“One day soon, I will tell you what I really think!” We have all been there: instead of facing an issue and person head-on, we opt for delaying tacts, giving in, turning a blind eye, swallowing our pride and walking away. And every time we do that, we weaken our self confidence.
1. It’s not all that bad, isn’t it?
There is a whole spectrum of reasons and consequences for not standing up for ourselves:
- We may do it very little and only on selected occasions.
- It may be a default behaviour and attitude we bring to the relationships we have.
- Or depending on what happens in our lives many of us hover around that spectrum.
You might say “It’s not all that bad.”
Because depending on who we are dealing with, standing up for our beliefs can be harmful and dangerous. That’s why some relationships (intimate, friends, at work or in other settings) can last as long as they do. Because we play along and keep our mouths shut. Ultimately, this is damaging and weakens our self confidence.
Strangely enough, the fear of consequences can make us feel strong; so strong that we put up with an awful lot – of injustice, unfairness and attack (verbal, emotional, physical, financial, spiritual).
Fear can push our endurance thresholds really high and we can become the emotional equivalent of Iron Wo/man.
But rarely does it last – long or forever. Because this strategy, like every other, comes at a cost.
2. Chicken and egg
A long-term or default strategy of not standing up for our self worth, needs, rights and interests means we undermine our self confidence. This can lead to fear, exhaustion, depression, self-loathing, burn-out, breakdowns, resentment, loneliness and much more and much worse.
Now you might say “We compromise our self confidence, exactly because we have not got much to start with. It’s chicken and egg.”
Yes, and that can happen, too. Of course. And then often things get a lot worse.
We may even believe that self confidences is arrogant, selfish and even aggressive. Not being heard or seen and going along with everything might be regarded as good and appropriate behaviour to keep the peace.
It might be a social norm we have been taught, or a behaviour we were modelled in our childhood. It might be a pattern across generations in our families – usually on the female side. That certainly goes for my family history.
Ultimately, whatever we do is intended to help. And when we understand the origins it may even make sense. But it does mean that what we do is helpful – to us and others.
3. Our complicity
And if we believe any of the above, then we are complicit and partly responsible for the state of our self confidence.
If we have a tendency to keep stumm and do not want to rock someone else’s boat, then we signal to the other, how much or little we value ourselves.
If we do not stand up for our interests and make ourselves heard, then others can be forgiven for not bearing our interests in my mind and not hearing our voice.
In that way, we lead by example and ultimately are complicit in setting up a power imbalance and hierarchy with us in the bottom half.
When I was younger I did exactly that, at work and in relationships. And, yes, I still do it a bit now. Because it’s a hard attitude to shift.
At the beginning this was great.
People liked it. Of course they would!
Because they were not challenged. Life was easy for them but became a lot harder for me. Over time it started to cause some real problems, and after some years I needed to slam on the brakes. How?
4. We have choices
When I felt hopeless and lost, someone said to me:
“I don’t want your tears. I want to know what you are going to do about it!”
Instead of sympathy and empathy I got a sharp shock. I would not always recommend it, but it worked.
Up until then I had not realised that I do have choices. I started making them. I was frightened. It was not pretty. But I knew it had to be done.
It was hard work to get myself out of some mess, I had been complicit in creating by not saying ‘no’ sooner and loud enough.
I believe, we always do the best we can. At the time I did not know better. Luckily I managed to learn the hard way.
Sometimes we gain insights and change our views and behaviour. And sometimes life is just too hard. Facing up to situations may cause conflict and takes energy.
5. When walking away is not giving in
Recently I wrote about a situation, just like that, when someone’s bullying behaviour towards me upset me to the core. It took me a while to figure out what to do.
I noticed the sudden surge of fear in me, which stayed for a considerable amount of time.
Eventually my sense of self worth got the better of me and I started to feel outrage – “How dare they … that’s not on …”.
And then I decided to walk away from it. Because the moment of timely challenging had past. There may be another opportunity, and then I may be better prepared. Who knows.
But the main point for me is, that I feel I have not given in or compromised myself. I have made a rational choice.
Acting not out of fear but out of conviction, even when we choose not to speak out and choose to avoid conflict, that can only make us stronger.
Because then, deep down, we are in charge and have the moral high ground. And that nourishes our self confidence.
6. Exercising the self confidence muscle we all have
Being in touch with our self confidence is like a muscle. Without exercise it will not be strong enough to support, protect and carry us.
And like with any other type of exercise, there are times when we cannot be bothered, don’t feel up to it, doubt we are strong enough to do it or think it’s simply too late.
But often muscles can be built up from scratch, whatever time of our life. And weak muscles can be strengthened. So there is hope, and we have options.
Like with everything else in life, there are consequences and a price we pay, for whatever we choose to do. Alas, compromising our self confidence is never a real compromise or solution.
So, stop and think when you might be quick to give your power away, walk away for fear of conflict or spend too much time pleasing others instead of looking after yourself first. Stand up for yourself.
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Need some advice? Submit your question to my #DearKarin advice column here. Karin Sieger BA (Hons), MA (PsychCouns), Reg. MBACP (Accred) is a therapist and writer. All rights reserved © Karin Sieger. Neither articles nor videos substitute medical advice or therapy.