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One life skill everybody needs: Learn how to stand up for yourself

April 5, 2022 - 12 min read


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Why should I learn how to speak up for myself?

Why do I struggle with standing up for myself?

8 ways to speak up for yourself

Scenarios when you should stand up for yourself

Moving forward

Each day, we find ourselves in situations where we must stand up for ourselves. Maybe the waiter gets your order wrong, someone cuts you off in line, or a coworker takes credit for your work. 

Not every situation warrants the same response. Yet standing up for yourself in what seem like small incidents can matter for how you feel about yourself and even how others perceive you.

There's an art to standing up for yourself. It doesn't have to be stressful or create conflict. It doesn't have to be in anger or resentment.

When you stand up for yourself in a way that is calm and matter-of-fact, others take you more seriously. You'll also start to believe in your own worth and agency.

When you stand up for yourself, self-confidence is essential. It helps you to confront the issue, make eye contact with those you're dealing with, and look out for your well-being.

But not everybody is an assertive person. It can take time to learn why and how to stand up for yourself. It takes practice. Luckily, we all have lots of opportunities to improve.


Why should I learn how to speak up for myself?

Learning to stand up for yourself means that you're looking out for your well-being and bettering your mental health. You’re defending your self-worth when you take up this action. 

When you're too passive under difficult situations, you may feel like you've let yourself down. If your inner critic is telling you that you're letting people walk all over you, you won't feel good about yourself. And you may eventually over-react with anger or resentment.

Instead, aim to share your point of view and use your voice to support your beliefs.

Standing up for yourself also means learning to set boundaries. Rather than be a people pleaser, you must be intentional to change a pattern of being a pushover.

Be deliberate about how you want to be more assertive. Pick just one setting to start and script it out.

Standing up for yourself takes time to learn and become comfortable with. Even if it's your knee-jerk response to stay quiet and go with the flow, it's essential to know that you have the power to speak up for yourself.

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Why do I struggle with standing up for myself?

People can struggle to stand up for themselves for various reasons. Often, it starts in  childhood. How you grew up plays a significant role in speaking up for yourself. Maybe your parents were strict. If you had many rules to follow and would face the consequences of breaking them, you might've been less inclined to use your voice.

If you were meant to feel small and your voice was taken away in your home, your self-esteem may not be strong enough to stand up for yourself. 

When we stand up for ourselves and our rights, conflict might meet us. Or, we may perceive conflict where it isn’t. Often, people who struggle to speak up for themselves view any friction as conflict, when it may actually be minor resistance. 

But friction isn't a bad thing. It shows you're setting your boundaries and advocating for your own needs. And studies show that you’re more likely to think you’re being too assertive when you’re doing it properly.

We all struggle with things. It's part of life. At BetterUp, we help people overcome their struggles and learn how to build strong habits that lead to meeting your goals. Standing up for yourself is an important part of that process.


8 ways to speak up for yourself

As you learn how to stand up for yourself and use your voice, you'll start to feel better about yourself. It’s common to feel nervous about approaching conflict or tense situations. Once these moments pass and are resolved, you can learn a lot from your actions. Plus, you can feel proud of yourself for meeting conflict head-on.

Practice helps when it comes to learning to stand up for yourself. Here are eight ways to speak up for yourself: 

1. Understand that saying no can be a good thing

There’s nothing wrong with saying no to people. If you're in an environment that makes you uncomfortable or you don't want to do a task, saying no can be beneficial. 

An example of this is if a coworker asks you to take on more work than you're capable of doing. You can explain that you already have a full schedule and can't take on anything else. Don't hesitate to look out for your mental health and say no when you need to.

2. Emulate words with your body’s posture 

How you present yourself to others as you speak can also impact your assertiveness — slouching or mumbling don’t help you get your point across. Try to show your confidence with your body language. Stand up straight, speak firmly and calmly, and maintain eye contact while you’re speaking. 


3. Stay true to your words

After you've set boundaries and advocated for your own needs, you may feel the need to apologize. Try your best to ignore this feeling. You can be straightforward and assertive without apology. If you feel like you need to justify your request skip the "I'm sorry, but" part. Clearly state what's on your mind. 

4. Practice when you can

Learning to stand up for yourself may take you a few tries to become comfortable. Think of it as assertiveness training. The more times you do it, the easier it will be when you're in difficult situations. Practice and repetitions will get you into a rhythm of speaking publicly with confidence. 

Practice sharing your point of view if you have a slight difference in opinion with anyone. It could be something as simple as arguing for the best flavor of ice cream.

5. Consider how you could be giving too much

Giving your time and energy to people is great, but don’t overdo it. If you do, people will expect you to agree to any request or statement. 

Reflect on your relationships and think about where there's an imbalance. Does one of your friends make you feel angry when they ask you for outlandish favors all the time? Do you still say yes?

Once you start figuring out where you put others' needs in front of your own, you'll know where to stand up for yourself. Find the right time to change the dynamic between you and this person by starting to set boundaries.

6. Know when to leave

If another person makes the environment toxic, it’s best to leave. You probably aren't interested in discussing the topic in a shouting match. Exit the room, get some fresh air, and make sure you're safe from physical harm. Walking out isn't a form of surrender but rather self-care. You're looking out for your well-being and safety.


7. Take your time with your response

You’re under no obligation to respond to what people say when it comes out of their mouths. If you can, take a moment to digest what kind of situation you're in and think about how you're feeling.

Think about what insecurities might be impacting you right now. You have the authority to explain how and when you'll deal with specific situations. It doesn't have to be in the blink of an eye; it can be when you're good and ready.

8. Remind yourself that you deserve respect

People who allow themselves to be pushovers don't have powerful self-esteem. Think about it this way: Why don't you deserve to have people respect you and your personal boundaries? There’s no reason you can't receive respect from your coworkers, friends, family, and partners. 

Scenarios when you should stand up for yourself


Situations can come and go when you need to stand up for yourself. If you aren't used to empowering yourself and speaking up, it can be tricky to identify those situations. 

Here's a quick list of common examples of when you should stand up for yourself:

Moving forward

Hopefully, these tips will help you understand how to stand up for yourself next time you need to. If you’re ready to start building up your assertiveness, at BetterUp, we love to help people reach their fullest potential.

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Published April 5, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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