Do you have trouble speaking up for yourself?
How often have you had the experience of not knowing what to say in the midst of a conflict, or when a friend says something biting or condescending?
Later, after thinking about it, you think of all the things you wish you would have said. You get angry about it. You stew about what a jerk that person was. If it’s your partner, you may even go back to them to try to deal with the issue, only to discover that it’s too late because your partner doesn’t understand what you are talking about.
You try to explain to them that they had a condescending tone, or they gave you a weird look, or they dismissed you with their body language. It doesn’t help. Maybe they don’t remember or they get defensive and tell you that you’re imagining things.
But you weren’t imagining things! What they did was hurtful. So why couldn’t you say anything as it was happening? It’s almost as if your mind when blank at a critical moment.
This is a very common problem. If you can relate to it, keep reading, because in this article I’m going to explain why you have trouble speaking up for yourself, and what to do the moment you find yourself in a situation where you feel your hackles going up when you’re being treated poorly or unfairly by a loved one.
My counseling clients often complain to me about interactions they had with a partner, friend, parents, or co-worker and how annoyed they felt about it after the fact.
When I ask them, “Why didn’t you speak up for yourself in the moment?” here are the most common answers I receive:
“I want to keep the peace.”
“I don’t want to rock the boat.”
“I didn’t know what to say.”
“It won’t change anything.”
“He/she won’t listen.”
“We will just end up fighting.”
“He/she will make it my fault.”
Later, after they’ve had a chance to think back on the interaction, they get upset because they mull over what they should have said and feel bad about themselves as well as feeling bad about what their loved one said.
Their anger grows, and if they try to bring up the issue later, they just blow up at their friend or loved one, instead of just speaking their truth in an non-emotional way.
Here’s a case-study from my private practice of how this typically unfolds…
“Charlie” is in his early 70’s and has been married to “Esther” for 43 years. Charlie and Esther love each other very much, but there has always been a problem in their marriage, and Charlie finally decided to get some help with it.
The issue is that Esther often speaks to Charlie with a harsh, demeaning, parental tone. All these years, Charlie’s way of dealing with this has been to comply—to be the “nice guy” and try to keep the peace.
But occasionally, he suddenly blows up, telling her to shut up, and scaring and hurting Esther.
She has asked him over and over to tell her what’s upsetting him so much, but when he has, she doesn’t listen and turns it back onto him. In his mind, he has been in a no-win situation. The last blow-up led Charlie to seek my help.
The problem is that Charlie had never said anything to Esther in the moment about her tone. When he did say something, after the fact, Esther would have no idea what he was talking about, so she would explain, defend, and turn it back on him.
In other words, when Charlie decided to speak up for himself later, it ended up in more conflict.
The reason Charlie couldn’t speak up in the moment is because he claimed he didn’t know what to say in the moment. When I dug further into what he felt inside as Esther spoke to him in a harsh, demeaning tone, he said he felt “small and diminished, like I did when my father would criticize me. It hurts me.”
I asked him, “Charlie, if you were to say something in the moment, not about what she is saying, but about how she is saying it, what would you say?”
“I’d say, ‘Your tone of voice is harsh and diminishing and it hurts me,’” he responded.
“Great! Would you be willing to say this the next time Esther is harsh with you?”
The next week, Charlie reported that he and Esther had a great week together. He had quietly responded the way we had rehearsed, and he was shocked at how Esther responded. Instead of getting angry, defensive, explaining, or attacking, she said, “You’re right. I’m sorry. Thank you for telling me.”Get Unstuck from Unhealthy Patterns
Charlie was so surprised and relieved when Esther responded with an apology and gratitude.
All this time Charlie was certain that if he spoke up for himself, things would get worse. Instead, he discovered that Esther was very open to hearing his feelings and experience when it was in the moment, and was thrilled that he finally spoke up for himself.
Here’s the take-away for you:
Telling others what they are doing wrong or trying to get them to stop doing what they are doing will generally lead to a difficult interaction—especially after the fact.
But speaking up for yourself with the intent of taking loving care of yourself will make you feel much better, even if the other person doesn’t hear you.
