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S2 EP92 – The Challenge of Speaking Up for Yourself

Episode Summary

Do you have problems speaking up for yourself when others are being uncaring? Do you even know what it looks like to speak up for yourself? How often to you withhold your truth from someone important to you because you are afraid of their anger? Get clear on when it’s appropriate to speak up for yourself and when it isn’t, and the major difference between speaking up to love yourself or to control the other person. 


Do you have problems speaking up for yourself when others are being uncaring? Do you even know what it looks like to speak up for yourself? How often to you withhold your truth from someone important to you because you are afraid of their anger? Get clear on when it’s appropriate to speak up for yourself and when it isn’t, and the major difference between speaking up to love yourself or to control the other person.

My clients often complain to me about interactions they had with a partner, friend, parent, or co-worker. When I asked the question, “Why didn’t you speak up for yourself?” here are the most common answers I receive:

“I want to keep the peace.”

“I don’t want to rock the boat.”

“I didn’t know what to say.”

“It won’t change anything.”

“He or she won’t listen.”

“We will just end up fighting.”

“He or she will make it my fault.”

My client, Charlie, is in his early 70’s, and has been married to Esther for 43 years. Charlie and Esther love each other very much, but there has always been a problem in their marriage, and Charlie finally decided to get some help with it. 

The issue is that Esther often speaks to Charlie with a harsh, demeaning, parental tone – telling him what to do. All these years, Charlie’s way of dealing with this has been to comply – to be the ‘nice’ guy and try to ‘keep the peace.’ But every once in a while, he suddenly blows up, scaring and hurting Esther. She has asked him over and over to tell her what’s upsetting him so much, but when he has, she doesn’t listen and turns it back onto him. In his mind, he has been in a no-win situation. The last blow-up led Charlie to seek my help.

The problem is that Charlie had never said anything to Esther in the moment about her tone. When he did say something, after the fact, Esther would have no idea what he was talking about, so she would explain, defend, and turn it back on him. 

“I don’t know what to say,” said Charlie. 

“Charlie, how do you feel inside when Esther speaks to you with a harsh, demeaning tone?”

“I feel small, diminished, like I did when my father would criticize me. I feel like a helpless little kid. I hate it. It hurts me.”

“And when you suddenly blow up, what do you say?”

“I tell her to shut up.”

“Are you telling her to shut up about what she is saying?”


“So you don’t say anything about her tone of voice or how you feel?”

“No, I don’t think I have ever said anything about her tone of voice.”

“Charlie, if you were to say something in the moment, not about what she is saying, but about how she is saying it, what would you say?”

“I’d say, ‘Your tone of voice is harsh and diminishing and it hurts me.'”

“Great! Would you be willing to gently say this the next time Esther is harsh with you?”


The next week, Charlie reported that he and Esther had a great week together. He had quietly responded the way we had rehearsed, and he was shocked at how Esther responded. Instead of getting angry, defensive, explaining, or attacking, she said, “You’re right. I’m sorry. Thank you for telling me.”

All this time Charlie was certain that if he spoke up for himself, things would get worse. Instead, he discovered that Esther was very open to hearing his feelings and experience when it was in the moment and he spoke it gently, and he was thrilled that he finally spoke up for himself.

Telling others what they are doing wrong or trying to get them to stop doing what they are doing will generally lead to a difficult interaction. But speaking up for yourself with the intent of taking loving care of yourself will make you feel much better, even if the other person doesn’t hear you. At least you are hearing yourself, and this is important. And you might be surprised at how the other responds!

Many people know that they need to speak up for themselves, but we have few role models for what this looks like.

Gwendolyn asked the following question about this topic:

“What does it look like to speak up for yourself and speak our truth when someone treats us in an unloving way? And what is the difference between speaking our truth and bringing attention to someone about their behavior? I know it isn’t similar, but it would be nice to have some clarity.”

