Perseverance, resilience and hard work are ingrained in me. I attribute that in part to my parents. My father is an immigrant from Italy and worked hard his entire life. His dedication to my family was/is the priority. You will never meet a harder working man. My mother lost her mother at an early age and had to deal with too much adversity growing up. No child should have to deal with what she did. But they made it. They struggled, survived and flourished together.
When my father was barely a teenager, he started cooking in his grandmother’s Inn in a rural town in Italy. He was musical too. He played trumpet in a small band. My mother was an opera singer. I like to think that is where my brother and I get our creativity. My father served in the military after the war. When he met my Italian/American mother, his life changed. After he moved to the United States, my father worked as a lumberjack, a road layer, machinist, kitchen worker peeling potatoes, and later chef and restaurant owner.
Being from another country, it was difficult for my father to get work and be accepted. He didn’t let it bother him. He is a proud man. He held his head up and just moved along. My Mom was very young when she married my father. Family members tried to discourage her from marrying him. She knew it might take some work but that they could get through anything. I guess she was right because they are still going strong 61 years later. Both my parents are just good, hardworking people. They both came from modest upbringings and worked hard for everything they have. When it came to us, they did the best they could and gave us more than I could ever ask. When they are your parents, you tend to take for granted the struggles and the triumphs they endured. Now, when I take a moment to sit back and think about all their accomplishments and the work it took to get there, I admire it greatly. And that is an understatement.
I didn’t have much adversity growing up. I believe adversity helps build strength. Sticking up for myself is not second nature for me. Below are four things that helped mold how I stand up for myself:
1. Are you tough enough? The one thing my mom wishes she taught us was to be tougher. We are a sensitive group of individuals. Okay, that is an understatement. I grew up in a ballet studio where I was constantly criticized about my weight and ability. As a child, you take it all in. As an adult, I look back and see that I was skinny and a damn, good dancer. I don’t want to say I was bullied in elementary school, but being a ballet dancer was not something kids appreciated. Foolish children. I did well in school, but it wasn’t always easy. I’ve also been guilty of allowing people to use me as a doormat. Not anymore. Over the past several years, I have made a conscious effort to stick up for myself and defend what I feel is right. I still struggle with letting things roll off my back. Eventually, I know when it’s time to let things and certain people go. That doesn’t mean it’s easy for me. It certainly doesn’t mean I’m not pushed to the edge from time to time. Show me respect, and I will do my very best, push me in a negative way, and you may think you light a fire in me, but it does not motivate me to compromise my beliefs. It does, however, add more fuel to my fire to do what I feel is right.
2. Are you a people pleaser? Growing up, I was a people pleaser. I’ve come to terms that there are people in this world you cannot please no matter how hard you try. You don’t need positive reinforcements and accolades from these people to know your self-worth. You have to find that for yourself. Oh sure, it would be nice to get a pat on the back here and there. Positive reinforcements help promote positive behavior. If the pats are few and far between, know for yourself that you are doing a good job or the best you can. Pat yourself on the back when you step out of your comfort zone and push yourself. Let that be good enough. If they don’t see your worth and your efforts, that is on them.
3. Me thinks you presume too much. Guilty! I wish I could say I never assume. I do. Sometimes your intuition takes over and if something feels wrong there is a reason. Once burned, twice shy I guess. On the flip side, if others assume things about you based on their perception and not your truth, that is their problem. Perception and assumptions can be a dangerous thing. It reminds me of that saying — “When you assume, you make an ass out of ‘u’ and me.” That also goes for relationships. If someone assumes they know you, your actions are not sincere, know what you want, or presume you are like everyone else based on their past experiences, that’s not your fault. You can’t stand up and yell “see me.” Well, I guess, you can. But that would be a little weird and don’t expect them to get it.
