Published on February 8, 2021

How To Stand Up For Yourself When You Need To

How To Stand Up For Yourself When You Need To

It’s a fact of life. Interacting with others is unavoidable. Even with social distancing, you’re still engaging with people in your personal and professional circles. Whether it’s in a ZOOM call or homeschooling kids or keeping your shopping cart six-feet behind the person in front of you in the grocery store checkout line, dealing with others is a must.

You do your best to be considerate and accommodating, but, sometimes, things are said and done that make you feel dismissed, devalued, and discouraged. You want to respond, but you’re not sure how to stand up for yourself.

Sound familiar?

You’re not alone. As a matter of fact, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc. published research indicating that people have a hard time even knowing how much is too little or too much when trying to stand up for themselves.[1]

Learning how to stand up for yourself – whether you tend to be a bit shy or struggle with being a people pleaser or you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum – requires three simple yet sure-fire steps: self-assessment, boundary setting, and practice, practice, practice.

1. Self-Assessment

Which end of the assertive spectrum aligns more with who you are at your core? Are you more of a cream puff? Or a tough cookie?

Think about it.

When someone jumps the line in the queue, are you more likely to stay silent or to speak up?

When your boss continuously increases your workload, and in lieu of compensation, the only thing increasing is her criticism of your performance, how do you react? Do you just work harder in fear for your job, thinking you have no other choice? Or do you impulsively respond, unleashing what may have long-term negative impact on your career?


What about when you’re at home? When your significant other never seems to have time to do the housework, commenting that he’s too busy to be bothered, and insinuating that you haven’t anything else that really matters on your to-do, are you more inclined to just “keep the peace” or do you immediately change the locks, and toss his bags out the door?

One end of the spectrum is actually no better than the other when it comes to effectively standing up for yourself.

Understanding your own natural tendencies is, however, the first step in realizing where you are now when it comes to standing up for yourself, and in what direction you may choose to grow that serves you best.

No matter which end of the assertive scale you’re at, you can change. It’s all about finding your voice and realizing that standing up for yourself isn’t “one size fits all” and doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”; rather, it’s a balance and finding the sweet spot that works best for you.

2. Choose to Set Boundaries

So how do you know what standing up for yourself looks like for you? It’s easier than you may think. It just requires a bit of research, and it’s actually a technique used in my writing therapy coaching.

Here’s what’s involved:

After you’ve taken your temperature and you’ve realized your patterns of behavior, it’s time then to CHOOSE your boundaries. What’s important to you? What things really matter and what things don’t? What warrants you pushing back and what would best be served by letting it go?

Only you have the answers. And what’s great is that there is no right or wrong . So do your homework and listen to your gut.

Is that line-jumper at the grocery store or that guy in traffic who cuts you off worthy of your time and energy? Is your desire to stand up for yourself aided by giving him or her a piece of your mind?


Maybe. Maybe not.

Sometimes, when we don’t address the real issues that have us feeling dismissed and discarded, we let everything else including the little things get under our skin.[2] If we’re really analyzing our non-negotiables and then set forth a plan to embrace those and communicate them to others, we know where we stand, and so will others. And that is when we really begin to stand up for ourselves.

So, for example, how much more important is your career when it comes to standing up for yourself? How does it make you feel to do more and more work without additional pay or even a thank you? What parts of that situation deserves consideration and recalibration?

And how about your home life? Where does that sit in terms of importance to you? What have you been allowing versus what are you no longer okay with? Yes, this does involve significant others and family, and sometimes you do give more than you take when it comes to matters of the heart. But what is too much? What needs to be addressed? If you don’t know, how do you expect anyone else to?

Taking the time to figure these out – especially your non-negotiables — gives you criteria with which to assess situations that come your way and mindfully choose appropriate responses and actions. It empowers you with choice. YOUR choice. Do you CHOOSE to allow something? Or do you CHOOSE not to? Doesn’t just saying that and knowing that – that you have the power to choose – help you to stand a bit taller and breathe more freely?

The more you choose to put setting boundaries into practice, the more you are going to be able to stand up for yourself and move forward toward what you want and who you dream of being in both your personal and professional life.[3]

An easy start to deciding what your deal breakers are is to review a bit of your history. Take stock of where you’ve been.

You – like every one of us – might find it easy to recall the times when you have felt dismissed and devalued. Those are the moments when you may have not stuck up for yourself and wish you had. Write these down. Recall these memoires, not to dwell on them, but to learn from them. And don’t stop there.

Sure, standing up for yourself has a lot to do with what you DON’T want. But it also has to do with what you DO want. So make sure you spend some time revisiting what has made you feel powerful and unstoppable. What happened to that end and why? Jot those things down.


Once you’ve made your lists, ask yourself what of these past experiences do you want more of? And – very important – what do you never again want to have happen? What will you no longer tolerate? This is how you not only learn to stick up for yourself, but how to begin to put yourself on the path toward creating and playing by your own rules.[4]

3. Shift Your Thinking Into Practicing

What you’ve allowed is now detailed by you – first with your self-assessment and second with your setting boundaries. And just to be clear…yes…YOU have allowed it.

Oprah Winfrey has said often,[5]

“We teach people how to treat us .”

So you choosing (for whatever reason) to not stick up for yourself is part of why you’re not getting the respect you want and deserve.

The good news, however, is that this, too, can be changed. Whatever came before this moment is now your past. You can’t change it. But you can use what you’ve learned now to make feeling dismissed and discarded a thing of the past.

Armed with the knowledge of you and your new non-negotiables, you can shift your thinking into practicing.

All you need is a plan — a new perspective on the new you – taking steps to practice standing up for yourself when you need to.

One sure-fire way that works to empower the people I coach includes a bit of playful acting. If standing up for yourself proves too big of a struggle, then pretend you aren’t you. It’s always easier to champion someone else, isn’t it?


So during your practice sessions, choose one of the following scenarios:

Act as if you’re advocating for the person that IS you somewhere in the not too distant future (the person who already has mastered standing up for herself) or become the voice for that little kid in you who’s still in there and who needs you to fight for them.

When you distance yourself from you and the stories you’ve been telling yourself about you, you can objectively stand up for the you that really is you and, before you know it, become the person you always were meant to be.

It’s not complicated. Use your imagination. I, myself, have an avatar I call “Powerlina” (a bold version of myself you can see here). She wears a cape and has a giant “P” on her chest. She is the hero that’s in me, and when I need to stand up for myself, I shift my thinking and practice choosing to think, speak, and act in the way “Powerlina” the super hero would do. It’s fun and effective.

Before You Take Off, Know This…

Learning to stand up for yourself is not only empowering, but it can be an exciting adventure — if you choose to approach it as such. It’s all up to you. And the best part is that you already have what you need inside you.

So tell me, what next steps will you be taking and what color is your cape?

More On Self-Assertiveness

Featured photo credit: You X Ventures via


More by this author

Paolina Milana

Paolina is an award-winning author, and a communications expert with journalistic roots.

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:


  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.


Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.


Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.


However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.


Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:


  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:


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