I used to think that to “stand up for myself,” I had to do something. Say something. Make a declaration.
But here’s the thing–my fierce factor is lightning fast. I grew up in a neighborhood and went to schools where it was imperative to stand up to a bully immediately, showing them you weren’t taking shit, so that they’d leave you alone.
Then somewhere towards the end of my twenties, it began to really dawn on me that even when someone was being a fucking jackass (or, as my more evolved self might phrase it, “someone lacking integrity”), I didn’t feel so good when I thought or said words like “fucking jackass.”
I could say those things and “stand up for myself,” but I didn’t like who I was, saying them. Or thinking them. Also, I was coming to a greater realization that the stuff happening “out there” was really happening “in here,” as in within me, too. We’re all one, we’re all swimming in the same soup.
My unkind words were like pollution.
Some people fantasize about how great life would be if they could offer that perfect comeback to all the jerks in their lives–they’d shut ‘em up, stop them from being such bullies. Movies abound where someone shy and afraid finds her voice and delivers such a verbal tongue lashing that she is never bothered, again.
I’m here to tell you, it might look good, but it doesn’t feel good.
How to Stand Up For Yourself
- Before you confront anyone, know what it is that you want from the situation. Do you want them to stop speaking to you disrespectfully? Do you want to stop being in relationship with them? What’s the specific behavior? Knowing what you want from the situation helps to clarify what you might or will speak into.
- Before you confront anyone, get clear on your reasons why the behavior needs to change. Note that your reasons come from your experience, your filter, and they might not jive with them, but you need to know–for you–why you want something to be different. Some people who take the time for this step might come to understand that actually, they don’t “need” anyone else to change, and this might be enough to free them up from feeling intimidated by someone else’s behavior. Others will hopefully arrive at this exercise’s intended place: really grounding in your values, your desires for the relationship, and being crystal clear about why your desired changes are worthy.
- Before you confront anyone, release attachment. In the last step, you examined why you wanted something to change and gave that desire some validity. In this step, you understand that you can’t make anyone change, and that setting up your happiness to depend on them changing is futile. Wanting an unhealthy situation to shift is a normal human desire. Feeling like unless they change, you won’t release resentment about what they have done/are doing, is dysfunctional.
- Write it out. Simple. Direct. Clear. If you’re angry when you write it out, write it out and then throw it all away. When you’re not fueled by anger, write it all out, again. “The truth doesn’t attack.” –Danielle LaPorte
- Set up a time to talk (or, see #6). While it’s the stuff of movies for someone to arrive at their epiphany and then deliver an eloquent monologue that forever puts a bully in her place, that’s the stuff of petty tit-for-tat. If you actually desire seeing a shift in your relationship with someone, make it a conversation, not a verbal take-down. You’ll feel prouder when you look in the mirror.
- As long as it’s not avoidance–avoidance solves nothing–then just stop talking. Sometimes, the most courageous thing you can do in a relationship is not to lay out your position, but instead to just stop. Stop trying to get someone who has no interest in changing, interested in changing. Understand that they have no interest in changing, and it’s a waste of your time trying to get them interested. Unless a serious moral code is being violated that requires you saying “No, I will not allow this to continue,” let people be miserable if that’s what they’re hell-bent on being. Remove yourself from their space. Let someone who shit-talks about everyone go shit talk about everyone to her other friends; let the person who makes jokes at your expense make them when you’re not around.
The thing is, we aren’t in high-school, anymore. The Mean Girls of the world can stay there, emotionally, if they wish. You don’t have to join them there.
When You Stop Talking
Stop talking? Really?
Not talking–really, not engaging–is seen as the way of the weak. I’m championing it as the way of the strong, the way of the person who is so grounded in who she is and what she knows to be true that she doesn’t need even the validation of letting someone else know that they done wrong.
To just stop engaging with the people who aren’t invested in change is, in many ways, the greatest stand that you can take for yourself. It’s a ninja move that can only be born when you’re grounded in who you are, knowing what’s important to you, and knowing how you want to spend your time.
You want to spend your time only in those places and spaces where all of who you are can be honored. Anything and anyone else who isn’t invested in the same agenda, is too small for you. Taking them down won’t make you feel better. Walking away, and creating more space in your life for the people who would honor you, is the path of the courage warrior.
Well, first let’s just get something out of the way: It hasn’t all been done, before, because it hasn’t all been done by you.
The fear that it’s all been done before is really just a fear that when you do your unique twist on it, people won’t like it.
Examine Your Motivations
So why do you want to do your thing, anyway?
Why do you want to become a yoga teacher, or become a life coach, or write a novel, even though thousands (millions?) of other people have done this, before?
This is a serious inquiry. Are you doing it for recognition? Money? Or because you can’t NOT do it?
When I’m reviewing applications for the Courageous Coaching Training Program, one of the things that I’m looking for from our life coach trainees is a quality of “This is a calling.” If the sole reason for becoming a life coach is to have a home-based career, that’s all well and good, but that’s not the heart-based quality that I’m wanting to fill our program with.
