Standing up for yourself isn’t easy. Let me give you some examples:
Jonathan had it. He wasn’t going to take orders or feel taken for granted any more. Nor was he going to continue making his wife’s happiness his mission in life. As a result, he started staying later at work, planned fishing and hunting trips with his buddies and got involved with a young lady at his office. His thought: “I’ve finally gotten a backbone.” I, however, saw his actions as rebellion. In no way was it stand up behavior.
Nancy waited up for her husband, who came home extraordinarily late. She knew he had been drinking, because he spoke to her in a far more kindly manner than usual and had a silly grin on his face. “I had a couple of drinks and smoked a joint.” “I know”, she responded and hurriedly retreated to a spare bedroom. She thought, “There isn’t going to be any intimacy tonight. It’s time he realizes he can’t treat me the way he does.” I doubt he got that message. Nor do I think that what she did constituted standing up for herself. She said nothing about what she felt, how she perceived his behavior, or why she was upset.
It was the holiday season and Richard and Amy were engaged in the same argument they had last year. Her mother, as usual, was up to her old tricks. They were going to alternate where and when they went to whom. “But her mother got sick on Thanksgiving, so we ‘had to be there’. Then, she had the gall to say that this was also her year for Christmas. My parents? They just claim to understand and go along with everything. But, all year, I hear how ‘Amy’s parents are more important than we are.’ I’m so sick of it that I’m tempted for us to go away during the holidays and say the hell with all of them. I can hear Amy now, ‘Richard, your family doesn’t celebrate the way our family does. They don’t appreciate family the way we do.’ About then, I begin to think I should go away alone and let her deal with her parents. If she won’t let me stand up to them, I can at least stand up for me.”
None of these individuals have mastered standing up for themselves. Standing up isn’t determined by what you do to others. It’s not a case of standing up to someone. It’s standing up for yourself. It requires that you, first, know where you stand and what you want. Until you’re clear about those issues, you can’t begin to effectively deal with others, because it’s impossible to support any person, position or decision if you’re not on firm ground. But, once you’re on solid footing, you can begin to stand up for you without necessarily damaging relations you value, or acting in ways that will prove destructive in the future. That means you’ll be able to stand firm, but also have permission to bend; to speak honestly, but without hostility; to have the courage to say what you think and feel, but also the insight to recognize when you’re wrong. It also means that you can have expectations of others without having to control them. Most of all, you’ll be able to demonstrate a rational concern for self, while still recognizing the rights of others. It takes a healthy person to be able to do those things. But, once you can, your feelings of self-satisfaction and admiration for who you are will grow significantly.
You may think, “It sounds wonderful, but it’s only pie in the sky. How can you ever get there?” My answer: One step at a time. Making mistakes, standing up at the wrong time for the wrong issue, and then learning, “Even though I was wrong, I had the courage to act, or speak up and the world didn’t come to an end. The sun will still rise tomorrow and I’m okay.” It’s then that you’ll be able to go after what you want without imagining, “What will happen if I do this? What will he/she think? How will they react? Will they be mad? Will they leave me?” It will also help you to recognize that you can’t always control or please others. And that, if your behavior is controlled on the basis of how others will react, you’re not standing up for yourself.
Let me give you a specific example. For over a month, Josh was irritable, fault-finding and argumentative. He criticized almost everything Andrea did. It was obvious that all was not right in Josh’s life. He needed her care, concern and nurturance, but he felt so insufficient that, on the one hand, he could ill afford to ask for it, lest she not respond. He knew that wouldn’t occur, but his fear persisted. On the other hand, he couldn’t admit, even to himself, how needy he felt. Meanwhile, Andrea was preoccupied with protecting herself by becoming increasingly more distant, which made Josh feel worse and intensified the conflict. The healthy alternative would have been for her to say, “Josh, I love you and want to be here for you, but your behavior is hurtful and only pushes me away. Please, tell me what’s really bothering you and I’ll try to help. But, know I won’t tolerate your recent actions on a permanent basis.” There is no guarantee his response would be positive. In fact, it’s likely he would become even more angry, because she was right on target and he couldn’t afford for her to see him so clearly. Short-term, she planted the seed that she cared. Long-term, she stood up for both of them.
Lastly, you need to accept that, if you didn’t learn to stand up early in life, attempting to do so at a later stage is a difficult task. You’ll be frightened that, if you stand up, others will abandon or reject you and, if you don’t, you’ll hate yourself. Either way, you lose. Thus, despite your fears, you need, once again ask yourself, “What do I want and how can I achieve it without deliberately hurting someone else?” Then resolve to follow your dreams, no matter the reaction of others, while accepting the fact that they may cry, be upset, argue or get angry. That’s their prerogative. You needn’t, in any way, feel guilty or take the blame for their actions. Nor do you have to “fix” them. Their problem is theirs. All you have to do is be honest, demonstrate a rational self-interest and still show concern for others. Then, let the chips fall where they may because, no matter how others react, you will be standing up for you.