I’ve always had a difficult time expressing myself and an even more challenging time standing up for myself. It seems that, growing up, I never really learned how to use my voice, or that my voice was even important and that it’s okay to be heard. So when confrontation arose, I would just stay quiet, even when others were attacking me. It breaks my heart to think about all the times I SHOULD have stood up for myself; all the times I WANTED to say something, but I didn’t quite know how.
What annoys me the most is that whenever I get angry or am being confronted, I automatically want to cry. The tears well up and I usually can’t speak without them spilling over. I’ve always been very embarrassed of this, as I felt like it totally undermined anything I had to say when I got emotional. So I would try to leave the situation before the tears would come, or I would choose not to speak so that I wouldn’t start crying and look like a complete idiot. (Can you imagine crying when your boss mistreats you?)
But then I read somewhere that the key to learning how to speak up for yourself is to do it EVEN IF you cry or your voice shakes or you look like a mess. You can still say whatever you need to say while letting the tears flow. It’s much more important to use your voice and speak your truth than it is to hold in and look “perfect.”
A few months ago, I had a chance to practice this exact advice and it has changed my life.
My husband and I were visiting with people who are very, very close to us when they began to confront us about an issue. We both listened calmly, even as the conversation grew more and more heated. Until finally, things were said on their end that were absolutely unacceptable and extremely hurtful. I was so ANGRY that the tears started to form and I immediately ran upstairs so that no one would see me cry. (My husband is really great at holding his ground without getting angry so he stayed and continued the conversation. Ugh, must be nice…)
When I got upstairs, I let myself cry and shake and breathe. I had so, so, so much I wanted to say to them. But I knew that if I did, I would cry and get embarrassed.
Right there, I remembered the advice to speak up for yourself even if you cry. Even if your voice shakes. Even if you don’t know the right words to use. Do it anyway.
I mustered up the courage and marched back downstairs where I began to tell them exactly how I felt and to reveal what was important to me. I was BAWLING and my voice was screechy and I was probably hard to understand. I would usually never let myself be seen like this but I knew I needed to find my voice.
As soon as they saw my vulnerability, the tone of the conversation changed and we were able to have a more constructive argument on where we all stood and what needed to be done going forward. I eventually calmed down, no more tears, but continued to speak my truth.
For the first time ever, I was able to set boundaries with these particular people and it felt so amazing to not hide who I am or what I need. It felt incredible to speak my mind instead of just bottling it all inside, and I was so overwhelmingly proud of myself.
This was just the beginning. As the months have passed, I’ve felt more comfortable speaking up for myself, and the more I do it, the easier it becomes. The tears may or may not come, but it doesn’t matter. I’m working on not taking things as personally, which I think will help with the strong emotions I feel when confronted. (Not taking things personally needs a whole other blog post!)
I’ve also recently started a book called Nonviolent Communication: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships about how to use our words to communicate our needs in the most compassionate and effective ways. What I like is that he provides an actual formula for how to express yourself, so that it’s easy for me to follow when I need to say something. I highly recommend it, as I can see how it could completely change the dynamic of relationships when we’re willing to speak directly and honestly.
So if you’re like me and have a hard time using your voice, try doing it no matter what you look like or sound like. It takes courage. You might feel embarrassed at first. But I promise you that you’ll feel so liberated and proud of yourself afterwards.
Do any of you struggle with confrontation and setting boundaries like I do? What are some tools that help you get through those difficult moments? I would love to hear your success stories!!