How can I learn to stand up for myself?
September 9, 2018 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I've been afraid of confrontation. I just don't know how to do it. As a kid I was bullied a lot by classmates, relatives, and even my own siblings and father. Most of the time I just take it and stay quiet.

As I've grown older I've realized that people lose respect for you if you don't stand up for yourself. I always thought that the bullying would end as I grew older and people became more "mature" but even as an adult I've come across bullies. Unfortunately it's become a pattern for me now, getting picked on and bullied.

So how do I solve this problem? Obviously I can't punch people in the face at my age, I'm not that strong anyway and I don't want to go to jail. What other strategies are there?
posted by CurioslySatisfying to Human Relations (9 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
One strategy is to take a self-defense class. It's excellent practice in asserting yourself and feeling confident doing so, even on the face of fear.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:25 PM on September 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Are you asking specifically about physical confrontations or standing up for ideas and so on (whether at work or in social situations). Or both?
posted by ananci at 3:46 PM on September 9, 2018

The phrase you want is learning to be "assertive". Aggressive is where you use force (verbal, emotional, physical) to enforce your will on others. Assertive is where you stand up for yourself, setting boundaries, using self-defense but without attacking the other (outside of defending yourself)

In general, as you are able to consistently project an assertive stance, people will get the message that it won't be easy to mess you and so things never get to the bullying phase - there are easier targets.

This is complicated to learn - there is lots of advice available out there. The right strategy depends on which parts of it are hardest for you. Maybe more details would help you get better advice.
posted by metahawk at 3:48 PM on September 9, 2018 [6 favorites]

Are you familiar with the Enneagram? You may be a Type 9, The Peacemaker. I don't identify as this type, but my friends who do have said that learning about the Enneagram types and theirs in particular has helped tremendously in understanding their aversion to conflict and how to develop assertiveness. At the bottom of the link, there's a section called "Personal Growth Recommendations" which may be useful to you.
posted by orangesky4 at 4:31 PM on September 9, 2018

"When you do X, I feel Y, because Z."

When you ask me to stay late at work, I feel undervalued, because I am not payed for the work I do. Whatever. It's an easy algorithm you can use to bring up issues.
posted by xammerboy at 5:44 PM on September 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Assertiveness training. Your Perfect Right: Assertiveness and Equality in Your Life and Relationships is a good practical textbook.
posted by lazuli at 10:10 PM on September 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

In yoga there is a pose called mountain pose. It just looks like you're standing there, but there's a lot of focus on rooting yourself to the ground, engaging your abs, pulling your shoulders down and back. I find this a very useful and unobtrusive pose to practise when I am feeling unassertive. The act of straightening yourself and really rooting yourself down feels very empowering.
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:31 AM on September 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hello, former doormat here. I also dealt with harassment from my peers and yelling (so much yelling!) from my parents. Over the past few years, I've gone from not wanting to alienate anyone by having my own opinion to maybe being a little too aggressive at times because, well, I never really learned the middle path. But now I'd never go back to passivity - the freedom, confidence, and self-direction are so so worth it.

I should note that I've been working on this in both individual therapy and with a DBT group. DBT in particular has lots of skills that can be very helpful, and not just from the interpersonal effectiveness module.

There's a couple things to identify here:

1) When you get run over, what are your immediate thoughts/feelings? Shit, I shouldn't have given them a reason? You're wrong, but I can't say anything? Anger? Fear? Shame? Do you know what your immediate thoughts and feelings are?

You have to know your own thoughts/feelings/desires before you can articulate them. It sounds kinda dumb to not know what you're feeling, but this was actually the hardest part for me. I grew up totally out of touch with (most of) my actual wants and needs, and as I got older, I couldnt identify my own emotions, opinions, or desires. I was so used to not being listened to that I never learned how to ask myself. To flip that on its head, you need to know with conviction.

Identifying these things is key. Again, DBT helped a hell of a lot with this. The emotion regulation module helps you learn to name emotions and uncover thoughts you didnt know you had.

2) What specifically do you find yourself struggling with when you want to say something? It's no use, they'll just keep battering until I agree with them. If I say something back, it'll just escalate the situation. Having my own opinion is just giving people another reason to dislike me. I have to be conciliatory at all times.

And, of course, this only applies if you want to say something at the moment. You said that most of the time you just "take it and stay quiet." What does that look like? Just waiting for it to end because you just want the anxiety of someone treating you poorly to go away? Stewing in anger? Feeling powerless to do anything else or remove yourself from the situation? Do you realize it's happening at the moment? Or do you find yourself going along with something and then realize later, wow, that wasn't very nice?

Identifying this fear or belief that you have about what will happen if you stand up for yourself or what standing up for yourself means about you will also definitely help you work on it.

3) Confidence is key. As you said, kids and adults can just smell the vulnerability on you and take advantage of that. As a stopgap, fake it till you make it. This can be really difficult and it's sort of a sick self-fulfilling prophecy. Some people have suggested in here doing things that make you more confident. Do them! Or whatever you have in your life that makes you feel hey, I'm a badass and no one can stop me.

The real catalyst for growth for me was kinda unfortunate- I was in a situation where if I didnt articulate myself and actually act on feelings I was afraid of, I would stay stuck in a relationship where my boundaries were repeatedly crossed and my attempts at communication didnt seem to work. So I had to take a more forceful approach to even get close to what I wanted - if you're not watching out for your own needs, no one else will help you fulfill them. This is just to say, if you can get to a point to where you're comfortable in your uniqueness, you can avoid terrible relationships like that one. At least it helped me grow.

Feel free to memail me if you have any other questions or want to talk. I hope this was in the realm of what you were looking for. Best of luck.
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder at 8:35 AM on September 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

You might be helped by the techniques in The Nice Factor Book.

Many of them are based on "status games" which come from a particular approach to theatre and improvisation.

Most importantly, they are gentle and playful and do not require you to MAN UP and STAND UP FOR YOURSELF FOR ONCE, or to STOP BEING A WIMP. Don't you hate that? I do. Maybe I don't want to be assertive just because someone orders me to, ya know? Or maybe I do, sometimes. It's really up to me how I respond, after all ;-)
posted by tel3path at 1:11 PM on September 10, 2018

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