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 an environment where it was imperative to stand up to a bully immediately, showing them you weren’t taking any shit, so that they’d leave you alone.
Then somewhere towards the end of my twenties, long past the days when I regularly encountered bullies, it dawned on me that even when someone was being a bitch (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 “Stop being such a bitch.”
Sure, I could “stand up for myself,” but I didn’t like who I was, when I spoke that way. Also, I was coming to a greater realization that whatever I thought was going on “out there” with other people, was also something that was going on “within me,” too.
In other words, we’re all just doing this human thing together, and unkind words were like pollution of a shared common space.
Some people fantasize about how great life would be if they could offer that perfect comeback to all the jerks in their lives. 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 to stand up for yourself in that way, 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, your intention, will help to keep the energy of the conversation clean.
- 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 the other person has a right to disagree. If you take the time for this step, you might come to understand that actually, they don’t “need” anyone else to change, and this might be enough to free you up from feeling intimidated by someone else’s behavior. Nonetheless, it isn’t about whether the other person agrees. It’s about you being clear on what your values and your integrity is grounded in.
- 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 your happiness depends on whether or not they change, is dysfunctional.
- Write it out before you talk. Simple. Direct. Clear. You can be angry, sure, but make sure that your anger isn’t giving way to an attack. “The truth doesn’t attack.” –Danielle LaPorte
- Set up a time to talk. In movies, the hero realizes something and immediately tells the bully off, putting him in his place. In real life? That’s not a helpful strategy. 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–because avoidance solves nothing–consider completely disconnecting all communication. Sometimes, the most courageous thing you can do in a relationship is not to lay out your position, but instead to just stop…all of it. Stop trying to convince, change, or otherwise alter the situation. My friend Rachael once described this to me as, “just push away from the table, and walk.” Unless a serious moral code is being violated that requires you saying “No, I will not allow this to continue,” then sometimes it’s the sanest choice to just…disengage. 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
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 to convince anyone else that they’ve 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. Standing up for yourself isn’t a “win” when it means taking someone else down. Walking away, and creating more space in your life for the people who would honor you, is the path of the courageous warrior.