Recently, a couple of personal events have stirred up the question of whether or not my wishes/ideas were being respected and whether or not I’ve been standing up for myself in defending those wishes/ideas. It’s one of those things you never really think about until something happens that makes you question and rethink your entire being.
I established boundaries for a personal interaction with someone. The boundaries were tested. I complied in adjusting them or ignoring the boundaries I had set. I felt conflicted throughout the interaction because I deeply felt that the boundaries should have been kept yet I complied in ignoring them. Repeat cycle.
This got me thinking about how many times I’ve been in situations where I felt like my thoughts were ignored and why the people ignored them and why I didn’t stand up for myself and I was horrified to find that I actually did this more often than I had realized. I say horrified because being that I consider myself an extremely assertive person when it comes to ideas and wishes I never really realized I wasn’t being true to the image I had of myself.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is very common, specially with women. Not saying that it doesn’t happen to other groups of people but women in particular have customarily been raised in environments where we have our opinions devalued in a way, from the times when we were younger and our parents suggested we wear the pink dress because it’s more “pretty” when we wanted to wear our jean dungarees or the times where you’re cooking for the family and you decide on making a particular dish that takes less time because you’re tired but the family pleads with you to make whatever dish they really feel like eating because “you make it so well” or you might be out with friends and everybody’s drinking and you don’t feel like drinking but you do it anyway so as to not be the “buzz kill”. It’s the same with lifestyle choices we want to make like say, changing your diet, but don’t do it for fear of inconveniencing the people around you, for fear of all the questions and negative comments that people are going to make, etc.
And most of the time, as we grow up we’re not instilled with the mindset to speak out when we feel that our opinions have been devalued, ignored or outright disrespected and it becomes this OK thing for other people to do to us and it’s very internalized, so much so you don’t realize that that’s what you’re doing. (This reaction from one of Venus Williams’ interviews back when she was younger is very uncommon yet, it should be the default, both her response, and her father’s response for situations like this.)
This differs a lot from having confidence or the very base definition of being assertive because you can be assertive and still allow for other people to devalue your ideas in the name of “keeping the peace”. Does that ring a bell? “I just don’t want to argue anymore”, “Do whatever you want then”, “Fine, we’ll do it your way”, sound familiar? These are all many small ways that internalized idea that our opinions don’t matter show up and we don’t realize it.
I’ve always considered myself a confident and assertive person as I stated before, until the event mentioned lead me to re-evaluate how I might be letting people step over the things I say or the ways I don’t stand up for myself and the many ways my actions don’t match what I say leaving people genuinely confused and that gives them space to choose whichever end suits their means (my words or my actions) which is what I call the R. Kelly Syndrome.
The R. Kelly Syndrome
When dealing with relationships people say “don’t listen to their words, watch their actions” which is generally true in the sense that people tend to over-promise and under-deliver therefore measuring up someone by their actions will most likely give you the most accurate results in any situation where you have to make a decision in regards to them.
This is why it gets really tricky when you know in your heart of hearts that this is what you want or this is what you don’t want but because you lack that instinct or skill to defend your want and act accordingly for fear of seeming difficult, for not wanting to start an argument or whatever other reason.
Developing that ability to forgo whatever physical action you default to when you don’t have the emotional setup to express and act accordingly to your mental convictions, ideas and desires takes quite a bit of reprogramming and resetting of our mindsets and needs to be something you’re always actively aware of and trying to correct and it might lead you to make some tough decisions.
There Is A Way
All that being said there is hope at the end of the tunnel and you don’t have to live your life as an eternal doormat whether you were always aware of it or not. These are the steps I’m taking to correct these destructive patterns. I’m by no means an expert on this but I’m someone going through it and sharing my findings as I go in hopes that it will help someone.
Take time to process how you feel
When you’re put in a situation where you feel like your feelings or ideas are being ignored by others or that you yourself are allowing people do disregard what you say and you’ve just started being aware of this you might not have the ability to stand up for yourself then and there. Sometimes, the realization that your idea was ignored comes after the fact and you have no opportunity to correct the situation as it’s happening and that’s OK.
As soon as you realize what happened, take the time to process how you feel about the situation. “Were my ideas really ignored or did someone come up with something genuinely better and it’s just my pride that’s hurt?”; “Is this a thing that systematically happens with this particular person/in this particular environment?”. Take a few minutes, hours or days to process and identify how you feel about the situation and how it transpired.
Decide what outcome you want from the resolution
This needs to happen before you address the issue with the trigger people or environment so that you can solidify your position before you try to address the issue, making it easier for you to stand firm and not allow the cycle to continue. There are situations where you can choose not to interact with the people ever again (your outcome will be the end of that relationship), there are situations, like a job you don’t want to leave, where you need to correct the issue because you don’t want to leave your job (the outcome will be a change in how people treat you/your ideas). Same two variants go for environments, there are some you can choose not to be put in ever again and there are others where you can’t escape the environment so your interaction with it and its interaction with you needs to change.
