How to Speak Up for Yourself

learn to speak up with 100 percent honestySometimes, I don’t speak up. And if I do speak, I’m not 100 percent honest about what I feel, think, need, or want because I’m afraid my words will not be well received and, therefore, the person to whom I’m speaking may not react well.

In the past, there were times when I spoke my mind and was honest about what I felt, needed, and wanted, and I didn’t get the results I wanted. In the aftermath, I became upset and decided speaking up just wasn’t worth it.

So, I stopped speaking honestly—at least with specific people.

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience.

Perhaps, right now, there’s something you really want to tell somebody, but you’re afraid to say what you really feel…to be 100 percent honest. You fear the outcome of such a conversation. Your outcome fear is based solely on past experience, but it dictates your current actions—or inactions. It causes you to remain silent.

Speak from Your Heart

You need to learn how to speak up for yourself, especially in difficult situations. People will walk all over you or do things that upset you if you aren’t clear about what you will accept or don’t set boundaries.

How can you deal with these situations and people? Speak from your heart. And speak honestly.

Yes…this makes you vulnerable. Remember the wisdom of this advice: In your vulnerability lies your strength. By speaking from your heart, you stand firmly and boldly for yourself. And from that stance, you stand less chance of getting hurt.

Silence Breeds Low Self-Esteem

In some situations, this is super hard, and people may not be receptive to honesty or boundaries. However, as long as you remain silent because you fear their reaction or don’t want to rock the boat, you feel powerless.

The more powerless you feel, the lower your level of self-esteem falls. Every time you remain in a situation or relationship that isn’t good for you, on some level, you tell yourself you aren’t worthy of something better. And that makes it harder the next time to speak up for yourself.

Speaking Up for Yourself Requires Courage

Speaking up for yourself requires bold action. You must be courageous. But, you can’t wait until you can drum up the courage to speak your mind. Courage is found while taking action.

There is an adage that says, “Move through the fear.” Or, as Susan Jeffers said, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” The way through fear is to move…to take bold action.

Consider what kind of tough conversation you need to have with the people in your life. What things have you been wanting to say but been too afraid to express?

It’s time to take bold action and speak up!

Ground Rules for Speaking Up

Now, there are some ground rules for speaking up. Here they are:

1. Plan your conversation.

Think about the other person’s aspirations. What do they want? For example, do they want a better relationship with you? If you can speak to their aspirations and line up what you want with what they desire, you’re more likely to get a positive result.

If you can’t figure out how to have this type of persuasive conversation, plan what you’re going to say. Don’t just blurt out a whole lot of emotional verbiage. That’s not likely to get you what you want.

So, first, plan your conversation.

2. Speak unemotionally.

If you speak with intense emotion, the person you are addressing will become overloaded. He, too, will feel flooded with emotion. If that happens, he won’t have the ability to process what you are saying and will react from an emotional place.

To avoid this scenario, process your emotions beforehand. This helps you stay grounded and centered while you speak. You can do so with the help of a therapist or coach, by giving yourself permission to express your emotions (alone or with a friend), or by journaling, writing letters (you don’t send), or by asking a professional to lead you through any number of therapeutic processes, like EMDR or Tapping.

I know what I’m asking you to do is hard. When I have to say something hard, vulnerable, or emotional, I cry. Now, crying is not bad, but your tears can still shut down someone who does not like expressions of emotion. And that will make it impossible for that person to hear what you say.

Definitely, don’t speak with anger or be resentful or belligerent. These types of in-your-face emotions aren’t helpful when you are trying to communicate your needs.

3. Make the conversation about you.

To increase the chances of a tough conversation going well, make the conversation about you. Do not blame. Take responsibility for how you feel, respond, react, or behave.

No one “makes you” feel or react in a particular manner. It’s your choice to feel or behave in a specific way.

Yes, certain situations or other people’s actions may trigger you to exhibit programmed behaviors and emotions. But you can’t blame the situation or person. The feelings and reactions are yours.

Therefore, it’s important not to say, “You did ____, and it made me feel ____.”

Instead, you want to say, “When you do______, I tell myself the story that_____, and then I feel _____.”

Or you could say, “I choose to feel _______ when you say/do ______.”

Here’s another example that includes setting boundaries: “I feel uncomfortable when you drink. I am not judging your choice. But, I’m going to choose to leave the room and not spend time with you when you are drinking to relieve my discomfort.”

Don’t point fingers at anybody. Take full responsibility for your emotions and reactions to a situation. Speak in sentences that use “I” not “you.” Doing so will make it much easier for the other person to hear what you have to say. They won’t feel judged or blamed.

