Do you find it hard to stand up for yourself? Many people find it difficult to stand up for themselves for a variety of reasons, including being afraid of confrontation, having low self-esteem, afraid of not being liked, and being afraid of the consequences of their assertiveness.
In order to explain my journey of how I learned to be assertive, I will start with my personality. I have always been introverted. To have an introverted personality means that you tend to enjoy spending time inside of your own head, whether it be thinking, learning, reading, or doing solitary activities. This doesn't mean that you don't enjoy the company of others, in fact many introverts like being around people. The difference is that a lot of introverts become drained after spending time with others and need time to be alone to recharge. Whereas extroverts tend to recharge by spending time with people, introverts can become irritable and closed off if they do not have their alone time to recharge.
Small talk has always bothered me. In fact, many introverts I have spoken with have also said that they cannot stand small talk and would always prefer to have meaningful conversations if they are going to use their energy to interact with other people.
So, where does assertiveness come into play with introversion and small talk? Well, in the past I have experienced many situations where people have taken advantage of me, whether it be strangers or people I know well. In the past, I felt that many situations were too inconsequential to start a conversation about how I felt mistreated and why. I felt that there was no purpose in spending my energy arguing with someone about something that I considered small. I also felt reluctant to speak up because I do not like attention and knew I would feel uncomfortable if any attention was directly on me.
Afraid of Not Being Liked
One of the most common reasons I hear about why people are afraid to be assertive is they are afraid of not being liked. Besides being introverted and dreading small talk, this was my biggest reason for not confronting others about how they treated me. Politeness is very important to me, so I always make sure to say please, thank you, and you're welcome. Confrontation was a huge fear of mine because I never wanted anyone to feel uncomfortable, upset, angry, or sad. I never stopped to consider my own feelings because I was always very empathetic to everyone but myself. I was afraid that if I came across as confrontational, I would be seen as rude, regardless of whether it was important to stand up for myself, so I avoided conflict.
One day when I was in the military, one of my neighbors asked if I could watch his three dogs while he went on a mission for a few months. He told me his wife would be gone for two weeks on vacation, so I figured two weeks would be a pain, but not that bad in the long run. I was working full-time and going to school full-time (don't even ask me how I managed that), but I managed to take all the dogs out twice a day and spent an hour or two playing with them when I visited. It was fine until I heard from my neighbor that his wife decided that she was not going to come back after two weeks and instead decided that she was going to stay on vacation for three months.
I have to say, at that point I did not know what anxiety was, but I was so completely stressed out that I went to mental health on base to talk to someone because I was overwhelmed. I talked to a therapist and told him the situation. I told him that I was so afraid of confrontation that I could not find it in myself to tell the neighbor that his wife's behavior was unacceptable and I was not able to watch their dogs for three months. My therapist asked me why it was so hard for me to be assertive. I went to therapy for a while, but his question continued to echo in my head. Why was it so hard for me to be assertive? Don't I deserve to be treated with respect?
In therapy I would speak often about my inability to be assertive. Looking back, I think I was looking for an easy answer about how to stand up for myself without being uncomfortable. Of course I thought how I had been treated was wrong and would resent people who would treat me poorly, but I never did anything about it because not saying anything was easier than being assertive.
How I Learned to Stand Up for Myself
After I completed my enlistment with the military I began graduate school. I went to school to complete a masters degree in mental health and military social work. It was during my first year at school that I began to examine my behavior and motivations more closely. I realized that part of my unwillingness to be assertive was that I did not feel as if I deserved it in a way. I realized that I was allowing people to take advantage of me by not saying anything when they wronged me. The only way to stop it from happening was to speak up. My first thought was that I would never be able to say something that would make me uncomfortable to someone's face. My second thought was that if they did not care if they hurt me or made me unhappy, why should they get to treat me like that? I would not let someone I love get treated poorly, so I needed to do the same for myself. I had to believe that I am just as important as anyone else and I deserve respect.
One day, I went to the movies and at first I was the only one in the theater. Then, just before the movie started, two teenage girls walked into the movie and started talking. I remember sitting in the theater, hoping they would stop talking once the movie started. They continued to talk and I said "Shh", but nothing happened. After a few minutes, I decided that that was day when I would do something about it. I had gone to movies for years and would sit in the theater, getting angrier and angrier that people would talk or use their phones and never did anything about it, but I decided I had had enough on that day.
I left the theater and thought about just leaving so I could avoid the confrontation altogether, but then I thought about myself and thought, I don't care how scary this is for me, this is the day I help myself.
I went and got an employee and told them two guests were talking loudly. He followed me into the theater and he looked at the two girls (the only two people in the theater) and asked me (very loudly) to point out who was talking. The girls stared at me and I turned to the guy, (I was thinking, are you kidding me?) and it was like they were all waiting for me to confront them. My arm raised up and I pointed them out and said "Them. They were talking." I do not think either the girls or the employee actually thought I would do that, because they looked surprised. The employee went up to the girls and told them to stop talking and I went back to my seat. The rest of the movie was enjoyable because they were actually quiet and I felt extremely proud of myself. After the movie was over the girls continued to sit in their seats and I became worried that they were possibly unhinged and might beat me up, but I got up the courage and passed them. They did not say anything to me and everything turned out fine.
