Conventional wisdom says it’s vital that you stand up for yourself. You may feel you’re not a strong person. How can you be assertive when you need to? Here are ten ways to stand up for yourself when you should.

What’s the difference between assertive and aggressive?

These two words get confused, but there’s a big difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Here’s a brief breakdown of both terms.

  • Aggressive: Disrespectful, angry, pushy, “You” statements, attack mode to get something
  • Assertive: Respect, but firm, open conversation, open but stand your ground, “I” statements.

When you stand up for yourself, you must be assertive rather than aggressive. You may know people who act aggressively at work or school. Here are some signs you’ve moved from assertiveness to aggressiveness. Aggressive people engage in these behaviors:

  • Bully
  • Exclude others
  • Gossip
  • Purposely ignore people
  • Can’t calm down
  • Hit
  • Yell
  • Threaten

10 Ways to Stand Up For Yourself (And How to Know When You Should)

stand up for yourself
When you stand up for yourself and find you’re getting aggressive, be sure to reach out for help. It could show you are suffering from psychological issues from some past trauma.

1 – Be clear about what you want

People aren’t mind-readers. It would help if you said what you need or want. Speaking up for yourself means you use your voice so others can understand you. Say precisely what you want, don’t dance around the issue. Use “I” statements instead of “You” words because they sound aggressive. Examples of “I” statements include:

  • I think
  • I feel
  • I’d like
  • I prefer
  • I would prefer

It may take some getting used to, but as you learn to express yourself clearly and honestly, you find people respond to you better. They know you’re an honest, authentic person. They also know you won’t let them take advantage of you.

2 – Stand up for yourself by correcting someone when needed

If you need to bring up a matter with someone, arrange a time to talk to them privately. This allows you to prepare what you want to say. You can respectfully package your message rather than blurting out what you want to say on the spur of the moment. It’s uncomfortable to correct people, but it’s often necessary. Here are some suggestions for speaking up and fixing others when needed.

  • Honestly, point out something they’re doing well.
  • Take an indirect approach using the word “and” to start the conversation about a criticism.
  • Share your own mistakes in this area, but don’t turn the conversation on to you. It’s about what they did. You don’t need to apologize for correcting them. Admitting your own mistakes emphasizes you know you’re not perfect.
  • Ask them questions. Direct the questions, so they admit their own mistakes. This is always better than you giving them a direct order, which may come across as aggressive.
  • Be aware of their feelings. Let them save face in this situation by showing them you value them. Make sure they don’t feel punished, but you advise them on changing their behavior.
  • When you see improvement, be sure to praise them. Even a slight movement towards what you advised is significant.

3 – Avoid being self-righteous

If you’re in a situation where you don’t speak up, you may end up sitting on your feelings. Think of a situation where someone doesn’t keep their end of a bargain, so you jump in and do it. All the while, you’re making sarcastic remarks about how you knew they wouldn’t do it. This passive-aggressive attitude never works. Even though you’re right, it’s self-righteous to use sarcasm to belittle the person. There’s a good chance you’ve done something similar in your life. Try to be deliberate and tell the person how you feel about what happened. Don’t accuse, but share honestly.

4 – Say no

Sometimes you need to stand up for your time by saying “no.” It’s easy to get pulled into commitments. If you say yes a lot, you’ll get a reputation as the person who will do everything. You’re always expected to bring the snacks for your kid’s class when the teacher doesn’t ask other parents. This request is a sure sign you need to speak up for your time. The next time they ask for something, you can say one of these:

  • Let me think about it and get back to you.
  • I need to check my calendar. Then I’ll let you know
  • No, I’m busy that day.
  • Sorry, but I have too much going on then.

Don’t apologize for saying no or feel obligated. Contribute where you need to, but otherwise, say no when you need to.

5 – Practice confident words before it’s time to stand up for yourself

Researchers say that being confident takes preparation. Standing up for yourself takes practice. You won’t learn to be a strong person overnight. Over time, you’ll grow in self-confidence and assertiveness. Even when you’re not confident, it’s okay to pretend. Practice certain situations at home in front of your mirror to gain more confidence. Work on being relaxed and comfortable speaking up for yourself. Don’t focus on your feelings, but think about what you need to say.

stand up for yourself
6 – Body language

Pay attention to your body language when you’re standing up for yourself. Practice doing these things

  • Lean forward: When you’re talking to people, lean in and focus on them.
  • Don’t slouch: Stand tall in a relaxed way.
  • Be relaxed and attentive: Don’t look bored or as if you’re ready to walk away. Stop and give the person your full attention.
  • Put your hands in your pocket: This conveys that you’re relaxed and confident.
  • Smile normally: Don’t smile too big but in a friendly way.

7 – Learn when to speak up

As assertiveness grows, you’ll learn to pick your battles with people. Sometimes it’s not worth it to stand up for yourself. Someone may say something, but you realize it was a rare moment and not worth mentioning. Part of learning how to stand up for yourself is knowing when to speak up and be quiet. This discernment means you learn how to read people and understand how to handle different situations.

8 – Don’t apologize when you must stand up for yourself

If you need to ask your roommate to help you clean up the house, speak straightforwardly, saying something like,

I need help cleaning up the house, but I can’t do it alone. Would you please clean the living room while I clean the kitchen?

Don’t apologize. Be clear and specific. Stand up for yourself respectfully but firmly. Of course, there’s no guarantee your roommate will agree. If this is the case, you may need to consider getting a new roommate who will share the responsibilities of the apartment.

9 – Set boundaries

Setting boundaries helps you stand up for yourself and helps others understand how to treat you. Boundaries display self-respect. This could mean asking your boss to please ask you before putting extra work on your desk. Or it could mean telling your co-worker you don’t like the nickname they call you. Be respectful and relaxed but firm. Standing up for yourself doesn’t need to be a dramatic event, but a simple,

Hey, you’re a funny person, but I’m not too fond of that nickname. Please don’t call me that anymore.

This simple but clear message will help your co-worker know how to treat you. Your boss will realize they should communicate with you before putting extra work on your desk. Once you set boundaries, if people continue to do these things, you may need to speak up for yourself again to reiterate your expectations.

10 – You can stand up for yourself by walking away

When you speak up for yourself, not everyone will like it. There will be people who get angry and attack you. They may try to manipulate you or push you to do something you refuse. They may guilt you or even bully you. Please don’t get upset by them. Stay calm and don’t react to their anger. Please don’t give in to their bullying, but stand your ground. If they’re pressing you, say something like,

 You know, I will not change my mind on this. Let’s end this conversation.

If the person continues, walk away. Collect your thoughts and schedule a meeting with them. Invite another person to join you, so you’re not alone with the person who attacked you.

stand up for yourself
Final thoughts on knowing how and when to stand up for yourself

Standing up for yourself takes practice, but you can learn to speak up respectfully but firmly to people. Expressing what you need clearly and humbly helps people better understand you. Learning to say no instead of accepting everything you’re asked to do is another simple way to stand up for yourself. Each of these simple practices will help you learn how to help yourself and how to help the people around you.