General Question

wundayatta's avatar

What makes some of us unable to stand up for ourselves?

Asked by wundayatta (58596points) April 11th, 2009

I had a fight with my wife this morning. She was essentially asking me to tell her what I wanted. I don’t because I don’t like to be told “no.”

So I wonder. Could I be too sensitive to rejection? Too fearful of loss? Have I learned that it is very dangerous to disappoint others? Or that it is impossible to please others?

Have you had a hard time advocating for yourself? Can you give an example? Why do you think you have such trouble with it? What are some of the reasons that you think people, in general, have trouble advocating for themselves?

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32 Answers

flameboi's avatar

o.k. you had a fight this morning… I’m going to tell you what my dad told me a few years ago
1. If you ever get a girl pregnant, pack up and leave, you’ll be on your own…
2. if that ever happens and you end up married, never ever go to bed mad at each other, it doesn’t matter what the argument was about, just don’t go to bed mad at each other…

russellsouza's avatar

I don’t think this is as much about not being able to advocate for yourself as it is about you struggling to express your feelings in this particular situation with your wife. I think it can always be more difficult to say things that might not be well-received to someone you love because you deeply care about what that person thinks, as opposed to talking to the person next to you on a plane.

SuperMouse's avatar

I thought a lot about this today after having a long, difficult conversation with my S/O. It was a topic that was very touchy for both of us and that we both had very strong feelings about. We literally discussed it for hours. At the end of our conversation I realized that for the first time in our relationship I didn’t hold back telling him how I felt. I didn’t sublimate my opinions. I also realized that it made me scared out of my mind!

In my case I think it comes from two things. First, abandonment issues. In my last relationship I always kind of felt like he saw me as a bullet he took in order to keep the rest of the world from being subjected to me. Hence I was always pretty concerned (subconsciously probably) that if I came clean and made any demands he would kick me to the curb. The other reason is that when I was younger my dad drilled into me that I am a manipulative person and try to manipulate everyone in my path. Coming out with my feelings and saying when I am hurt or unhappy felt manipulative to me and I did not want to come across that way.

In the end we solved the problem. We both gave a little (ok a lot, but the giving was about even on both sides), and came up with something that we think will work for both of us. He didn’t say he never wants to see me again, and I didn’t hear my dad in my ear telling me I was being manipulative. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

cak's avatar

Why do you believe it is so dangerous to disappoint others? Why do you think it is so impossible to please others?

Seems like you need to stop worrying about pleasing and disappointing others so much and just to answer a question. Stop weighing everything and answer. She asked you a question, answer it. You know what, the answer may, in fact, be “No.” So what? Is no the end of the world? No, it isn’t. It’s an answer, not always a desirable answer, but it’s an answer. What you may be saying may not be something she wants to hear, but you know what, it’s an answer. Sometimes having someone unable to answer a question, because they are afraid to let someone down, is well, frustrating. Next thing you know, you’re yelling out to the person, “just answer the damn question!”

I never stood up for myself. I took on projects at work, because I wouldn’t say no. I wound up (in my first marriage) never speaking up for what I wanted to do, say…hell, even think. I gave up my ability to take care of me, to look out for me. That was about the time he started to really lose interest in me. He said he got tired of someone that wouldn’t stand up for herself. Which was ironic, since it was the one thing he sought to change in me – he won, I lost. My husband now, does it at times. Not often, anymore, I have very little patience for it.

My dad used ask me this question, “If you can stand up for yourself, how in the world do you expect others to take you seriously or to respect you?” Think about it, you gotta admit, there is some serious truth in that question. If you don’t respect yourself enough to stand up for yourself, then why in the world do you expect for others to want to help you or to respect you…to take you seriously? I had to take a lot of time to figure out what I wanted to be, someone that refused to stand up for myself, or someone that cared enough to speak up. I speak up now.

Dog's avatar

In college we studied a psychology experiment using mice that studied emotional conditioning. The experiment would give a negative stimulus each time the mouse tried to scale a small wall in corner of the cage to get to a treat.

The mouse quickly learned not to go near the wall and even when the wall was later removed the mouse still would not venture to the other side of the cage.

Perhaps prior baggage for some of us is our conditioning. Perhaps there has been consistent negative stimulus when one tried to defend or express themselves to the point that they are emotionally unwilling to go there again.

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cak's avatar

@OwnageHow is that helpful? Grow a set or shoot yourself?

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Fear of loss is my first pick. Either fear of loss to yourself or for another.
An ex of mine used to ask me when arguing, “what do you want from me? why are you here with me, why won’t you talk to me?” I put off telling the truth because the man was under so much personal loss and stress but in the end, I did tell him and we went our separate ways for the best.

YARNLADY's avatar

Perhaps some counseling would help you find ways of responding that will help, but won’t result in rejection. It worked for me.

Zen's avatar

@Ownage Oy vey, that’s no way to talk!

