Learn how to stand up for yourself with a psychologist's top 5 tips for setting boundaries

For many, it’s not quite second nature to know how to stand up for yourself. This is especially true for people who are branded as pushovers, regardless of whether they were self-appointed to the title or the reputation grew over time as a result of experiences personal and professional that colored them as veritable human doormats. Regardless of how people come to be walking, talking embodiments of those well-known “WELCOME” mats, sticking to your opinions and speaking your truth is no small task.

Perhaps as a result of a deep-seated belief of being a pushover, you’ve come to associate friction as conflict and conflict as The Worst Thing You Can Ever Come Up Against. What some may find surprising here, though, is that root problem at play isn’t so much a struggle with asserting your beliefs so much as setting boundaries regarding what you’re willing to accept from others.

“When I work with people on this issue, women in particular seem to struggle with setting healthy boundaries—and solidly standing up for themselves—if this was not modeled for them as children,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD. Though standing up for yourself doesn’t need to be scary or something to psych yourself up to do, Dr. Manly does note that many do grow fearful that they’ll be perceived as rude or aggressive if they take the steps to do it. “Thus, a piece of the work is learning that a person can stand up to others with gentle, solid power,” she says. The fact that exerting this quiet strength is entirely possible is a win for all people—especially introverts.

Even the act of setting up these boundaries can serve as a means of asserting ourselves in a way that is decidedly not obnoxious or off-putting. “The energy one must learn to embrace is that of being self-confident, genuine, and respectful,” Dr. Manly says. “When we have this energy within the self, others tend to realize that respectful behavior is a necessity, not an option.” Below, find five tips for harnessing that energy.

Memorize these 5 tips for how to stand up for yourself once and for all.

1. Take the time to evaluate your own needs and boundaries

And really, this means your own personal needs and boundaries, which likely won’t exactly mirror anyone else’s. “Strive not to compare yourself to others in regard to anything—and this includes the number of social events you attend, the amount of time you can commit, or the nature of your contribution to an event,” says Dr. Manly “Once you know, understand, and respect your own needs, you’ll be more likely not to be caught off guard.” And, if you’re not caught off guard? You guessed it—standing up for yourself is so much easier.

“Once you know, understand, and respect your own needs, you’ll be more likely not to be caught off guard.” —clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD

So, let’s say you essentially epitomize what it means to be a social introvert and your friend is pressuring you to get out and be fun. In this case, it’s good to know your limits ahead of time. You like to push yourself to be at social events because they do often end up being fun, but let’s say on a certain occasion, your friend wants you to come to happy hour with her co-worker. If you know you’ve hit your self-imposed quota for after-work hangs that week and the prospect of joining sounds more stressful than relaxing, you can then take heed in letting your already-set boundaries do their job.

2. Feel free to say “no” when you know something is not right for you

There’s an art to being able to say no. In fact, it can function as essentially the most powerful word of all time when you’re looking to manage your anxiety and stress. While mastering the skill of delivering that N-O when appropriate is important, what’s most crucial is staying firm in your assertion and not feeling like you need to explain yourself for your stance.

“If others pressure you to say ‘yes,’ simply leave the discussion or repeat, ‘No, but thank you for the offer,’” Dr. Manly says. “Know that you don’t have to offer a reason if you decline to do something. If you are pressured for a reason, you can simply say, ‘I appreciate your interest, but it simply doesn’t work for me.’”

3. Understand there is no obligation to respond to requests immediately

“We are often inclined to commit to something if we feel put on the spot,” says Dr. Manly. “One way to respectfully stand up for your needs is to take a time out to consider what’s best. In cases such as this, you can simply say, ‘I’d love to think about this. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.’”

4. Don’t operate under the assumption that you have to address personal questions

If you’ve ever been a single woman at Thanksgiving dinner, you’ve undoubtedly endured a sanity-fragmenting line of questioning about when you’re going to be settled down and have babies and all that. And because it’s socially unacceptable to clock quirky Aunt Miriam in the face, you can just shut down the whole discussion before it begins.

“When it comes to being asked questions that are too personal or intrusive, a respectful way to respond is to smile and say, ‘I’d rather not speak to that.’” —Dr. Manly

“When it comes to being asked questions that are too personal or intrusive, a respectful way to respond is to smile and say, ‘I’d rather not speak to that,’” says Dr. Manly. “If the person persists with invasive questioning, simply smile and say, ‘Questions like that simply don’t feel right to me. Please respect my boundaries’”

5. Feel completely merited in excusing yourself from situations that don’t serve you

If someone is really pulling your ear, the best method might just be to leave the conversation entirely. Trust me, it’s not a surrender, it’s self care. “A physical time out, such as leaving the room or going for a walk, is sometimes necessary to get the point across,” Dr. Manly says.

So if you can’t stand the heat? Get out of the kitchen…and into the bathroom, where you can vent-text your best friend in private about what the heck is going on.

Now that you’re clear on how to stand up for yourself, are you ready to get a little bit more on the offensive? Here are three ways to win an argument. Or how to know that an issue with your significant other is really resolved or needs to be re-evaluated. 

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