How To Stand Up for Yourself

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

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"Standing up for yourself": kind of a dated term. It's what we now call assertiveness. But I still kind of like "standing up for yourself"; this phrase creates a clear directive for action. Research shows that people respond better to active vs. passive verbs. We also prefer to be told what to do, rather than what not to do. So I am going to give you a set of active verbs -- your 'to-do list' to stand up for yourself in any situation.

First, check out the Life Coaching Resources Pack to learn all you need to know about becoming more assertive, setting goals, and making strong life changes.  Then:

  1. Diagnose. The need to stand up for yourself implies that a force is pushing you down. A sort of emotional gravity acting on you. Is there a certain person you need to stand up to? Do you feel squashed in a certain situation? Or perhaps you feel generally pushed down? Who owns the problem? Deciding this will help you decide how to best stand up for yourself.
  2. Stand (straight). If you are being pushed around by a certain person or in a certain situation, you need to stand tall physically, emotionally and socially. When I was in high school, I read a great book called Body Language by Julius Fast. It had a cult following for good reason; body language helped us to understand what we communicate with our movements, gestures and posture. Standing straight suggests confidence; even if you don't feel so confident, act it and look it. Like the old Al-Anon slogan says, "Fake it till you make it."
  3. Look your oppressor in the eye. Another non-verbal cue. Dogs do this to show superiority. Looking a dog in the eye says, "I see you and I can take you." Fear looks away; confidence takes things head on.
  4. Don't 'wait for it'. I don't know how many times that I have been in a situation with a person with whom I've had a history of negative interaction; I sit there, all tensed up, waiting for the inevitable rude crack, put-down. Inside, I'm seething: "C'mon just say something. This time I am going to do something. This time will be different." But it isn't; so I have to...
  5. Break the cycle. Get up, move around. Act like you don't even know she's there. Get into a conversation with someone about something completely separate from her.
  6. If she interrupts or intrudes, take the upper hand. I've had to do this as a substitute teacher once or twice with parapros who play a little game I call 'confuse the sub'; there is a very small minority who try to make themselves look better by not telling a sub what she needs to know and then rudely interrupting to point out when the sub does something different from the norm. Naturally this is confusing to students and unprofessional. I have learned not to argue or defend myself. The ball is in my field and I intend to play it. Look at her for a moment. Everyone will get quiet, waiting to see what you will do. Let her begin to sweat. Turn to the person you were talking to (in my case, the class). Say, 'Please excuse this interruption; apparently my attention is needed.' I guarantee you'll feel good about how you stayed calm. The other people or person will be impressed with how you fielded the rudeness.
  7. Speak first. If you sense an approaching confrontation, before your antagonist has a chance to begin her assault, cut her off. Change the subject, make a joke, begin a conversation with someone else, ask her a direct question. Throw her a curve ball. I use a reverse football metaphor. "The best defense is a good offense.' Said differently, be proactive. You call the shots.
  8. No matter how it ends, pat yourself on the back. If you stayed calm and grounded, that's all that matters. Good for you.

Remember former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt's comment: "No one can make you feel badly about yourself without your permission." Don't give permission.


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Hi Marilisa
good article - I know how difficult a new group of students can be.
I love the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt too.

By Rik Whittaker