4. Trust. Who do you trust? Trust is a big motivator for me. When you trust someone implicitly you can be yourself wholeheartedly. Trust needs to be earned. People lie. Maybe they lie to hurt you. Maybe they lie to protect you. Maybe they consider a little, white lie okay as long as it saves your feelings. Maybe they lie because they are embarrassed, to protect themselves, their business, a client, their heart. Who knows? Maybe they lie because it’s none of your business. The caveat there, when you find out their truth you may understand, or it may be hurtful or even heartbreaking, but at least you know. I prefer transparency and honesty no matter the consequence.
I read a WikiHow on how to stand up for yourself. I took 10 of the 15 points that I feel provided good advice. However, I do believe that you have to do what works for you and makes you most comfortable and happy. Here are some of the suggestions they provided and my take on each:
1. Have confidence – a strong sense of self-confidence and belief in yourself and your abilities are key to building confidence. Having the ability to be firm in your convictions and stand up for yourself are equally important. I do agree that when you lack in self-confidence, you may become an easy target. “Confidence has to come from within, so do whatever it takes to make you feel better about yourself. Learn a new skill, lose some weight, repeat positive affirmations daily — nothing will change overnight, but your confidence will grow in time.”
2. Develop a good attitude. Attitude is everything. “Your attitude sets the tone of your voice, the quality of your thoughts, and is reflected in your facial expressions and body language.” I have a statue in my office my aunt bought me that reads simply: “Smile.” When I feel overwhelmed or down, it reminds me to take a deep breath. Positivity is so much more powerful than negativity or pessimism. It can be tough at times to think on the bright side especially when you feel like burying your head in the sand. Your positive attitude can become infectious, and people around you start to feed off of it. There are those who won’t and that is okay. The same can be said when you are stressed out or feeling depressed. It’s a learned skill to shake off negativity and see the good. “We naturally prefer to be hanging around the person who makes us feel good about ourselves, and we’re more inclined to listen and respond positively to someone who has a good attitude.”
3. Stop viewing yourself as a victim. Woe is me. Nothing goes right. I can’t catch a break. Stop right there! Stop behaving like a victim and blaming others for your problems. Don’t let anyone toy with your self-esteem. Take responsibility. Fear, in general, is one reason some people are not able to stand up for themselves. Taking that first step is the hard part but once you do, the rest is liberating. Don’t be afraid of change. I was painfully shy as a child and did not like being laughed at or be the butt of any joke. That makes me laugh. Today, I love it when people laugh at my jokes or say I’m funny. Don’t retreat. Be who you are. Don’t let anyone take your power away. Sure you may have your power shook up a bit here and there, but whatever you do, don’t ever lose it. Especially to someone who is undeserving of it.
4. Feel good about yourself. Looking fit and healthy helps build confidence. You don’t have to be model perfect, but you should take care of yourself. Find an activity you enjoy and that you can fit into your schedule. If you like to run, do it. Get those endorphins going. Be active: hike, spin, rock climb, lift weights, Zumba, hip hop, use cardio machines. Eat right and treat yourself once in a while. You don’t have to train for a marathon. Although, why not? “Not only will you look and feel better physically, but you’ll also have lots of fun and become a more interesting, fulfilled person in the process!”
5. Be assertive. Assertiveness is the main key to standing up for you. “Being assertive enables you to express your wants, needs, and preferences in a way that shows you’re prepared to stand up for yourself… It involves being open and honest about your thoughts and feelings while trying to work towards a mutually satisfying solution.” Don’t point fingers or be accusatory when stating your feelings and opinions. As they are YOUR feelings and opinions. Be aware of others input but it’s okay not to agree with them. It’s unfortunate when a woman in business who asserts herself is considered a bitch. But you know what? Who cares? Do you get the job done? Do you listen to others and respect their opinions? Do you express your needs? Do you stand up for what you think is right? That’s not being a bitch; that is being assertive. Assertiveness is a learned skill and may not come naturally. It may take some time to become comfortable in that space, but once you do, you’ll feel a more attuned sense of self.
