scares you,” but definitely lean into situations and stimuli that cause you discomfort rather than shying away from them.
In this era of trigger warnings and safe spaces, most people are encouraged to run away and hide from anything that makes them uncomfortable.
All this does is prevent them from developing coping skills while becoming oversensitive to stimuli that may have the potential to unnerve them. As a result, when they find themselves in stressful or confrontational situations, they shut down instead of standing strong.
If you find that you feel small in various situations, or that you exhibit behavior such as stammering or meek acquiescence instead of standing your ground, then find methods to strengthen yourself against them so these situations or “triggers” no longer affect you.
Throwing yourself into the deep end isn’t going to work for everyone; the important thing is to get into the water. One child who’s afraid to swim may react well to being verbally encouraged, while another can be lured into it by tossing toys into the shallow end, then thrown further and further out once the kid gets more confident.
Find the method that works for you, and you’ll develop a thicker skin and far more resilience.
8. Reduce or eliminate other people’s leverage over you.
One of the main reasons people hesitate to stand up for themselves is because others may have the means to make their lives more difficult.
When others have power over you in some way, they have the means to control you. As such, try to eliminate that leverage in any way you can.
For example, a controlling, narcissistic parent who’s been supporting you financially may threaten to stop giving you money unless you come to heel. If you’re financially independent, however, then they have no leverage over you—and by extension, no power over you.
Instead, you’re empowered enough to be able to speak your mind and stand up to their mistreatment because you’re able to take care of yourself.
The same goes for any other situation you may find yourself in. Keep your resume up to date and always keep feelers out for new work. That way, if your employer or superior threatens to fire you for standing up for yourself, you have plenty of other options in the wings.
9. Change your language—both physical and verbal.
The way we present ourselves to others can make a massive difference when it comes to standing up for ourselves.
People tend to respect those whose body language and verbal cadence are self-confident and measured rather than submissive and flustered.
Watch some videos of people whom you feel are strong and confident in themselves, and observe aspects such as their posture, the way they move, the way they hold eye contact, and how they speak. Then compare those aspects to your own and see where you may improve.
You’ll find it easier to speak up and advocate for yourself if you know that you can speak articulately, with purpose and confidence, than if you stammer and use filler words and sounds such as “like,” “uh,” and “okay.”
Work on your posture so you stand or sit straight and tall, and learn how to project your voice (without yelling) so you command authority.
By making these subtle-yet-powerful changes, you’ll be much more confident in speaking your mind, and others will be much more likely to listen and pay attention to what you have to say.
10. Dress the part.
Much like body language and verbal clarity, the way you choose to present yourself with regard to the clothes you wear will either help or hinder your ability to stand up for yourself with confidence.
Although everyone should be listened to and respected no matter what they look like, proper grooming and a wardrobe that suits one well can go a long way toward being taken seriously.
Furthermore—and this is the more important aspect—you’ll feel more confident and self-assured if you’re clothed in pieces that make you feel strong and powerful.
The clothes we wear are like costumes we put on to deal with different situations. Think about it: people tend to behave differently when wearing formal clothes than they do in jeans and sneakers, don’t they? Their body language and etiquette change on a fundamental level, so take that into consideration when you’re choosing what to wear on any given day.
What responses will your esthetic evoke in others? Do your fashion choices command respect? Or ensure that you won’t be taken seriously?
11. Adapt your approach as needed.
Although it’s vitally important that you know your own strengths and approaches, it’s also good to be able to adapt to the person you’re dealing with.
For example, if you use the same type of self-advocacy that you use with your domineering grandmother when dealing with a law enforcement official, things may not go well. This is especially true if she responds well to cheeky humor, while the latter are more appreciative of stoicism and reason.
Similarly, the method you’d use to stand up to a colleague who’s bullying or being inappropriate in the workplace isn’t necessarily the same technique you’d use with a healthcare provider who isn’t listening to you.