An example will help to clarify this. Let’s say that your friend, parent, or partner is judgmental toward you. The first thing that you need to do is take a minute to tune into your feelings with compassion. Even if you don’t take it personally, it’s still going to hurt your heart if someone who professes to care about you is judging you.

Once you take a moment to care about your own feelings, then you need to consciously choose to take loving care of yourself, which means that you will either speak your truth and open to learning, or you will speak your truth and lovingly disengage. If your intent is to control the other person rather than to love yourself, then you will likely speak your truth as a form of control to get them to see their behavior and change it, and the outcome will likely not be good.

Here is what this might look like:

If your intent is to learn, you would say something like, “What you said, and your judgmental energy is hurtful to me. There must be a good reason you said that, and I’d like to understand it. Are you available to talk about it?”

If the other person gets defensive, angry, or withdrawn, then you lovingly disengage. If you think there is little chance he or she will open to learning with you, then say something like, “What you said and your judgmental energy is hurtful to me, so I’m going to go for a walk. Maybe we can talk about it later,” and you loving disengage.

Then you leave without anger, or if you can’t leave, you go inside and do an Inner Bonding process to lovingly manage your heartache. Disengaging is not the same as withdrawal. When you withdraw, you are pulling your love away to punish the other person. When you lovingly disengage, you are doing so just to take loving care of yourself.

If the other person opens later, then you can talk about it. If not, then you need to continue to lovingly disengage each time the person is unloving.

When your intent is to control, then you might say, “What you said and your judgmental energy is hurtful to me,” and you don’t open to learning or lovingly disengage to take care of your feelings, then the intent of the communication is to blame the other person for your feelings. The statement is essentially making the other person responsible for your feelings. Your hope is that if they understand how you feel, they will become aware of their unloving behavior and change. But if you think back to these kinds of interactions, how often has this turned out well? What generally happens? Most of the time, the other person goes into denial, or gets defensive, or blames you for their behavior – and you end up feeling worse.

Or you might say, “You have no right to speak to me that way. You need to stop being so mean.”

Your wounded self might believe that this is speaking up for yourself, but it’s not – it’s an attempt to control your partner. This will likely inflame the situation and lead to further hurt.

In order to speak up for yourself with the intent to take loving care of yourself, you have to fully accept your helplessness over your partner’s intent and behavior. While much can be learned when both of you are open to learning, nothing can be learned when one or both of you are closed, and there is nothing you can do about your partner being closed. Once you accept this, then you can speak up for yourself and lovingly disengage, or just lovingly disengage.

I like to think of it as being a mother lioness for my inner child. She needs me to speak up for her and take loving action for her so that she won’t get further hurt by an unloving interaction. What she doesn’t need me to do is try to change the other person, which only puts me more into the line of fire. She wants me to be in reality and fully accept my helplessness over others’ intent and behavior. Before I understood this, I used to spend much energy trying to change others, only to end up feeling more unseen and unloved. Seeing and loving myself means to take my inner little one out of the line of fire whenever there is no way to learn with the other person.

This makes my inner child feel loved by me.

I hope you can see that there is a huge difference between speaking your truth to take loving care of yourself and speaking your truth to change and control the other person. The energy of taking care of yourself will feel completely different to the other person than the energy of control – of “bringing attention to someone about their behavior,” as Gwendolyn asked about. We cannot hide our intent. It will always be betrayed by our energy, and the energy of loving yourself has a far better chance of leading to resolution than the energy of control.

Sometimes, it very challenging to speak your truth. How often do you withhold the truth from someone important to you – your partner, friend, parent, child, or co-worker – because you know he or she will get angry rather than care about you?

How you do feel when you don’t speak your truth about something that is important to you? You might feel depressed when you don’t speak up for yourself. Not speaking up about something that is important to you means that you are ignoring your own feelings and needs, and this self-abandonment might lead to depression.

Yet, if you do speak up and someone important to you doesn’t care about your feelings, then how do you feel? If you are aware of your deeper feelings, you will likely feel some loneliness and heartache when someone is angry rather than caring about what is important to you.