4. Acknowledge your story.

Most of us read into other people’s words and actions. If you have a habit of doing this as well, admit to the story you tell yourself when someone says or does something. This is another way of taking responsibility and speaking in “I” terms.

For instance, you might say, “When you drink, the story I tell myself is that you don’t want to be with me. You want to escape me. I feel hurt, lonely, and as if I’m unlovable. I know you may not be ‘saying’ that when you pour yourself a drink, but it’s what I ‘hear’ in my head. Then, I feel upset and angry.”

No blame, excuses, pointing fingers, being resentful, or angry. Just you taking full responsibility for the story you tell yourself.

5. Speak up sooner rather than later.

Tough conversations are hard, but it’s better not to put them off. I know it’s human nature to do so. However, speaking up sooner tends to be better than later.

If you hold in what you feel or want to say for days, weeks…even years, the upset and negative emotion builds up steam in a pressure cooker. If you don’t release the pressure, eventually, the lid blows off.

Exploding is not going to help your relationships. The more emotion you have built up before you speak, the higher the likelihood that you will speak with too much emotion and not remember your conversation plan. The person with whom you are trying to communicate will then back away.

After all, explosions are scary. And it’s tough to hear anyone or anything during a blast.

Remember, the primary person you hurt by not speaking up is you. Even if you are afraid to speak up, do it for yourself first and foremost.

After you speak up honestly, you will feel better about yourself. Your self-esteem will rise because you were honest with yourself and with the other person.

You’ll also end up with more courage. You’ll become more confident about speaking up again in the future. That means you’ll take more bold action.

Two Cautions

I want to acknowledge that, in some situations, it’s better not to speak up. This is true if doing so puts you in physical danger. In such a case, get support—a therapist, coach, counselor, or moderator—to be present during the conversation to intervene if necessary.

Of course, sometimes, the “danger” lies in verbal abuse. You can prepare yourself for this possibility. (Again, a coach, therapist, or counselor can help you prepare.) Know the words thrown at you are not about you. They are about the other person.

Ground yourself in the truth of who you are. Let the other person’s words bounce off that shield.

Also, while it is better to speak up soon than later, be sure you have done the prep work necessary. Take time to understand how you feel, why you behave as you do, and what you really want and need as well as why. Then you can speak in a centered and grounded manner.

And take time to plan the conversation, as mentioned. Don’t speak up until you are ready. That doesn’t mean waiting until you have the courage; courage comes from the act of being bold.

Speak Up Honestly

I want to challenge you to have a tough conversation soon and to speak up honestly during that interaction.

Who do you really need to speak with, and what do you want to say? Journal about your answer. Use this as part of your planning process.

You can even write a letter—or three—that you don’t send. Write a letter filled with all the emotions you feel. Express all your thoughts and feelings without reservation. Then write a letter filled with love, forgiveness, and equanimity. Finally, write a letter that falls somewhere in between. The third letter provides a great starting place for planning your conversation.

Learning to express yourself with 100 percent honesty is an important skill. When you speak up in this manner, you’ll find your relationship with yourself and others improve.

Have you spoken up for yourself honestly? What was the result of that conversation, and what tips can you share from your experience? Tell me in a comment below. And, if you know someone who would find this post helpful, please share it with them.

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Photo courtesy of pasja1000

14 thoughts on “How to Speak Up for Yourself”

  1. Hi Nina, Thank you so much for this! I am currently guilty of not speaking up to someone. If we all followed this advice – the planning, etc. – our world would be completely different as communication is life itself!

    So I’m going to take bold action.


  2. Yes, it’s really amazing to have discovered the art of honest talk. It gives me a sense of completeness and light-heartedness.

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  6. I spoke up for myself and it was a good conversation. I took their feelings into account and they were receptive. However afterwards I’m still feeling this unexplained negative feeling. I think it’s a fear of the way the other person now feels. Also it’s from a history of not speaking up to this person. It’s the first time in many years of finally expressing honest dissatisfaction with their behavior and suggesting a healthier way to deal with our conflict. And miraculously they seemed to agree and were nice about it.

    But I think what we need to do in these situations when we feel bad afterwards is to reassure ourselves that we did the best and right thing for ourselves. And that how the other person reacts doesn’t matter as much as the empowerment we gave ourselves with this change. The relationship will work itself out in the best possible way when we express ourselves. Even if it destroys a relationship, it will only be destroyed because it was never meant to be in the first place.

    Regardless, the relationship should evolve into a better one.

    Anyway, just wanted to share some thoughts because I’m struggling a bit with the after emotions after confronting someone I’ve not confronted before.

    I know the article says we should just accept our emotions. But I think we should try to counteract shame by consciously reassuring ourselves.

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