I used to think of standing up for yourself as something you did when someone was being obviously rude and mean. “Hey, you can’t do that to me!” you might shout. But I have learned that standing up for yourself can come in many different forms, some much less obvious.
For example, you may have to protect yourself against someone you love: a friend, a lover, a family member. That can make it that much more difficult because we are conditioned to believe that being close to someone means tolerating their hurtful or painful behavior. We feel guilty cutting off someone we love (or we don’t want to admit that someone we love can treat us this way). These self-limiting beliefs often prevent us from realizing that even in these intimate relationships, we are still in charge of taking care of ourselves.
To claim our full power, we must redefine what it means to stand up for ourselves. It is not just a situation where we give a piece of our mind to a bully. It is the hundreds of small ways that we say YES to ourselves, even if it means saying NO to someone else. It can be done quietly, with love and grace. It is often doorway to greater intimacy, not less. For how can you truly love someone else if you are feeling vulnerable and unsafe?
Let’s examine how this works in practice.
How do you learn to identify situations where you need to stand up for yourself? Every situation is different, but often you may not recognize it until it happens a few times. So look for situations that keep on re-occuring with a friend that feels uncomfortable to you. Each time, you might react in a slightly different way. Maybe you dismiss it because you think you are strong enough to handle the pain, and the other person’s action are unconscious. It’s not that “big of a deal.” Maybe you “have a talk” with the other person, during which they recognize the issue and vow to change. Maybe you question whether you have a right to feel uncomfortable. Maybe you hide your uncomfortableness because you don’t want to scare the other person away.
All of these reactions have one thing in common: you set yourself up to allow the situation to occur again.
At first it may be wise to take that risk, to see if the other person can change. But when it happens again and again, that is a signal that it is YOU who must make a change in the situation. The other person is not going to make that change for you. You are sticking your foot out so that they can step on it. Because they don’t realize that they are doing so (or they do realize, but can’t stop), it is you who must move your foot.
So the next question: how do you make this change? Often, we recognize that we need to act with more self-respect, but we feel totally stuck in this negative patterns. Here are some insights from my own experience:
- Allow life to change. It can be brutally hard to realize that an era is over, a certain innocence and dreams are gone. Grieve if you must, but adjust. Make your life fit YOU, don’t cut yourself down to fit life. If you can let go of the past, you will naturally find the courage to face the future. (A helpful exercise is when you catch yourself wishing things were different, don’t push that thought away. Instead, examine it closely. Recognize what you are trying to hold on to. Then, with a deep breath, let it go. Feel the freedom of not fighting to hold on. Notice the lightness in your body. You are still here. Life will go on.)
- Act out of love for yourself, not anger or resentment towards the other person. When you act of anger towards the other person, your resolve is muddy and weak. When you act of love for yourself, your choices are firmly grounded and clear. This does not mean that you may not experience anger–that is perfectly normal. Greet it with compassion and recognize that you are larger than it. Then out of that larger awareness, decide what is best for you. Remember that you are not here to teach anyone else a lesson, you are just here to grow yourself. Wish the other person well on their own path.
- What feels right to you does not have to make sense. Don’t try and analyze what your heart is telling you. You don’t have to justify it to anyone, even yourself. Accept who you are fully and wholly, along with your unique preferences and boundaries.
I hope these insights are helpful to you on your journey. If you have any stories about your own journey on the path to self-respect and standing up for yourself, please share. Much love and light!