On standing up for yourself

On standing up for yourself

I am a non-confrontationist. I’ve been one all my life. During the decade or more of my working life there were a few times when I had a difference of opinion with a colleague, an argument maybe, but mostly I managed without much of a fight. When a co-wroker was specially infuriating I fretted and fumed endlessly but always in solitude or I would unburden myself before the hapless husband. Having done that I would always go back to work the next day with a smile on my face.
When people stepped onto my toes, I’d not just remove my toes I’d also have a smile for them. Nope I wasn’t a Buddha. I resented each unfairness. But I let it go because of my fear – an irrational dread – of creating a scene. I’d back off even if I was right, even more if the other person was rude, loud or overly aggressive. Some of it sprang from being a very self-conscious person. I wrote about it earlier here .
But I thought it was a good philosophy – I mean, why rankle someone when you can get by without?
Then the twins came along. 

It’s one thing to voluntarily subject yourself to unfairness, however small, and a whole different thing to watch the kids being subjected to it either by inclusion (because I wouldn’t stand up for them – ‘Let it go’, I’d say) or because they were picking up what I practiced.

I watched N agreeing with things she didn’t really like, letting people take her for granted, bending backwards for her playmates.

“There really is nothing worse than seeing your weaknesses reflected in your kids.

H was a different story. If I said ‘Let it go’ he’d say ‘But why? Isn’t it unfair.” It was. He was right. It was unfair and dishonest – dishonest to your own self. He bugged me till I had to face up to what I was doing:
“I was being nicest to the nastiest person.
That was the unpleasant truth about me : My best side was reserved for the person most likely to be nasty to me.
Once I knew the truth I could no longer talk myself out of answering some more uncomfortable questions. 
– Is that what I want the twins to be? 
– To give in to bullies (kids or adults) just because they were afraid of a scene? 
– To bear with untrue/unfair allegations because they didn’t want to put up a fight? 
– To give in to pressure because they didn’t know how to protest? 
– To always take the more peaceful, the easier way out of situations?

I knew the answer to that one. 

And I made myself start over. It isn’t easy to let go of a personality trait – one you’ve lived with for decades. However, I have started to ‘take the bull by it’s horns’ to use a cliche. I’m not good at it at all. Repartees don’t come easily to me. I still am dumbstruck by outright rudeness.
Yet I have begun to find my voice sometimes. I register a protest, even if it is a tiny one, even if it is much after the incident, even if it seems a tad out of context. I make myself go back to the offender and say what I have to – that I didn’t think their behaviour was appropriate, that I did not agree with the way they treated me or the kids.

It’s hard but I’m doing it. It’s not perfect either but it’s a start. Sometimes it’s necessary to tell the person stepping on your toes to take his feet elsewhere.

That’s a lesson I want the twins to remember.

Linking up to Finish the Sentence Friday. Heartfelt thanks to Leah from Little Miss Wordy for this chance at introspection with her sentence prompt ‘Once I knew the truth I could no longer talk myself out of…’ Also thanks to Kristi from Finding Ninee  for hosting.

28 Replies to “On standing up for yourself”

  1. I've seen that poem and I love it and try to remember it when I'm with the kids. Your sister is of course absolutely right Anitha. I am glad you can manage to express your annoyance – that's a definite start. It took me many decades to get there. As for the quotes – who cares – as long as I got what you were saying :-).

  2. The "I was being nicest to the nastiest person." bit reminded me of the poem I’ve shared below:
    A Stranger Passed By
    I ran into a stranger as he passed by, "Oh, excuse me Please" was my reply.
    He said, "Please excuse me too; Wasn't even watching for you."

    We were very polite, this stranger and I.
    We went on our way and we said good-bye.
    But at home a different story is told,
    How we treat our loved ones, young and old.
    Later that day, cooking the evening meal,
    My daughter stood beside me very still.
    When I turned, I nearly knocked her down.
    "Move out of the way," I said with a frown.
    She walked away, her little heart was broken. I didn't realize how harshly I'd spoken.

    While I lay awake in bed,
    God's still small voice came to me and said,
    "While dealing with a stranger, common courtesy you use,
    But the children you love, you seem to abuse.

    Look on the kitchen floor,
    You'll find some flowers there by the door.
    Those are the flowers she brought for you.
    She picked them herself: pink, yellow and blue.
    She stood quietly not to spoil the surprise, and you never saw the tears in her eyes."

    By this time, I felt very small, and now my tears began to fall.
    I quietly went and knelt by her bed;
    "Wake up, little girl, wake up," I said.
    "Are these the flowers you picked for me?"
    She smiled, "I found 'em, out by the tree.
    I picked 'em because they're pretty like you.
    I knew you'd like 'em, especially the blue."
    I said, "Daughter, I'm sorry for the way I acted today;
    I shouldn't have yelled at you that way."
    She said, "Oh, Mom, that's okay. I love you anyway."
    I said, "Daughter, I love you too, and I do like the flowers, especially the blue."

