Self-esteem typically enters a trough as you fumble your way through those formidable teenage years on your journey to womanhood. If you’re fortunate, your self-esteem develops in it’s own time as you mature and become comfortable in your own skin. Unfortunately, many women enter their twenties and beyond feeling every bit as awkward as they did when they were gangly teenagers.
Low self-esteem can affect any woman – even women who by your standards seem to have everything: intelligence, achievements, looks, wealth, great friends, families who love them, and partners who think the world of them. One reason for this is that self-esteem is less contingent on your image, relationships, social circle, and success and more strongly correlated with your level of self-respect and your ability to stand up for yourself.
A common misconception that women have about being assertive and standing up for themselves is that they will come off as aggressive, unapproachable witches. They’ll rock the boat. They’ll hurt someone’s feelings. They’ll bruise someone’s ego. They’ll step on someone’s toes. They’ll put someone out. They’ll make someone uncomfortable.
That’s a load of crap, and unless you get rid of those misconceptions about assertion, your self-esteem will stay in the toilet.
Assertion is not aggression. Assertion is not manipulation. Assertion is not about belittling or disrespecting other people.
Assertion is about knowing yourself, your values, and your ability to clearly communicate your expectations to other people while simultaneously maintaining respect for them. Assertion is knowing that have the right to your own feelings and beliefs. Assertion is knowing that you have the right to have your personal boundaries respected.
The point of asserting yourself is to make it known that you will not tolerate inappropriate or disrespectful behaviour. Shirking away from defending yourself both weakens you and conditions you to repeat that behaviour in the future. Unfortunately, as women many of us do shrink back rather than defend ourselves for fear of being perceived as aggressive. Remember though, that every time someone disrespects you and you accept it by retreating with your tail between your legs, you are telling that person loud and clear that treating you poorly is permissible behaviour. You are also reinforcing to yourself that it is okay to be treated that way. You’re setting a precedent that you will kowtow to the demands of others without so much as a peep. You are degrading your own level of respect in the hope of being liked more by other people, when in reality most simply see you as a doormat; useful to rub a bit of dog shit on before walking over, but not much else.
Let’s look at an example. When I was still in school, I was one of the quiet bookworm kids who was picked on by the more popular kids. One popular girl in particular thought it was an absolute hoot to sneak up behind me and pull my hair. At first, I tolerated her behaviour and hoped she would eventually just leave me alone, which of course never happened. All I did by refusing to stand up for myself was teach her three things: 1.) she could treat me like crap, 2.) I’d do nothing about it, and 3.) all of her friends would continue to think that she was tough and cool, and indirectly lose respect for me in the process. That was, until one day she pushed me a bit too far. Miss Popular pulled my hair one too many times, and I stood up and belted her in front of everyone. The embarrassment of having an entire classroom of schoolchildren staring in open-mouthed silence as I walloped her is something I’m sure she never forgot. Needless to say, Miss Popular never laid another finger on me. And neither did anyone else.
What happened here was that Miss Popular had initially associated bullying me with pleasure. By bullying me, she felt big and important in front of her friends, who thought that her behaviour was funny. The second I decided to stop putting up with being mistreated was the second that her unacceptable behaviour stopped. When I stood up for myself, I thoroughly embarrassed her. It wasn’t rocket science – all I did was make the risk of her embarrassment too great to warrant her trying to bully me anymore. It was a fun game for her while it was easy. It wasn’t fun or easy once I chose to stop being a victim.
It’s exactly the same in all areas of your life. If you’re the type of woman who regularly tolerates disrespect from the people around you and appeases everyone at the expense of your own self-esteem, don’t expect the way people treat you to change. I’m not saying go out there and give everyone who bothers you a clip under the ear (unless it’s in self-defence), but if you feel disrespected by someone, call them on it. Make them accountable to their words and actions. Don’t let people get away with putting you down, calling you names, or taking you for granted. Shake up the relationship dynamics and stand up for yourself. Let people know that if they want to dish out disrespect to somebody, it sure as hell won’t be you.
Standing up for yourself when someone disrespects you, or treats you poorly, or otherwise encroaches on your mental or physical wellbeing will do wonders for your self-esteem. Try it for yourself and see.
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