For example, when contending with a problem with one of your coworkers, you can point out how foolish they look and let them know that their behavior is unacceptable. If they persist, you’ll either take the matter up with HR or press harassment charges.
In contrast, if a healthcare provider is dismissing your valid health concerns, ask them to put in writing that they’re refusing to listen to your feedback or order tests. This way, when you have further tests run to confirm what you’ve been saying—or make a formal complaint with their college of physicians—you’ll have their signed attestation of refusal.
Once again, this comes around to people behaving badly when they feel that they’re in a position of power. Eliminate that by putting them on tenuous ground, and you’ll be far more likely to come out the victor.
12. Grow up.
This isn’t meant to be insulting nor admonishing. Rather, it’s about accepting the reality of maturity and everything it encompasses—including the need for self-advocacy and self-defense whenever it may be needed.
If you rely on others to take care of your needs and responsibilities, you’ll never develop into a fully autonomous adult. Furthermore, you’ll stagnate in a state of arrested development that will make you feel that you can’t stand up for yourself but need others to fight your battles and deal with problems for you.
We’ve all seen adults fly into full-blown tantrums, which evoked emotions ranging from concern to contempt toward them. These are people who should have coping mechanisms and some degree of personal dignity by now, but instead, they behave like overgrown preteens.
Our current society is obsessed with safety, even though it’s an illusion. People are encouraged to curl inward like armadillos instead of expanding outward in their own sovereignty, and that often results in others taking advantage of them or bullying them. It’s a lot easier to be cruel to someone who never defends themselves, right?
If you’re perpetually coddled and protected by others, you’ll never have the opportunity to grow into the independent adult you’re capable of becoming.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to take a backseat and let others take the reins, but that’ll cultivate a perpetual adolescence.
You may be able to avoid responsibility and thus spend your time with carefree indulgence, but you also won’t be taken seriously. No one respects an adult who behaves like a child.
There’s an old sailor’s adage that says, “Too much time at port rots both man and boat.” You’ll need to step out of your comfortable, protected zone and step into the role you’re meant to play.
Yes, there will be challenges and responsibilities that aren’t as much fun as letting others take care of everything on your behalf, but there will also be many rewards that will only come from standing in your strength and getting things done on your own terms.
13. Work with a good therapist.
Many of the reasons why you’re having difficulty standing up for yourself may stem from past traumas. As such, if you haven’t addressed those past issues and worked through them, they may affect you on a fundamental level and undermine the progress you’re trying to attain.
If you find that you keep hitting blocks, or that the attempts you’re making aren’t granting you the progress you’re hoping for, consider working with a trained therapist.
They can help you get to the root of your low self-esteem—or why you keep crying when angry instead of being able to express yourself confidently—and help you move past these blocks with cognitive restructuring and other techniques.
Additionally, they can help you learn how to set healthy emotional boundaries without any nagging guilt or fear, especially because you’ll have the tools to defend them.
This may not seem like a big deal to you, but can make a massive difference to your overall self-confidence and mental stability.
People whose boundaries are continually invalidated and crossed end up feeling helpless and defeated. In contrast, those who know they have the strength—and furthermore, the right—to defend their boundaries are much happier and healthier in general.
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If you’re not used to standing up for yourself, these tips might seem a bit daunting.
Don’t let them frighten you off.
You don’t have to incorporate all of them, but rather choose a couple that you feel will work best for your own personality and individual needs.
Self-confidence is a trait that humans have idolized and admired since we began life on this planet. It’s reflected in our stories about gods and heroes, and it continues to be celebrated in the contemporary media we all know and love.
Given some time and practice, you’ll be able to stand up for yourself with greater confidence and strength, and others will know that you’ll brook neither egress nor disrespect.
Sure, you may not be scything through mobsters with high-tech firearms like John Wick or one of the Marvel crew after this, but you’ll undoubtedly be able to stop your coworker from eating your lunch.