6. Defend yourself in a calm and reasonable manner. Although I do agree you need to defend yourself when “verbally attacked, provoked, or sidelined,” you also need to be keenly aware of who or what you are up against. There are certain situations where defending yourself may feel like a waste of breath. However, it is important to take care of yourself when someone tries to put you down, box you in, or hurt you in any way. Speak your mind even when you feel it may not make a difference or fear there will be ramifications. It’s all in your delivery. I am honest about how I feel and sometimes that can get me in trouble. But I also know it is important to speak my mind. Especially if I’m feeling attacked. The trick is doing it in a non-threatening way when confronted. “More often than not, a polite but firm clarification of the disrespectful comment or behavior will be enough to draw attention to the need for it to change, especially where there is an audience.” One thing I need to work on is speaking slower. I think growing up the youngest in a big Italian family, I had to learn to speak fast in order to get a word in edgewise. Old habits die hard, but I’m working on it. Still. Tone of voice and speed of delivery are important in conveying your message in a confident way.
7. Stay away from negative people. Trust your gut. Your intuition is usually right. If someone is bringing you down, you don’t have to hang out with them or carry on with them. You don’t owe them an explanation, but you don’t have to be rude to them either. You can politely distance yourself. You don’t benefit from spending time with those who don’t have your best interest at heart, and you should not reward bad behavior towards you by allowing them to spend time with you. “Remember — keeping away from sources of discomfort and trouble is not running away; it is an important part of learning to stand up for yourself, because it demonstrates that you won’t let nonsense and nastiness impact your life.”
8. Don’t be aggressive or passive aggressive. Active aggression is counterproductive. Oh, sometimes you feel like resorting to it, sure, but that will get you nowhere fast. Don’t confuse being assertive for aggressive. Standing up for yourself is one thing, getting aggressive when you do so is another. Raising your voice or getting angry may not result in what you want. Ever heard the phrase, “You catch more bees with honey?” You are far more likely to achieve a positive result if you approach issues calmly and objectively. “Being aggressive is not a constructive way to get what you want and will simply turn people against you.” Be wary of taking a passive-aggressive approach to people and situations. When you do things against your will and end up feeling, resentment, anger, dislike toward those who make you feel that way, you set yourself up to be hurt. It’s a path you don’t want to travel down that can negatively affect your relationships, and your physical and emotional health.
9. Try to turn negatives into positives. Often negative attacks on you stem from insecurity or jealousy. No matter what others say about you. People may claim you to be a number of things. Turn it around. See the positive in their comments. So what if you come off as bossy. Take it as evidence that you’re a born leader, know how to multitask, deal with change, prioritize, and manage people and projects well. So what if you are sensitive? I would rather be sensitive than coldhearted any day of the week. Of course, you need to be careful to not wear all your feelings on one sleeve. In my case, it can be a very long sleeve. So when people suggest you are something, look at the benefits versus what they assume are the pitfalls.
10. Don’t give up. No one said life is easy. Life can be a steep climb, but the rewards you get along the way by being persistent, can be plentiful. It’s all in how you approach obstacles and overcome life’s many twists and turns. When you lack confidence, act as if you have an abundance of it. When someone insults you, don’t wallow in it. Let it add flames to your fire. When someone tries to walk all over you, stand up for yourself. When someone insults you or makes you feel insignificant, consider the source and begin to care less. Believe it when I say, I know it’s easier said than done. It’s so important to develop a thick skin, but not so thick that you become closed off. Move forward. When someone tries to take advantage of you, don’t let them. And if they do or did, that’s okay, learn from it, and don’t let it happen again. Keep climbing.
These tips are helpful to me and a good reminder of standing up for yourself and what you believe. Live life with conviction, understanding, and assertiveness. You will fall, you will make mistakes, you may do something or say something you regret. Learn from it, adjust, stand up and move forward.
By | Gina L. Cafasso