Examine your motivations. Recognition and money are lovely. Your longing to live fully in alignment with what matters to you, most, is like having a spiritual trust fund. The currency never runs out.
It Has and It Hasn’t
It’s all been done, before. And yet, it hasn’t. Every moment brings us a new world, and we need a new spin on old ideas that fit within the cultural zeitgeist of the moment.
In other words, every era needs a new band of heroines.
What we really need is more people who are committed to inspiration. Musicians who sit down to noodle a tune are building on the stanzas that came before them, but we’ll be newly inspired by it, today. It’s been said that every story is the same: someone is leaving town, or someone is just arriving, but we need more books that are un-put-down-able. I’m always telling life coaches that our market is people who suffer and who don’t want to stay stuck in the suffering and who don’t want to be alone in the suffering. We need as many people interested in helping with that, as we can get.
The fear that it’s all been done before can be answered with this simple response: “Fear, you’re actually totally right. It has all been done before, kinda-sorta. But it hasn’t been done by us. I’m interested in rocking this in our unique way, not because anyone’s going to give us an award but because it’s what calls to us. Let’s do this, together.”
Your fear that it’s all been done before isn’t coming up because you shouldn’t do it. It’s coming up as the call to inquire deeply about your motivations and see if they’re ego-driven or if they’re genuine.
If they’re genuine, then your contribution is more valuable than gold.
You–we need you. You make the world a better place. Thank you for the generosity that propels you to give of yourself, in service to that.
In interviews and in the Courageous Living Program, I often refer to the “self-help hamster wheel.” It’s that space where you’re spinning furiously in the world of self-help, reading books and going to workshops and trying to learn about yourself…but going nowhere. Each year it’s a new date on the calendar, and last year’s problems are still there. There’s a futility and exhaustion that starts to set in, an increasing sense of doubt.
Successful people understand how to recognize when they’re wasting time. The self-help hamster wheel? It’s a massive waste of time. Rather than endlessly searching for the “right path,” which often only ends up exactly where you started, here’s how you stop the furious race to nowhere.
The First Step
If you want to get off the self-help hamster wheel, the first step is recognizing that you’re on it.
A few clues: you endlessly buy personal development workshops/books/programs without really seeing results. You’re finding yourself more skeptical of your capacity to change, instead of more confident. If you think of a situation that you were angry about a few years ago, you can still tap into that old anger if you think too long on the circumstances. When you have a bad day or a few bad weeks, old patterns quickly resurface: the late-night binge eating, the return to that ex-boyfriend who always made you feel like shit, the inner critic bashing you for even bothering to try something new, in the first place.
Oh, and you’re tired (I firmly believe that being tired is the first sign that something in life is amiss).
Gently, get honest with yourself: if things are basically the same, then there’s relief in just admitting that. The efforts thus far haven’t panned out. When you get honest about that fact, you’re poised to change.
Second step: get ruthless
Start understanding what’s pulling your attention, and get ruthless about cutting anything that isn’t serving your vision. (Don’t have a Life Vision? Time to get one–they up the clarity and purpose factor, big time).
As an example, I recently found myself feeling stressed about how much was on my plate and like there was not enough time. At a certain point, I had to just get ruthless: it was time to start cutting out time-wasters and anything that I wasn’t ecstatically excited about.
It was not easy to cut certain things from my agenda. For reasons ranging from vanity to practicality, I had justifications for why I was doing what I’d been doing–and now I needed to get ruthless about cutting things that didn’t fit my highest vision.
If you know that your soul’s calling is asking you to shift, you’ve got to look around and see what’s currently pulling your attention. If it’s not something orienting you towards what you know you want, most, then you’ve got to cut it. These are hard choices, but it’s part of keeping yourself aligned with a life lived in ecstasy.
Third step: See one thing through.
If you really think about it, most paths are saying many of the same things. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Know what your priorities are, and make choices that align with those priorities.
The self-help hamster wheel can only keep turning because you bail. This time, finish. Review your notes from that last workshop, implement action steps for thirty days. Read the book, cover to cover, and discuss it with a friend. Complete the program. Finish every single exercise, and be 100% invested.
The chances are that it’s not the guru, the program, or the message that’s amiss. It’s your commitment to it. If you’re fully committed, you’ll get something out of it, no matter what. Buck the trend of bailing on something, and instead see it all the way through with a fervor. Tell everyone what you’re up to; ask them to join in. When you’re done, ask yourself if this time, something’s different.
All Paths Lead To You
At the end of the day, the things that aren’t working in your life won’t change because you do external things, differently. They’ll change because you feel a shift, inside. When you’re no longer on the self-help hamster wheel, your energy gets redirected towards your courageous purpose, and it’s living with a sense of purpose that will light you up and make even the challenges feel lighter.