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Kelly27's avatar

To be honest I am not sure why it is hard to do at times, I am sure there are a lot of different reasons that are at the root of it all. I know that at times I have a hard time standing up for myself, but other times I don’t. I will think on this and hopefully will have something better to add to your question. :)

kevbo's avatar

Sorry if these are repeats…

The underlying assumption that a conflict means you did something wrong.

Internalizing external problems (same idea, I suppose).

Inexperience dealing with crazy or dysfunctional people (who project their own correctness/certainty based on their inability to see their own blind spot). Meanwhile, you assume they are a reasonable person.

Disbelief that you deserve a certain standard of happiness and contentment. That your POV is aligned with a legitimate purpose (yours and the universe’s).

Disconnect from your intuition.

srmorgan's avatar

This post brought back a situation that happened a long time ago between a girlfriend and me. She had certain behaviors and attitudes that were very upsetting to me yet she was quite insensitive to my feelings or she simply was not going to be told what to do in these situations.
I found that in many instances I acquiesced with terrible results:
– I did not get what I wanted and ended up doing what she wanted to do in the first place
– the problems continued over several months without resolution
– as it went on, I became more and more unsure of myself in the relationship which in turn led to her “walking all over me”.
– this led to an uncomfortable relationship in which she “had the upper hand” which is a polite way of saying she got her way most of the time whether I liked it or not.

I now realize that I was a) trying to please her so much that it was to my own detriment and b) the worse it got, the more scared I was to confront her because I was uncertain that I would get the answer I wanted to hear and if that happened, my own ego would be so bruised that I would walk away from someone I genuinely cared for, in spite of these issues.

I realized what I was doing and for a month or two I was just incapable of doing what I needed to do. It was not a case of growing a set of balls and stop being pussy-whipped, it was the fear of rejection and fear of being jettisoned that kept me paralyzed.

And one Sunday, I just had had it, and I broke up with her, and this tough woman (whom I thought was kicking me around) broke down in tears as I walked out. Halfway to the elevator, I felt so terrible that I rang the bell again, got a nasty look as she opened the door and said, let’s go on hiatus for three or four weeks to get our heads straight.

After that time, we had dinner and surprisingly she said, you did not make a stink about this and why then should I know it was causing you such a problem? Sulking and moping are not positive actions and I was not telling her about my feelings.

It is curious because although some of the problems never got resolved in the next couple of months and there was still an undercurrent about what happened, we did reconcile, lived together and will have our 26th anniversary this week.

I think this emanates from two things: fear of rejection and fear of escalating something trivial into a fight. But every relationship is different.

fireside's avatar

Sometimes it can be tough to say what you want because, once you voice your opinion, it is out there and you have to take responsibility for the words. If you are not entirely sure what you really want, then it is a frightening thing to open yourself up and expose that vulnerability.

But that said, you are married, you have a kid (right?) and you know that you have to find ways to communicate more openly. Be sure to sit down and discuss it with her. If it is hard to put into words, try writing it out first. She may not want to read what you wrote over listening to you say it, but the act of writing it out should help to clarify in your mind what it is you want.

From there, it will hopefully be easier to explain your thoughts. Try to not see her as “the power” to which you have to speak truth, but see her as your lover and friend who has been with you for all these years. She probably wants things to work out as much as you do so put yourself in her shoes and see if the way you have been handling things might be causing some confusion for her.

If you can see the confusion from her point of view, then maybe it will be easier to come to terms with what you want to say. Good Luck!

jbfletcherfan's avatar

I went for years not standing up for myself. I didn’t work, & stayed home with our girls. So in my head, I guess I thought that I really didn’t have the right to form much of an opinion on things, or speak up. Then the girls grew up & I went to work. It helped me gain confidence & see that I did have the right to express myself. In the last three years, there’s been a lot of changes in our lives. I stand up to my husband & I won’t back down. I think sometimes he doesn’t quite know what to think of it. There’s still some things that I’m not happy about, but then there’s things he’s not happy about, either. We’re just trying to come to the middle of the road with our issues. Every day is a new challenge, but we’re still here.

alossforwords's avatar

Some people have a very strong flight reflex. Start small and work your way up. Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean yelling louder or being an asshole. Sometimes it is as easy as vocalizing how you feel after things have calmed down a little.

susanc's avatar

Here’s the simpleminded answer: no one loved you enough when you were little, and you
still don’t know you can get away with being alive.
Speaking from experience.

aviona's avatar

I do because I lack confidence in myself and in my own judgment. This makes me very indecisive even with the smallest decisions. I’m always looking for others’ approval and guidance.

srmorgan's avatar

It is mind-boggling to see that we know what we know, we know what we are doing in spite of ourselves, we understand the reality of the situation, we can predict to some degree the ramifications of our behavior, we see that our inactions paralyze us,

and we do nothing about it.
Self-destruction, self-hate, low or complete lack of esteem, not worth the effort,

Terrible. and it continues until we realize that it can be stopped in an instant.
Sometimes you don’t get what you want, or what you intended or what you expected but you did something. At least you did something.


wundayatta's avatar

Thank you, everyone! It’s strange that a person with so many capabilities feels so undeserving. Although, in a way, that’s like saying you have to buy love. Then again, maybe that’s what it seems like to me. If I don’t perform properly, I’ll be left on my own, probably feeling like it’s my own fault.

