People pleasers often have a hard time standing up for themselves. It just feels easier to say yes to any request (no matter how small or so big), avoid conversations where you have to defend your opinion, and put off asking for things that you want or need.
Standing up for yourself is a skill — and like any skill, you can take steps to get stronger and more comfortable with using it with the right practice.
Standing for yourself requires understanding that you have needs and desires and being proactive about fulfilling them. I often encourage clients who are struggling with these concepts to allow themselves to be “selfish”. If the only way you understand focusing on yourself is through this judgmental lens, why not lean into it until you understand that prioritizing what you need is actually OK?
Accepting your wants and needs helps you identify where in your life you need to stand up for yourself. For example, let’s say both your roommates have jobs that are much more high pressure and time-consuming than yours, so over time you end up picking up more slack for the chores and housework… and then more, and then more, until you are essentially carrying it all on your own. Ignoring your wants and needs would prevent you from acknowledging that your time is also limited and your roommates are not contributing their fair share of chores and without that awareness, it would be impossible to take the next step of confronting your roommates and establishing new boundaries.
Know how to communicate
Once you’ve decided to stand up for yourself, the next challenge is often figuring out how to get your message across. If you’re not careful, the way in which you communicate what you need might undermine your message.
Let’s say you’re in a situation where your boss, in a misguided attempt to be a jovial, fun boss, has given you a silly nickname that they use for you often. After cringing through it for a day or two, you’ve come to realize you have to address what’s going on and make it stop.
When you initiate a conversation with your boss, make sure your body language conveys that you’re discussing something serious. You don’t need a rigid, aggressive posture, but you want to stay away from fidgety movements or slouching in your chair, anything that suggests a super casual interaction.
Remember to discuss things in terms of how YOU think and feel by using “I” statements. This will make your conversation more clear and prevent needless debate. “I don’t like that you’re using a nickname for me” is more useful to say than “people don’t like that you’re using nicknames”. With the latter, your boss might disagree that “people” dislike their use of nicknames, and may miss the insinuation that you’re specifically bringing this up in relation to yourself.
Expressing what you want to happen next is also part of standing up for yourself. “I don’t like that you’re using a nickname for me, and I’d like for you to stop, please” sends a clear message that you don’t want to be called a nickname anymore. By contrast, “I don’t like that you’re using a nickname for me” by itself could be wrongly interpreted as you joking around with your boss.
Accept uncomfortable feelings
It’s important to acknowledge and listen to your feelings, but emotions should not dictate your actions or decisions without any other kinds of additional input (like logic, priorities, and values). Anticipating that difficult emotions can come up when you stand up for yourself helps prevent those emotions from taking control.
If you’re not used to standing up for yourself, you will likely feel guilty when you do. For example, if you’ve been pet sitting for your neighbor when they go out of town practically every weekend and you really want your Saturday and Sunday mornings back, it might be hard to finally say that you’re not available for pet sitting any longer. You may experience a guilty feeling that judges you for wanting time to yourself, and for being tired of extending this “small” favor to someone else. But just because you feel that way, it doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong.
Thinking logically about your situation can help you realize that your neighbor has relied too heavily on your generosity, reflecting on your priorities can remind you that you need weekend mornings to work on your goal of getting enough sleep, and acknowledging that you value you down time can show you that it’s OK to make a decision that protects it.
Getting more support
Therapy can help you gain a better understanding of your wants and needs, practice setting and maintaining boundaries, and learn how to hold and accept any difficult emotions that come along with standing up for yourself. Give it a try — click the button below to set up a free phone consultation, and we can chat about how my practice can help you gain that confidence and experience success.