My client, Johnnie, consulted with me because his wife, Rosemary, had spent way too much on their credit card and had put Johnnie in a difficult financial position. Johnnie knew from experience that if he said something about it to Rosemary, she would explode at him, which would feel awful to him. Yet, by not telling Rosemary about it, he was feeling anxious and depressed.

“I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place,” he said to me. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Johnnie, what do you usually do when Rosemary gets angry at you?”

“I either get angry back, or I get defensive, or I shut down. And I feel awful.”

“What are the awful feelings?”

“I feel hurt that she doesn’t care about how her behavior affects me. I feel sad and lonely that we can’t talk things out with caring rather than with anger.”

“And it seems to me that you cover these feelings up with your own anger, defensiveness, and withdrawal – is that right?”

“Yeah, I think that’s right.”

“What if you were to be compassionate toward your own feelings of loneliness and heartache? What if you were to give yourself the caring that you want from Rosemary? What if, when you tell her your truth and she gets angry rather than cares about you, you care about yourself, bringing lots of gentleness, kindness, tenderness, and understanding to yourself? Do you think that would help you have the courage to speak your truth?”

“Actually, that sounds good to me. I think I can do that. So what you are saying is that if I give myself the caring I need when Rosemary gets angry, then I can speak my truth rather than stay depressed and ruminate about it.”

“Yes. If you know that you are going to be there for yourself rather than abandon yourself in the face of Rosemary’s anger, it makes it much easier to speak your truth. As long as you allow her anger to intimidate you into keeping quiet, then you are allowing her anger to control you, which is not good for you or for her. By choosing to be loving to yourself rather than avoid the conflict, you will feel much better, even if she explodes. Are you willing to try this regarding the credit card?”


In our next session, Johnnie reported that, when Rosemary exploded as predicted, he was able to stay present and caring about himself. He was able to say everything he wanted to say, including how heartbreaking her anger was for him. He felt much better, and the conflict lasted a much shorter time than usual, and they were able to begin to resolve this issue. 

How often have you become irritated or angry, or given yourself up, or started to argue or debate, teach, or explain, or withdrew when someone was treating you badly, such as ordering you around, judging you, blaming you, threatening you, or dumping their complaints or negativity on you? How often have you behaved in any of these protective, controlling ways when someone is unknowingly interrupting you when you are trying to focus on something or get something done? How do you end up feeling when you behave in any of these ways?

The chances are you end up feeling angry, hurt, anxious, depressed, or numbed out. It is easy to believe that these feelings are coming from the other person’s behavior toward you, but this is not the case. Your unhappy feelings are coming from not taking loving care of yourself.

My client, Madison, consulted with me because she was feeling depressed. She and Andrew had been married for 12 years. She loved Andrew and felt that they had a deep soul connection. Yet she was often unhappy around him.

“Andrew can be very critical. As soon as something doesn’t go his way, he tends to take it out on me, finding some way to blame me for the situation.  If I interrupt him at something, he gets extremely annoyed, but if I just get a little annoyed when he interrupts me, like he does lots of times when we are together in the evening and I’m writing in my journal, he gets really angry.”

“How do you generally handle these situations?” I asked her.

“I’ve tried different things. Sometimes I try to get him to see what he is doing. Sometimes I just get quiet, and sometimes I try to pacify him.”

“How do you feel when you do these things?”

“Lousy. If I say anything it often leads to an argument, and if I don’t I end up feeling badly. It seems like a no-win to me.”

“Madison, when Andrew is critical or interrupts you when you are writing in your journal, how long does it take you before you realize that it is bothering you?”

“I realize it right away, but most of the time I don’t do anything about it. I guess I hope that he will just stop if I don’t respond. But he doesn’t seem to get the hint – he just goes right on being critical or talking at me.”

“So by the time you say anything, you are irritated, is that right?”


“And then he reacts to your irritation?”

“Yes, and gets mad.”

