how to speak up for yourself

Important Steps to Know How to Speak Up for Yourself

Last Updated on August 1, 2022 by Anne-Sophie Reinhardt

Speaking up is the most neglected of all communication types. This is because, while communication can occur between two or more people, speaking up starts with a conversation with yourself. Conversations with others feel effortless and allow for a relaxed back-and-forth. There are times when you feel dissatisfaction and a growing mismatch in what is being said and not. Especially, if you are a single mother. Sometimes, you don’t feel confident about yourself. This is the first sign that you start speaking up. So, how to speak up for yourself?

how to speak up for yourself women afraid to
Women find it hard to speak up at workplace.

What’s the point of speaking up?

When you speak up, it is when others and yourself are heard. It is the foundation of all social change, even within organizations.

Many of us find it easier to advocate for others than to speak up for our own rights. We lose our self-worth if we don’t stand up for ourselves. We get caught up in rationalizing behaviors that lead us further from our values, and away from the person we want to be.

What is the role of boundaries when you speak up?

Speaking up is a conversation about boundaries. Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you have to speak up, even if it’s not something you want to say. It refers to the psychological distress caused by trying to reconcile two opposing thoughts, feelings, or values.

You feel the need to voice your opinion when you sense that someone has violated a value or boundary you hold. The desire to strengthen the boundary can conflict with another value, which is the desire for acceptance. This is especially true in close relationships and at work where stakes are high. Especially, if you are struggling in a relationship with a narcissist.

Why do you fear speaking up?

Our brains can’t distinguish between physical and emotional danger. Our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “flight/fight” response, kicks into high gear regardless of whether it’s a saber-toothed tiger (or a “We have to talk”).

We are responding to the social threat or the fear that we will have to choose between what our peers accept and what we find unacceptable. The consequences of cognitive stress that we ignore don’t disappear if we keep silent. We internalize the emotional fallout instead of causing damage socially.

Why would we not speak up? That’s because our communication patterns are like most of the things we do, they become habits. We’re less likely than others to speak up if we have had negative experiences with advocating for ourselves and social acceptance.

There are several reasons why people feel fear of speaking up:

Experiences in childhood

It can be hard to advocate for our needs and for our children if we are ridiculed, yelled about, or abused because of speaking out as children. Examining our relationships with siblings and parents can often reveal important information about our communication styles when we become adults.

Traumatic experiences in the past 

how to speak up for yourself childhooh traumatize

It could be getting ridiculed for not knowing the answer or being forced to choose between your parents. It doesn’t matter what the outcome would be, whatever the stakes are. You may have subconsciously shut down your voice to avoid further damage.

If you are a single mom experienced a hard time with your own family, it might also be a reason. For example, you don’t even know how to announce your pregnancy as a single mother. Traumatized, right?

Differences of gender

A recent survey of 1,100 female workers found that 45 percent felt it was difficult to speak up at work. This disparity is due to social gender expectations. Socialization encourages women to be less assertive and those who speak up are labeled “difficult to work with”.

Scared of retaliation

You may be concerned about the consequences of speaking out if your opinion is contrary to that of someone you care about. It’s not ethical, but drawing attention to yourself can lead to income loss, opportunities, status, or comfort. Retaliation can be hard to prove.

Being concerned about what other people think

It can be difficult to speak up even if you have nothing to lose. Fear of upsetting a friend, bringing tension into a familiar setting, or being seen to be a troublemaker are all possible.

When is it appropriate to speak up?

It’s always difficult to speak up, but you’ll likely feel worse if you don’t. It may seem easier to justify behavior you don’t like, but it ultimately affects your well-being and the culture of your workplace.

Here are a few reasons why speaking is important:

If you see someone upset – Speak Up!

It is easier to speak on behalf of someone else. You will make the person you are speaking up for feeling empowered and more comfortable sharing their experience.

If something is against the rules of the workplace.

A healthy workplace is dependent on culture. It is unacceptable to tolerate behavior that threatens an inclusive and safe workplace. It is always a good idea for you to advocate for your rights, especially if something is against the labor or human resource policy. Your company and your colleagues may be spared from being sued.

It sets a dangerous precedent.

Boundary violations are not something that can be done in isolation. They have a tendency to escalate. You and your team can prevent yourself from falling into the trap of justifying unacceptable behavior by speaking up when you see something that is unethical or potentially dangerous.

You have the advantage to speak up.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a leader or have economic, social, or racial privileges. You are responsible for speaking up for others who don’t. You may not face the same consequences as someone else for intervening, depending on your status.

If no one else does.

how to speak up for yourself

Everybody has experienced the moment when they look around and wonder who will ask the silent question or “point out what is obvious”. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel the same concern or question as you do. You often feel safer speaking up in these situations because you can feel the relief among the group when someone says “What was everyone thinking”.

When your inner voice tells you to speak up. It is more difficult to remain silent when you feel something is not right. It doesn’t end there.

How do you start to speak up?

how to start speak up

You can practice speaking up and become more comfortable with it. It is important to manage cognitive dissonance in order to be successful. Because it almost always involves some degree of social danger, it’s possible that speaking out for yourself won’t be easy. It can be a habit and you can make it a lot easy.

Before speaking up:

  • Ask yourself, when are you most likely to have to speak up? Are there conversations I’m trying to avoid? Then, what am I scared of?
  • Feel the sensation. You might feel a nudge in your body or emotions that may be hard to communicate. You might feel a lump in your throat or butterflies in your stomach. You will learn to interpret this uncomfortable feeling as information with practice.
  • Make a trigger phrase. Sometimes we try to control the discomfort of not speaking out by forcing it down. 
  • Know your rights. You can feel more confident about speaking up if the matter is more serious such as a violation of workplace harassment policies.

If you speak up:

  • Avoid falling for the “explaining too much” trap. Speaking up is important. If you feel uncomfortable, you might feel the need for more or to keep talking in order to fill the space. Don’t. Keep it short.
  • Clarify what you are trying to achieve. Do you speak up to defend your boundaries or because you feel uncomfortable with a colleague? No matter the reason, the interjection, which is speaking up, is the achievement. Avoid escalating the situation if the other party reacts negatively. You can refer the situation to a manager, or human resources.
  • Show compassion to all people, even yourself. It is difficult to speak up. Many people try to manage their emotional discomfort by directing it at someone else. Most likely, nobody is trying to harm another person. It will help to resolve the conflict constructively by assuming the best for all.

After you have spoken up:

  • Was that really what I said? To alleviate cognitive dissonance and external validation, there’s a temptation to replay the conversation with others. This can lead to gossip. Do not fall for the gossip trap. Talk to a coach if you are really unable to talk about it.
  • Recognize how you feel. Did it seem difficult to speak up for yourself? What does it feel like to have said something? Do you feel relieved, frustrated, or anxious?
  • Repeat what was working in your conversation. Did they hear what you said? Did other people immediately sympathize with your words? Did the conflict end in peace? What would you have done differently?
  • Avoid the vulnerability hangover. It can be hard to cope with the emotional effects of feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable as you learn this new skill. It is possible to feel annoyed like everyone is watching, or anxious about being called difficult.

Talk to a coach, or therapist, or write down your feelings in a journal. To “regain” your comfort level, be aware of the tendency to compromise your boundaries in future conversations. Growth can be difficult and often painful. It’s always worth learning to speaking up for yourself.

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