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5 Ways to Stand Up for What You Need

...and stop letting people take advantage of you.

You try to be respectful, showing concern and compassion toward others when they need it. You are a giving person, kind, helpful and pleasing. Maybe too pleasing a lot of the time. You strongly believe in the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” So how is it that much of the time you do unto others but they don’t do unto you. Is it just the people you’re choosing to be around? Is there something about you that allows others to take advantage of your good nature and generosity of spirit? Actually, it’s probably a little bit of both.

But let me step back for a moment. There are many reasons why someone doesn’t stand up for themselves for what they want and need. Actually, this is a skill we learn as we’re growing up. Some people figure out faster than others what is important to them and how to get it. They learn how to be assertive, how to communicate what they want and need, and what effective actions they can take to get what they need. So, some of this is about learning certain skill sets. It also doesn’t hurt to have people around you who support and encourage these skills.

However, some people get confused and stuck, somehow thinking that asking for what they need is selfish. They get caught up helping others meet their needs but leaving their own needs by the wayside. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help others but when you’re not taking care of yourself in the process there’s bound to be emotional and psychological fallout. And it only gets worse with time. So if you find yourself feeling unable to stand up for yourself, and often feel like the proverbial doormat (because your words and actions, or lack of them, have encouraged and invited people to take advantage of you), it’s time to stop doing those things that get you in trouble, to get back in touch with what you need, and to learn effective ways to stand on your own and stand up for yourself.

So, how do you even begin to think about changing the way you treat yourself?

Take the self-worth inventory. There are many reasons why people can’t speak up and/or stand up for themselves. It can get pretty complicated because it can be many reasons rolled into one. An individual’s temperament, the way they interface and interact with the world may determine a lot of things. For example, there are those who are extroverted, take charge, take the bull by the horns and have little trouble making their needs known and getting their needs met. On the other hand, there are those who are more introverted, shy, passive, who may have a harder time expressing themselves and their needs. And for each of us there is a different combination of factors at play.

Then, a person’s upbringing may have a lot to do with how a person behaves. Families often impart their own style, the way to be in the world, to their children. Children often model their parents’ behavior. So a style that allows for an individual to express their needs and an expectation that they will get what they need is very different from a family that messages their child to fit in, to not make waves, to compromise just to belong, and to please. And last but not least, one’s experiences often color how one chooses to behave moving forward.

So, here are some questions to help you identify what issues might influence how you behave and what might be getting in the way of standing up for yourself. Do you give, give, give and don’t get back? Again, there’s nothing wrong with giving, but how much? Do people take advantage of your good nature and generosity of spirit? Do you feel selfish, guilty, and apologetic if you don’t do what people ask you to do? Do you have trouble saying, “no”? Do you feel unappreciated and undervalued? Do you feel that you’re being “taken”, used, and manipulated? Do you end up doing what you don’t want to do just to be liked?

Get in touch with what you need. Before you do anything else you have to identify what your own needs are. I say this because it’s often not a given that you know what you need and want. Sometimes, people have spent so many years out of touch with themselves that they no longer know what they personally need. In addition to identifying your needs, get in touch with what is most important to you. What are your core values and beliefs? Then, ask the next obvious question: are you living your life on your own terms? If you’re not, then chances are you’re not standing up for yourself.

If you have permitted people to use, manipulate, and/or walk all over you it’s time to ask why you continue allowing that and what you get out of behaving that way. What happened to your self-esteem, self-worth, and respect for yourself? The fear may be that you will lose relationships if you act in your own self-interest. So, even if you recognize that you’re compromising too much, or just giving in to keep things the way they are, you’re causing yourself a lot of pain and distress. Is it really worth it?

Let others know what you need. Openly express what is acceptable to you—how you want to be treated. Be very vocal about what is unacceptable. If you don’t let others know how you feel they may misread a situation, misunderstand what you are thinking/feeling, or just do what they want to do anyway. Set boundaries so that others understand how far you’ll go and where they cannot cross the line. Silence from you may signal complicity. Your message may be that if you don’t object it’s okay for others to do things their way. In essence, you’re giving them permission to treat you the way they want to.

Understand how you relate to others. Who are the cast of characters in your life? Chances are that many of your interactions are with people you know fairly well. And that’s why you’re so invested in them and what they think of you. But ultimately, people-pleasing just to get approval and acceptance serves others but doesn’t serve you. So, take a close look at the interactions you repeatedly have with certain individuals.

Do you see patterns in the way people interact with you and you with them? (Think people who borrow money promising to pay it back but don’t, or people who ask for favors but somehow, are no where to be found when you need them.) If certain patterns or behaviors don’t serve you, frustrate and upset you, if you feel used and abused in your relationships, then why do you continue on in the same fashion time after time?

Practice positive strategies. You need to bring awareness to those situations where you put others’ interests ahead of your own. This will take a lot of attention and reflection since learning to stand up for yourself may initially feel very odd to you. You may feel anxious, awkward, embarrassed, fearful, and more but it’s essential to openly express yourself and not back down for all of the reasons you’ve done before.

Practice being assertive. That’s not the same as aggressive. Assertive means speaking up for yourself. If people get angry because you assert yourself, that’s their problem. In fact, that should tell you a lot. People who have counted on your passivity will not be happy when you speak up for yourself. In fact, they may try to turn your assertiveness against you and make you feel guilty. Don’t fall for this.

Affirm everything you like about yourself. It’s very important to acknowledge all you are and do. Aside from issues where you lack the confidence to stand up for yourself, I’m sure there are many things about yourself that you admire and many things that you have achieved. It’s important to draw confidence from these.

Find ways to replenish your emotional stores. What happens to you when you constantly give and don’t get back? Here’s a good visual for you. Imagine your emotions as a giant reservoir. Over time, as you keep giving out your emotions and receiving little back, the reservoir starts running dry. Eventually, there’s nothing left but dry, cracked earth. And that is the toll the stress of constantly giving takes on your mind and body.

“Stand up for yourself by not standing yourself up.”