“What do you think would happen if you attended to your feelings and immediately said something, before you were irritated?”

“I think that would be much better. The few times I’ve done that, Andrew reacts well. When I’m able to say something like, “Honey, can you hold on a sec? I’m in the middle of something,” he is fine.”

“What do you think stops you from speaking your truth right away, so that you can say it without blame or judgment?”

“I think I’m not caring enough about how I feel. I’m immediately aware when I don’t like something, but somehow I seem to discount my feelings until I’m irritated.”

Madison decided to stop discounting her feelings and to practice speaking her truth immediately. She found that when she spoke her truth right away, she could do it without blame or judgment. Things between her and Andrew dramatically improved. Madison was surprised to discover that she had been being just as critical as Andrew. Once she started to speak up for herself from her loving adult rather than from her ego wounded self, her depression went away.

What do you do when you get a knot in your stomach in response to someone being subtly inauthentic, angry, judgmental, demanding, or needy? You know this person wants something from you – you can feel the pull on you – but it is not overt. Someone else looking at the interaction may not pick up the needy, pulling energy. 

What most people do in this situation is either go along with what is happening or withdraw, or both. It is very challenging to speak up for yourself in this situation – to even know what to say. 

It doesn’t work to ask a question, saying something like, “Why are you being judgmental?” The other person will generally deny it and you will be hard-pressed to explain it, since it’s energetic. 

One way of taking care of yourself is to be compassionate for your own feelings. Become aware of the knot in your stomach and trust it. Don’t analyze it. Don’t tell yourself that it must be your issue. Just accept that something is happening that doesn’t feel good to you and then, coming from a loving adult honoring your feeling, decide on the loving action. Here are a couple of examples of what you might say and do when you trust and honor your own feelings: 

You can say to the person, “Something’s not feeling good, and I don’t want to continue this conversation,” and then disengage, walking away or hanging up the phone. It is important to be in your loving adult, giving information rather than attacking. If you attack and leave, then you are blaming and withdrawing, rather than taking loving action on your own behalf. If you are in the car, it is always a good idea to have earbuds and music on your phone handy to put in your ears if you want to disengage from a conversation. 

If it seems appropriate to open to learning with the other person, you might say, “Something here doesn’t feel good. I’m wondering why you are telling me this?” You would need to make sure that you are in your loving adult state so that you are truly curious rather than blaming. If you say the same thing from your wounded self, the energy behind it will feel attacking to the other person and the chances are he or she will become defensive. The other person may become defensive anyway, in which case you would need to lovingly disengage from the interaction. 

While these seem simple, they are not at all easy to do. First of all, once the knot is in your stomach, it can trigger your fight or flight reaction, and then you might forget all about taking care of yourself. You will do what you normally do, which will probably be to ignore, comply, withdraw, or attack – none of which are loving actions toward yourself.

It takes a lot of practice for many people to even notice their feelings. You might have responded to the knot in your stomach from your wounded self with your protective behavior for so long that you don’t even consciously know the knot is there. Learning to stay tuned into your own body and compassionately honor your own feelings is the first part of the challenge in speaking up for yourself. You cannot speak up when you are unaware that there is something to speak up for. 

This is why it is so important to practice being in Step One of Inner Bonding all day – staying tuned into your feelings. For your inner child to feel loved by you rather than abandoned by you, you need to know what you feel. Then you can take loving care of yourself in the face of others’ subtle or overt unloving behavior. 

I hope you join me in my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”

You can learn much about healing all your relationships with my 30-Day online video relationship course:Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.

For an in-depth and inexpensive way of learning to love yourself and heal your relationship, see my books: The Inner Bonding Workbook: Six Steps to Healing Yourself and Connecting With Your Divine Guidance, Diet for Divine Connection: Beyond Junk Foods and Junk Thoughts to At-Will Spiritual Connection, and 6 Steps to Total Self-Healing: The Inner Bonding Process.

And, of course, we have much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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