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May 9, 2012

Why Standing up for Yourself Often Fails & What Actually Works.

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The feeling that “I don’t matter” is what troubles my clients more than anything else.

“I matter” is at the core of being human.We inherently want to be seen and heard, and engage in the activities that matter to us.

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 we have to keep moving through life, we need a way to survive with this awful feeling. We 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:

What Being Powerless Looks Like

You feel that you are 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 okay 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.”)

What Overpowering Looks Like

You may 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? Neither of these tends to be very successful.

Here’s why it doesn’t work:

While we think that we’re interacting with others on a conscious level—just reacting in a rational way to what they say or do—what’s really going on is that we’re always interacting on a level that we’re mostly unconscious of. 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 usually 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 energy 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.

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The Alternative to Powerlessness 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 your soul. Or, you might think of it as your higher self, or the part of you connected to God or Source.

It’s the part of you that is connected to everyone and everything else. So, in contrast to powerlessness (being “under” everyone else) or overpowering (being “over” everyone else), this power is something that works with and for everyone, including you.

What does allowing power to come through 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. This is usually a bit shocking to them! 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.

What is your default? Have you tried going the opposite direction, and if so, what was the reaction to it? I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experience in the comments.

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Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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