Why Standing Up for Yourself Fails. . .and What Actually Works
Have you ever stood up for yourself, either because it seemed like the right thing to do or because someone encouraged you to do it? Did it work? Or, were you ignored? Or, did you even get push back?
I hear about those failures all the time from my Quanta Change clients. And, I also help them make changes at their core that often eliminate the need to stand up for themselves, at all.
The core issue that we’re dealing with here is the feeling that “I don’t matter.” This is the most common piece of Learned Distress® (the feeling that there is something wrong with you), so if you nodded your head when you read that phrase, you’re not alone! (You can learn your overall pattern of Learned Distress by taking this free personality pattern test.)
The feeling that we matter is what we need more than anything else as humans. We all inherently want to be seen and heard, and engage in the activities that matter to us. But, we all absorb the feeling that “I don’t matter” early in life, in one way or another, and it becomes stored as part of our sense of self—the part of us that generates each moment of our lives.
So, since you have to keep moving through life, you need a way to survive with this awful feeling; you find some way to cope with it or keep it under control. When it comes to the feeling of “I don’t matter,” we take one of two roads in dealing with it. We either find ourselves being powerless or overpowering others in some way. You probably feel much more comfortable with one of these than the other. Here are some ways you may experience your default survival mechanism:
Being Powerless to Survive
- You feel unable to speak up for yourself, like there is some invisible wall that keeps you from expressing yourself.
- It might feel unsafe in some way to speak up for yourself.
- Or, even when you do express your opinions or desires, you are ignored.
- You may feel that it’s best to not want anything, because what matters to you isn’t going to happen, anyway.
- You may even find yourself pretending that it’s OK that you don’t matter or rationalizing when someone slights you. . .”Oh, she’s going through a hard time, so I’m not surprised that she forgot about our lunch date. It’s completely fine!” (All the while, hearing that awful voice inside say, “See? You really don’t matter.”)
Overpowering to Survive
- You make sure to hold the power in any situation, to be the strongest voice in the room.
- You might ignore others’ opinions or requests, consciously or not.
- Maybe your knee-jerk reaction in any situation is that you have to get your way or that you have to automatically oppose what someone else has said.
- Other people always tell you that “it’s all about you” and “you have all the power,” even if that’s not something you’re consciously trying to accomplish.
So, what’s the solution to dealing with “I don’t matter”? To go in the opposite direction from what your default is? If you’re in the powerless category, become “empowered” or “learn to stand up for yourself”? If you’re in the overpowering category, just try to stay quiet or become a people-pleaser? My guess is that you’ve tried these things, and it hasn’t worked very well.
Why It Doesn’t Work: the Feeling Radar
We think that we’re interacting with others on a conscious level—just reacting in a rational way to what they say or do. But actually, we are always interacting on a level that we’re mostly unconscious of. I call this your “feeling radar.” You may be aware of this sensing system in certain situations like:
- You walk into a room where people have just been arguing. There’s nothing physical you can point to as evidence, but you can just feel it.
- A certain person always bugs you. You can’t figure out why they irritate you, but you can’t stand being around them.
- Someone walks into a room, and you know instantly that this is the person who will lead in this situation.
When someone consciously tries to act in the way that is opposite of their default survival mechanism, we often feel it and reject it (often without realizing it or understanding our reaction). For example, take the powerless person who “finds her power and stands up for herself.” Often, the response is either that she is rebuked for being so presumptuous or ignored altogether. That’s because the feeling underlying her message is not only “I don’t matter,” but also, “It’s not SAFE for me to matter,” so she gets exactly that feedback.
The Alternative to Being Powerless or Overpowering
So, there has to be another option to just acting the opposite way. I call that option “allowing power to come through.” And specifically, that power comes from what Quanta Change calls your natural well-being. This is the feeling at your core that you are completely OK and you matter just for being yourself. When my clients unlearn layers of “I don’t matter” Learned Distress, they feel increasingly that they do matter, and that feeling starts to be reflected in their relationships and interactions with others.
What does that look like? For the formerly powerless, they feel seen and heard more, without making any special effort. They may be asked for their opinion more, asked for what they want to do, or invited to lead something, and becoming visible actually feels good to them now. For the formerly overpowering, they feel more able to work with others easily, to listen to other points of view, and they are honored for their uniqueness, instead of being considered overbearing or intimidating. To find out how that shift might feel for you, fill out this free, personality pattern test.
Sara Avery is the Executive Director of Quanta Change, and she’s been guiding people through this process for the past 16 years. Click to get your free, personalized SQ report and to sign up for a free, 30-minute call with her to learn the kinds of positive changes you will see by unlearning the feeling that you don’t matter.