Ironic, I think. The best way to beat me up is to love me.

ninjacolin's avatar

Wow, such a great discussion. Great advice. Thanks guys

@srmorgan said: “she was quite insensitive to my feelings or she simply was not going to be told what to do in [some] situations.”

I think these feelings you felt about her are exactly what i wish to avoid making others feel about me. I don’t want to bowl over people the way i see them do to others and to myself. I would rather they were like me. I honestly feel like no one really needs to be so assertive. And sometimes i find people who aren’t and i wish everyone was like them. But then once mr. Or ms. Assertive comes in the room all these “nice” people, including myself, give in to them.

It feels to me that assertive people take advantage of the emotionally generous. It really isn’t something i admire! Yes, i admire the results of their assertiveness but i feel i can get those same results from the emotionally generous as long as those assertive-types are not around to consume it all for themselves.

Assertive people however, also respect other assertive people. So, they won’t mind if the emotionally generous “toughen up” as per se. So, it seems we have to “catch up” to their level while dealing with them rather than them “calming down” to ours. Makes me think we could just not respond to them when they’re acting that way so as to “assert” our way of non-aggression.

Obviously, this could be just my ego talking refusing to want to make that difficult switch. But on the other hand, wouldn’t I just be giving in to their way of Assertiveness? Won’t the assertive just be getting their way all over again if I do decide to “catch up” to them? That’s the dilemma I feel I have to face, I guess.

I suppose it’s not so clear that their way is worse than mine. As so many have posted already, they’ve learned how to deal with it and they’re happier now. I suppose I too could learn it and be happy with that new way of life. I mean, I could just know both ways of dealing with people and use them as I see fit. It’s essentially like learning a new dialect in order to get people to understand you in a different way. Still, the drawback is that I feel I’m being forced to comply with assertive people by becoming assertive myself.

anyway.. just thinking out loud..

srmorgan's avatar


I can’t get into the specifics of that relationship and this all occurred in 1979, a whole different era in times of accepted and perceived behavior.

However, looking back at life, after 59 years of life, I suggest you read this link from Wikipedia, not so much for the information but to read the phrase and apply it to what you have written above.

In Latin ”“Fortes fortuna adiuvat”. Fortune favors the Bold. You can’t achieve anything without trying to do it. Here is the wiki link:

You can’t accomplish anything without taking a risk. If you don’t assert yourself, you end up reacting to things and not creating things.

In my first summer job between High School and College, one of my co-workers wore a tie pin (not in use any more believe me) that said YCDBSOYA.

Being the naive 17 year old that I was, I had to know what it meant. We were all salespeople in a retail store in Manhattan.,

That stuck with me.
The trick is to be assertive without being obnoxious, to be assertive without rolling over people,

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
That’s life.


ninjacolin's avatar

does the most assertive person (without being obnoxious) win the crowd?

Consider: if Bob is assertive without being obnoxious but Phil is just a little MORE assertive without being obnoxious.. and Jim is just a little MORE assertive without being obnoxious.. couldn’t bob Just decide to be a little more assertive than Jim wtihout being Obnoxious?

lol.. couldn’t it just keep going forever?

Shuttle128's avatar

I see this more as a struggle between two desires.

1. You want your wife to be happy.

2. You want to be happy yourself.

The reason that the choice is so hard is because you don’t know what you value most. In many situations I value my girlfriend’s happiness above my own. Does that make me weak? No. I simply put her interests above my current happiness. Her current happiness may lead to longer instances of my happiness rather than a short stint of current happiness for me.

However…..when that future happiness doesn’t seem to be occurring, it gets hard to justify seeking it. A lot of people tell you to live for yourself first, and this isn’t a bad idea, but it is your choice to determine what you value most.

amoreno06's avatar

i think i don’t stand up for myself cuz i’d just rather not argue. even if i’m right, let the other person think they’r right and just get on with life. i hate confrontation. i hate making anyone mad. especially if i’m arguing with my significant other.
the way i see it, there’s no point in arguing. if something is being done wrong and you want to fix it, you gotta ifx it yourself and not rely on anyone else.
if it’s the other person you want to try and “fix” forget it. people never change. so it’s pretty much useless trying to help them. they have to fix themselves.
maybe you can help by making them see how they are in the wrong, but other than that, you’re pretty much in a bad position.

CMaz's avatar

I don’t think it is about us unable to stand up for ourselves. When you feel that way you are getting down on yourself.
Something’s are just not worth fighting over.

trailsillustrated's avatar

it’s from being beat down as a kid. You just want to avoid confrontation, at all costs. You just end up being the puppet with a yes string attached to the top of your head. You kinda just have to live with it, to make the marriage go. Hope she’s not an overdemanding ass. You kind of have to focus on the things you really, really like about her.

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