Overcoming the guilt of standing up for yourself

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been speaking quite a lot around the subject of raising issues to the people around me.

I actually had something in my personal life – I felt uncomfortable with something around a social gathering. But I also felt very uncomfortable around causing a fuss for other people.

In the end I raised the issue. Despite finding a solution, I ended up feeling guilty and a feeling that I was too delicate and difficult. Even though it was important for me to speak up for myself, I still feel extremely awkward for having done so.

The truth is that it’s never really comfortable to raise an issue. At best, it is instinctive, and so happens without needing to overthink it. Whilst blowing up based upon emotions is not helpful, If this is done in an emotionally controlled way, it can be a good way to get things off the chest without letting them ruminate. It’s why giving space for issues to be raised as they come up can save a lot of time and stress for all involved.

Otherwise, the whole experience can be laborious. We can get so caught up in the question of whether we are making too much of a fuss about things. I’ve seen it time and time again where people have minimised their own feelings because they fear coming across as too difficult, loud or unreasonable. This is often followed by finding justifications for why they should maybe instead just accept the situation. The brain can end up going in overdrive finding a whole plethora of extenuating circumstances as to why we may be overreacting.

Through this process, we learn to invalidate our own feelings. We end up convincing ourselves that the issue is that not that big of a deal. We end up losing touch with how we really feel about things, and end up instead following others opinion of what we should think and feel. This can erode our connection with ourselves and our moral compass, which will likely have negative effects across all aspects of our life.

The complex part of raising an issue is that we cannot control how other people are going to react to it. Chances are that if you are with someone who you feel would be receptive, this whole subject is far less of a challenge (it’s why making ourselves open to challenge is so important). But the real difficulty comes when we are speaking with someone that we do not expect to take it particularly well. There are certainly ways that we can raise issues in a constructive, non-confrontational way. Yet I’ve also seen people ruminate so much on this that the fear only increases as to ‘find the right time’, meaning that they end up putting off doing what they need to say.

The next step is the importance of staying the course. This has been a real challenge for me – I often feel guilty for causing a fuss, and I’ve even deleted messages I sent to people because I felt they were maybe too strong, toned them down and apologised before they even heard what I wanted to say. The problem with this is that it is self-defeating. I undermined my own message and ended up being the bad guy for having the issue in the first place. I set the narrative as me overreacting, when in reality I was just reacting.

I’ve found that when we want to take a stand, it is important to do so with a level of conviction. If we wilt at the first sign of anyone pushing back, the whole exercise ends up being even more painful. We compromise out of social pressure or anxiety. At the same time, people will subconsciously learn to never take your concerns seriously.

People are not usually used to having someone taking such strong stands either. I’ve been described as stubborn for sticking to my guns in the past. This is a challenging one, because an accusation of being stubborn can poke us to compromise because we want to demonstrate that we are not. This is where self-belief really comes in; I’ve learnt to acknowledge myself and my openness to see this is not the case, meaning I don’t need to respond to the accusation.

It’s important to remember that there is a clear difference between being stubborn because you refuse to be wrong compared to having conviction where you have considered all the information and are still sticking the course.

If you’ve been reading my article over the last few weeks you’ve probably seen me talk about having a clearer connection to our feelings. This article follows a similar theme. I believe that many of the moral woes come from an avoidance of raising our voice when we need to. By learning to ignore our feelings, we learn to ignore our conscience.

I think the world would be a better place if people raised issues more often. It would mean we sort them, rather than sweeping them under the carpet.

So if you’re considering how to deal with a situation where you raise an issue, my suggestion would be this: be guided by the emotional feelings that you have, but do not let them control you. If you face a choice of whether to raise something serious, make sure you have the conviction to follow it through, rather than backtracking at the first sign of push back. And be willing to accept that you may not get what you want, as ultimately the decision may not be in your control.

Standing up for yourself may be very uncomfortable, but your conscience will thank you for it. And the world will probably be better off for it too.

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