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How To Stand Up For Yourself When You Need To

Written by Paolina Milana
Paolina is a confidence coach who uses storytelling to help leaders step into their power.
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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?


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