That’s because taking loving care of your “inner child”—that part of you that remembers feeling hurt, belittled, or criticized by parents, teachers, and caregivers when you were a young child—is the key to empowering yourself as an adult. I call this putting your loving adult in charge.
The way you put your loving adult in charge when someone hurts you is to pay attention to your feelings and then speak your truth about how their words are making you feel.
When you do this, you are hearing yourself, and paying loving attention to your needs, and this is what is important.
And if you phrase things a certain way, you might be surprised at how the other person responds!
That’s why you’ll want to know…
As I stated, trying to talk about a difficult or painful situation after the fact generally doesn’t get anywhere, or leads to even more conflict.
The challenge is to respond in the moment, but we often don’t know what to say in the moment because we have rarely seen people demonstrate speaking up in the moment from their loving adult.
More often we’ve seen people speak from their wounded inner child, like Charlie did, and say things like:
“Stop telling me what to do!”
“I don’t care what you think!”
So what can you say instead in order to be a loving adult to your inner child?
Let’s say your partner is making a statement that feels to you like a guilt-inducing statement. What are some of the things you can say to take loving care of yourself? In order to say these things without an attacking energy, you need to be clear that your intent is to learn and take care of yourself, not to control your partner.
There needs to be kindness in your voice, not hardness.
If your partner says, “No,” then you can say, “Good! I’m glad to hear that. It sure sounded that way to me, and it makes me sad to think that you would want me to feel guilty.”
How would your inner child feel if you spoke up for yourself like that?
Would your inner child feel protected, loved, and HEARD?
You’d probably agree the answer is yes. And when your inner child feels protected, loved, and heard, you react less to what others say about you and you focus less on what others may think. The anger dissolves. Patience and curiosity replaces feeling angry or offended.
When you act as your loving adult, you don’t need anyone’s love or approval to feel worthy or important.
Instead, you are secure in the love and regard you have for yourself, so you can’t help but share that love with others. When you have so much love within, you’re no longer needy.
Those are just a few of the benefits you’ll experience when you stand up and speak up for your inner child.
For many people, it’s difficult to stay centered, open-hearted, and powerful when someone is saying hurtful things in a condescending tone.
You get angry or anxious, and you clam up.
If you do manage to speak up for yourself, you might find that you are relaxed and joyful afterward. That feels so good, you wish you could do that more often.
These feelings of anxiety, anger, or relaxed joy arise from inner guidance, either letting you know whether what you are doing and thinking is right for you, or letting you know that you need to compassionately nurture yourself.
And in the case of speaking up, maybe you find that, more often than not, you are in need of compassionately nurturing yourself.
That’s where the process that I teach in my Wildly, Deeply, Joyously In Love 30-Day program is so helpful and transformative.
I call this process “Inner Bonding.” It is a 6-step process which helps you get in touch with and take responsibility for all your feelings, so you can take loving care of yourself and set healthy boundaries with the people close to you.
Then, on day 21 of my 30-day program, you’ll also learn 11 different ways to phrase your response in the moment when someone is blaming you, wanting you to change, trying to intimidate you, giving you the silent treatment, and more.
After you go through my 30-day program, you’ll find that you are more in touch with how you’re feeling at any given moment, so you can speak up for yourself much quicker than in the past.
With consistent practice of all the skills you’ll learn in my program, you’ll be able to do more than just speak up for yourself. You’ll also learn how to heal fear, limiting beliefs, anger, shame, guilt, aloneness, depression, anxiety, addictive behavior, and many relationship problems.
You can begin the 30-day video program today, and get the Inner Bonding process too, totally risk-free here:Start the 30-Day Program Today
You don’t have to be held hostage to anyone’s hurtful words or behavior. You can learn to speak up for yourself and do it in the moment, when it really counts. That will make all the difference in how you feel about yourself and how others treat you.
P.S. Do you know how to hear someone say “no” or give you feedback on your behavior without taking it personally?
Many of us don’t. That’s because we have a “wounded self” that always fears abandonment or engulfment, based on how our parents or caregivers treated us as children. In my program, Wildly, Deeply, Joyously In Love, you’ll learn how to give loving care to your wounded self, so you’re no longer overreacting, flying off the handle, or protecting yourself with sarcasm at perceived slights.Learn More