When to Stick Up for Yourself

Written by The Healthline Editorial Team on May 1, 2013
man and woman speaking

Nothing is more frustrating than feeling taken advantage of. Your stress can be compounded if you routinely stay silent in situations of injustice. The key to turning this problem around is to learn how to recognize when you're being treated unfairly and then using assertive communication to express your needs.

When should you say something?
It can be tough to speak up when you know something is wrong. But sometimes, the pain of not standing up for yourself hurts more than confronting the challenge head-on. How can you determine whether it's worth it to raise the issue?

First, evaluate the situation. Are you being treated differently than other people? Have you done everything you agreed to do, but not received what you were promised? Is someone being overly aggressive in their demands of you? Circumstances of blatant unfairness like these present clear-cut reasons to stick up for yourself.

Other situations are murkier in terms of whether or not an injustice has occurred. In these cases, there's only one thing you can do: listen to your gut. If something doesn't feel right to you, even if you can't put your finger on exactly why, then it's probably not right.

What should you say?
If you're the kind of person who often feels like a "push-over" for others' demands, then you may find it difficult to speak up. You might feel that bringing up dissatisfaction with someone else's behavior isn't polite. However, there's a big difference between rudeness and asserting yourself.

When you're upset and express yourself with visible anger, hostility, or frustration, you're communicating aggressively. Aggressive communication styles don't usually lead to a successful resolution of a problem, but they often escalate the situation. The recipient of the aggression may become defensive and attack the aggressor back, which usually leaves you with more than just the original problem. This doesn't have to be the case. When you need to express your feelings of displeasure about how someone's treating you, use assertive communication instead.

The difference between assertion and aggression is that when you communicate assertively, you're able to state your needs calmly and rationally, without succumbing to emotion. Articulate your needs clearly and confidently, spelling out exactly what needs to change and why. Use "I" statements to describe your feelings about the behavior, avoiding "you" statements that sound accusatory.

How should you say it?
To understand how to communicate assertively, it helps to know what not to say or do and how to make your point in a healthy way:
Situation: A co-worker continuously comes in late, making it difficult for you to meet joint deadlines.
What not to do (passive response): Ignore the problem by staying silent and hoping it will go away on its own, because you're afraid of rocking the boat.
What not to say (aggressive response): I can't believe this! You're late again! Every day it's the same old thing. I can't meet my deadlines because you can't get yourself to work on time!
What to say (assertive response): I've been noticing that most of the time you've been coming in later than the time we agreed on. When this happens, I feel frustrated because I depend on you being here on time in order to meet our deadlines. It's really important to me that you start coming in on time so that we can work together effectively. Is there anything I can do to help make this happen?

Once you get the hang of communicating assertively, it will come more naturally. Most reasonable people will react well to being spoken to assertively and not aggressively and they'll respect you more for stating your needs rather than remaining silent.

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