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Russell Grieger Ph.D.
Russell Grieger Ph.D.

Speak Up For Yourself

Practice enlightened self-interest.

How many times have you said “yes” when you really wanted to say “no”? What about the times you've compliantly accepted a “no” from somebody when everything inside you screamed, “Speak up and get a yes?” How about the times you’ve wanted to shout, “This is what I want,” but stifled it and kept quiet?

I know I have on more occasions that I'd like to admit. I bet you have too. We can all cite examples where we look back, slap ourselves on the forehead, and exclaim, “Why in the world didn't I….”

For 32-year-old Jody, her passive compliance wasn't some occasional lapse in assertiveness. No, hers was a compulsive failure to speak up for herself, a misguided drive to sacrifice her own wants and desires for the benefit of others, often to her detriment.

Why would this intelligent, accomplished woman so habitually deny herself what she herself wanted? Why would she mindlessly favor the well-being of others over her own? Why would she so readily sacrifice her own pleasure to make others happy?

Listen to the conversation Jody and I had during her second psychotherapy session.

Dr. G: So, Jody, your colleague at work asked you to help him complete his report over the weekend and you said “yes,” even though you had plans to go skiing. Right?

Jody: Right.

Dr. G: What do you think motivated you to self-sacrifice like you did?

Jody: I think I just wanted to help out.

Dr. G: Maybe. But, that was a pretty major sacrifice you made. Let's go a little deeper. Finish this sentence for me: “I HAVE TO help him, even though I’ll pay the price, because...”

Jody: His time is more valuable than mine.

Dr. G: Now we're getting somewhere. Let me ask you this. In your mind, why is his time more valuable than yours?

Jody: That's the way I was raised. My first priority is to look out for others. That's the way my mom behaved and how I was taught.

Jody demonstrated a disease more common to women in our society than to men; it’s called Self-Sacrificing. What this means is that she operated on the belief that, when there is a conflict between what she wants and what another wants, their wants are more important than hers, so that the appropriate thing to do is to give up her wants in favor of theirs.

Look at the results for Jody of such a life philosophy – the forfeit of time and energy, the denial of her own pleasure and fun, and the taking on of the hassles and frustrations of others. In this case, Jody gave up a valued ski outing with close friends and instead labored over a tedious report all weekend. Multiply this by the dozens of such examples per year and you'll see the opportunities for happiness she squandered.

What's the antidote? Listen as our conversation continued.

Dr. G: You do know the definition of insanity, don’t you: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

Jody: Yes.

Dr. G: The point is that you’ll never get more happiness in your life unless you give up this way of thinking. Do you agree?

Jody: Yes.

Dr. G: So, Jody, here's a better philosophy to adopt then this self- sacrificing one. It’s called Enlightened Self-Interest.

Jody: Okay.

Dr. G: It goes like this. “Nobody is put on this earth to make my life work. It's my job and mine alone. While I am not better or more important than anybody else, I choose to make myself a bit more important to me then they are to me. So, when there is a conflict between what I want and what another wants, I'll not automatically act on their behalf to my detriment. I'll take care of me, unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.”

Jody: It'll take a lot of work for me to get there.

Dr. G: It sure will, but I know you can do it.

And it did. But, over several months of intense therapy, Jodi worked hard to be more accepting of herself (see “Unconditional Self-Acceptance,” my February 19, 2013 blog), to appreciate that she was a person with scores of admirable and worthy qualities (See my March 26, 2013 blog, “The Appreciate You Project”), and to put herself on the top of her own heap, while, I might add, putting others a close second so as to avoid selfishness. In a nutshell, Jodi shed her Self-Sacrificing mentality, took control of her life, and brought more happiness into her life.

So Can You

Maybe you’re like Jodi. Perhaps out of fears of disapproval and/or pangs of guilt, you may often do unto others even what they don’t do onto you. Here are three questions to help you diagnose whether or not you are a Self-Sacrificer:

• Do you endorse the Self-Sacrificing mentality?

• Do you often unnecessarily sacrifice what you want in favor of what others want?

• Do you hold back making your wants known?

If you diagnosed yourself as a Self-Sacrificer, be clear that you don’t want to go from there to Selfishness. Selfishness is when you think you are superior to others and that only you, never them, matter. What we are after here is that elegant middle ground between Self-Sacrificing and Selfishness — Enlightened Self-Interest. Again, this means choosing to make yourself matter to you more than others matter to you, while putting others a close second so that they are never forgotten.

By working hard, you can, like Jodi, become a devotee of Enlightened Self-Interest. When you do, you’ll:

• eliminate a lot of the unwanted, unnecessary, and onerous tasks you take on.

• carve out much more time for your own priorities, pleasures, and principles.

• elevate your pleasure and happiness quotient to new levels.

Live it.

In the spirit of not putting off till tomorrow what you can do today, take on the following Enlightened Self-Interest exercises.

1. Identify the situations in which you normally self-sacrifice. They can be with your significant other, your children, your family, your friends, or your colleagues. Make a vow to refrain from immediately saying “yes” when these situations arise. Think of a response you can give (e.g., “Give me a little time to think about that and I'll get back to you.”) to buy time to reflect on what you really want to do.

2. Create a standard “no” response that you can use in situations where you indeed want to say “no.” For example, “I'd like to help you out, but this is not a good time for me to take that on. Sorry.” Practice it privately at home until you have it well memorized. Then practice it in real life.

3. Determine to say “no” to someone once a day for the next month. Notice that when you do the heavens do not rain boulders, lightning, or apocalyptic debris down upon you. You'll find it will get easier and easier the more you practice.

4. Identify situations in which you refrain from making requests of others, as if you have no right to do so. In the spirit of “I matter,” force yourself to ask for what you want.

5. When you do ask for a favor or assertively state your preference, pat yourself on the back. Remind yourself you are the most important person to you in the world.

Going Forward

It is my hope that you find this blog beneficial with regard to your happiness and well-being. Remember though: Happiness is not a birthright; you have to accept responsibility and work hard to make it happen.

Although I don’t personally know you, remember that I support you 100%. You can contact me at any time by email and I will respond. Until my next blog, titled “Take Time To Savor,” live healthy, happy, and with passion.

Russell Grieger, Ph.D. is the author of several self-help books, all designed to empower people to create a life they love to live. These include: Unrelenting Drive; Marriage On Purpose; and The Happiness Handbook (in preparation). You may contact Dr. Grieger for more information at

About the Author
Russell Grieger Ph.D.

Russell Grieger, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice, an organizational consultant and trainer, and an adjunct professor at The University of Virginia.

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