It was after that point that I realized that confronting others was not as scary as I thought as it would be and it actually began to improve my self-esteem the more I did it. Confronting others is never as scary as the first time you do it. I can confront others now and it honestly does not bother me. I still never like to make others experience negative feelings, but I also cannot go back to being treated poorly.
How to Work on Your Assertiveness
Being assertive is not being aggressive, although it is a common misconception. You do not have to raise your voice, get close to a person, or intimidate them to get your point across. When I confront people, I tell them the situation, and how they can fix the situation. Remember, stick to the facts and do not exaggerate. If you want someone to help you, the truth is your biggest ally.
For example, a few weeks ago my husband and I went to the Alamo Drafthouse (a movie theater). Before the movie began, our server brought us water and promptly went to other guests to take their order. At other Alamo Drafthouse locations we had always been greeted, then the server would take our order. I wrote down our order and watched as the server came back into the theater several times to greet and serve other guests, but never looked up at our table to see our order ticket. The movie was about to begin and I was not about to miss the movie because our server did not look in our direction. I took our ticket and went down to the kitchen area. The server immediately saw me, walked over to me and I told her I had the ticket up for a while and saw that she missed coming to our table for it. She told me that I did not put the ticket in the proper area and I told her I did and she missed it. She looked embarrassed, but said thank you and I said thank you and left. When she arrived at our table with our food and drinks, she took out a blank ticket and said "This is where it's supposed to go", and put the blank ticket in the area where the servers can see it. I looked at her and said, "Yeah, that's exactly where I put it." I stood my ground, was calm, did not exaggerate, did not apologize, and stuck to the facts. After that, she checked our table often and did not try to argue with me again.
The Benefits of Assertiveness
I have found if you stick to the facts, do not apologize (when you did not do anything wrong), keep calm, and stand your ground, people will treat you with respect. Every time I have felt that someone was treating me poorly, I made sure I explained what happened, stuck to the facts, did not apologize for their behavior, kept calm, and stood my ground. I have come to find it works every single time. I have found that people will treat you better or even disappear when they realize they cannot treat you poorly. I have had friends disappear from my life when they realized they could not treat me as their punching bag anymore. It seems that the better I feel about myself and the more my self-esteem grows, the more I notice I have less toxic people in my life. I have also had better service at restaurants, better experiences at movies, and better relationships with others because I am a strong person who demands and receives respect.
Try This if You Want to Start Small
If you are scared to confront anyone in the ways I have, try something small at first. Did you get a drink at Starbucks Coffee and they messed up your order? Say something. Did your friend say they were going to meet you at 4 p.m. and they did not show up until 4:45 p.m. without a valid excuse and a phone call to tell you they were on their way? You are allowed to say that their behavior is unacceptable. If that happened to me, I would say, "Hey, you said you would show up at 4 p.m. and you showed up at 4:45 p.m." and listen to what they have to say. If they have a valid excuse, I would say, "I understand, but in the future I need you to call me and tell me what is going on." (Make sure this is not their typical behavior. If they keep up a negative behavior you are allowed to stand up for yourself. You do not have to make time for toxic people. Your time is just as valuable as theirs.) If they do not have a valid excuse, I would say "I sat here and waited for you to show up without any indication that you were going to show up. In the future if you continue this behavior I will not be able to trust that you will actually show up and it will negatively affect our friendship."
You probably do not talk like this in real life, but you can say something similar if you are being mistreated. If you stick to the facts and are calm, the person you are talking to is almost always willing to listen and will not interrupt you. I have confronted a lot of people since I have started my journey (it has been about six years since I confronted those girls in the movie theater), and I can tell you I have never had anyone yell at me or make me feel scared after I have said something to them about how I have felt mistreated by them. On the contrary, by remaining calm and sticking to the facts, people seem to go overboard trying to make up for their behavior. There seems to be something about remaining calm and sticking to the facts that allows people to see the truth in the situation.
You deserve to be happy and treated with respect. It is up to you to stand up for yourself and make others aware that you will not be treated poorly by them. No one can do it for you, it is something you have to do for yourself, but it is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself. It does not matter your gender, size, age, job, or socioeconomic background, you are just as important as anyone else and you deserve respect. Remain respectful when you are confronting someone and you will gain respect. You will also demonstrate to others how to be assertive and will pass it on. I have had a lot of people in my life tell me they respect me and look up to me, so I know that leading by example works. Do not ever sell yourself short; you are an amazing person and you can learn to be assertive, gain self-esteem, become happier, and live the life you were meant to live.
Have you learned to be assertive? How did you do it? Do you want to learn to be assertive? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!