Address the issue
And this is the most difficult but also most effective part in my opinion. You can process things in your head all you want but until you’re able to address the issues with your trigger person/environment no real resolution can be reached and no change is going to happen. The reason why addressing the issue is the most difficult thing is because you can’t predict the other person’s response to what you’re going to say. The situation becomes one where you don’t have total control and that’s where the importance of knowing the outcome you want comes in handy because it’ll help you not revert to your default reaction which is allowing people to continue to disregard your feelings or ideas, etc.
It might help to write things down before hand just so you can sort out exactly what your position on the issue is. Writing things down also gives you the advantage of being able to predict some questions or reactions the other person might have for you (which you can predict according to the ways they’ve reacted to you in the past) and this will help you be more prepared when confronting them. Another trick is to do it over the phone or email if you know that you’re not ready to have a face to face confrontation about things. Now, I do have to note that being able to address issues face to face shows a stronger front than doing it over the phone for example. But, not all situations warrant the same kind of treatment.
If you’re having issues with a coworker who interrupts you or dismisses your ideas during meetings or when you present the ideas to them which usually happens in a public way, confronting them over the phone or through email will not be effective at all. They still get the idea that you’re unable to confront them face to face. Now, I’m not saying embarrass them in front of the entire office, what I’m saying is talk to them privately but face to face.
There are other situations where physical distance for example, make it impossible for you to have the conversation face to face so sending an email or doing it over the phone are the most reasonable ways to them. Distance also tends to drive us toward ignoring the issue and postponing the resolution until we’re able to hash it out face to face and that’s not a healthy thing to do. Speaking as someone who was (and still sort of is) a chronic “ignorer” of issues, I can tell you 100% how you’re not gonna stop being bothered by it because you chose to postpone it. Being that last week was a week of resolutions for me I cannot express it in words how much weight was lifted from my shoulders by simply addressing the things that bothered me with the people I had to address them with and just the (not so) simple act of doing that boosted my confidence to behave more accordingly to my true desires and to act more like the person I want to be.
When you’re growing up and trying to set a tone for how people treat you and what you allow or don’t allow when people interact with you, there needs to come a day where your actions match your words. There needs to be a decision on the type of person you want to be and a commitment to that decision.
A very important thing to note here: people should treat you with kindness and respect regardless of how you behave, but we can’t control whether or not they will because even when we behave in the most pristine of manners, there are people who’ll deliberately choose to disrespect you and we need to learn to accept that that might happen and learn to stand up for ourselves.
Being true to ourselves and “behaving accordingly” basically means creating new patterns of behavior for yourself. Unfortunately, changing habits is hard. Firstly because we tend to feel guilty about changing. We feel this obligation to the people around us to remain the same, whatever that means, forgetting that life is about growth and growth without change is no growth at all. We should all be aspiring to change and morph and grow into bigger and better people so the first step is allowing yourself the space to grow without guilt.
“You’ve changed is an insult often intended to discourage you. Ignore it. This is your growth. Adapting and refining yourself are all necessary parts of the process.
So long as you continue to endeavour to be kind and compassionate you have nothing to be ashamed of.”
— Beau Taplin // You’ve Changed
Sometimes, people won’t accept that you’re growing and changing and that’s OK. You can grow past them. If they choose to stay the same it’s their prerogative but you can’t hinder your growth for other people’s comfort.
The second reason why creating new habits is difficult is that we need to be comfortable with losing people. As humans, we tend to have an above normal resistance to change and people are going to get mad at you for growing, for changing and you have to be OK with that.
When you become a new person, you’ll attract new people who are more in line with the type of person you’re trying to become. If you’re at a place where you feel like people disregard your feelings and ideas and you choose not to change, you’ll keep attracting the type of people who continue to disregard your feelings and ideas. You have to decide if keeping the people around you is more important to you than feeling like your opinions matter and that people value them.
Last but not least, you have to realize you have permission to change and grow at any point of your life. And this was something I personally had a hard time understanding because my reasoning was “I’ve already allowed people to treat me a certain way, I can’t change that now. If I wanted them to treat me ‘this’ way, I should have set the tone in the beginning” and yes, you should have set the tone in the beginning but that doesn’t stop you from changing the way you’re treated when you realize you don’t like the way you’re treated. You have the right to reset the tone at any given time. If it bothers you, change it, right now.
All of this is a process and it starts with little steps. You can’t expect to be good at all of these over night but the more you do it, the more you’ll learn to defend your ideas and the more you resolve issues and address people when they do things that make you feel disrespected or ignored the easier it will become and you’ll eventually reach a point where you’re so sure of who you are as a person and act in accordance to that that you’ll be able to set the tone for how you want people to treat you right from the beginning and you’ll be able to immediately check them when they step out of line. Start now, start small, you’ll eventually get there.
Now, for those of you who still feel like these steps might be a little too much, or too overwhelming or you’re just not ready to address them yet, next week’s post will give you concrete little steps you can apply to your day to life that’ll help you become a more confident and genuinely assertive person. I’ll update the link here once it’s up 🙂
(EDIT: Check out the follow-up post here!!)
This was a long one so if you made it this far I truly appreciate you for reading and if you did, I assume you needed to read this so let me know what your experiences have been with changing the way people treat you and becoming more genuinely assertive and respectful of yourself by standing up for yourself. Let me know in the comments below!