    Although it doesn’t directly revolve around the topic in question, I thought you might enjoy it!
    Coming back to the subject mentioned in the post, I too tend to bite my tongue and swallow my words until my sister’s constant “Stand up and fight” yells and the voices inside resonate, causing me to explode. By explode, I mean a curt “That’s your opinion and I don’t care.” with a roll of the eyes to the rude person. But hey, it is a start.
    PS: I need to look up when to use single quotes and when to use double (I’ve have sprinkled them all over). All my English lessons seemed to have evaporated from my mind.

  3. I know how it is for you Tulika. And am glad that H and N changing that for you.
    Whats your word of wisdom for ppl like me who need no reason for confrontation ? 😉

    1. Hmmm that's a tough one specially in a foreign land. Hope all is well with you and that no specific incident prompted this query.

  4. I think it's such an admirable thing, to take a critical look at your own weaknesses and to decide to change them for the sake of your kids. Bravo 🙂

  5. I love how you worked the sentence in here! Isn't it utterly amazing how our kids help us see ourselves – the good, the bad, and the ugly. LOL Good for you for realizing what you needed to change for the benefit of your children. You're a great mom!

  6. I've seen behavior characteristics in my children and in my grandchildren that remind me of myself at different stages. It is painful to see those we love struggle in some of the same ways. I can relate to some of your comments about not standing up for yourself as a child. You made some excellent statements.

    1. Exactly. It's hard to see your kids fighting the same caught as you and you wish you could help in some way. We can do that by changing ourselves as much as we can because they pick up more from observation than from lectures.

  7. Isn't it interesting what we'll change about ourselves because we see the truth in our children? I think that I tend to be too nice to the nastiest people as well and no longer want to do that. I don't want my son to do that. Thank you for this and thank you for linking up with Finish the Sentence!

  8. Ugh, when we see our behavior reflected in our children and realize holy crap we need to fix this. In them and ourselves. So very difficult, but needed.

  9. "There really is nothing worse than seeing your weaknesses reflected in your kids."

    Tulika, this was like reading my own mind. Everything is same except the twins. The little one faced similar problems last year and that's when I learned to stand up for my own. I couldn't see her becoming a reflection of mine. Me letting go of nasty people and situations just made them take me for granted, personally as well as professionally. I don't want the girls to be like me. I don't want them to be submissive because they should be 'good girls'. I want them to fight for what is right. I want them to stand up for themselves every time they are subjected to indifferent behaviour for no fault of theirs. I am sure many mothers will relate to this.

    1. I think this new generation needs to be more assertive than we ever did. They have to demand for things that are rightdully their's. And we as parents have the job of teaching them how to do that. Glad the post resonated with you.

  10. Hi Tulika do you have a radar that senses my problem for the day…cos your posts come at the right time….I am non confrontational too…but over years I feel I have become timid because of constantly giving in…that is bad cos I don't want my daughter to be like that at all…so now I insist that both of us stand up for ourselves…be it the position in the queues or something bigger like attitude of teachers in her older school…it is hard but I hope we both learn this technique together…thanks once again for this lovely post

    1. Exactly Gowri. The good thing is there is no technique to it – you just have to make up your mind and do it and keep on doing it again and again. That's all. I am glad my post came at the right time. I do hope you and your daughter together are able to trounce all your demons.

  11. You know, Tulika, when I was younger, I wouldn't stand up or be confrontational. I would choose to ignore even if it rankled. But I felt a change come into me in college. As I grew more confident, I started speaking my mind. So much so that when I was doing my MBA, a friend gently told me that I was becoming blunt in the name of frankness. That made me take a step back. But today, I am more outspoken. I remember my elder son being bullied and taunted and I guided him, took up for him and gently moulded him to stand for himself. I am glad to see that he uses both humor and wit and sometimes even power of words when he comes across nasty people. The younger son is still timid and I am sure will learn in due course.

    1. I'm glad for you Rachna. Somehow it never seemed necessary until the kids came along. Now it seems imperative to equip them to deal with unpleasant people.

  12. Quite an interesting perspective there, Tulika. I've always been non-confrontational. I still am. And as you said in your reply to Shailaja, it's not just about insults; i hate to confront these kids in the playground when I need to ask for them to give a turn for rishi on the swings. But of late, I've started to realise that Rishi's probably seeing me give in to all of these little 'battles' and perhaps, sometimes I do need to stand my ground for certain things.
    So, now I'm starting to assert myself – no, not picking fights, but at least being a bit more assertive in the way I say certain things; or even request some of these.

    1. Exactly Sid. I don't think a person like you and me – a non-confrontationist – can evolve enough to pick a fight :-). But asserting ourselves – that we just have to learn to do.

  13. Sometimes, it is needed for us to step up and confront as the children learn from us by observing. But, instead of being driven by anger, I try to reason it out. Its difficult though all the time. I also tell the kids to do their own battles and if not resolved, then tell me. Staying silent is misconstrued for acceptable behaviour.

    1. The trouble happens when the other person is really really angry. No matter how cool you are, no matter how much you try to reason with them whatever you say will serve to fan her/his anger unless you are agreeing with them. Having your say then becomes very very difficult.

  14. I am so glad I read this, T. I am also non-confrontational and I hate to admit it, but I am sort of passive aggressive – I seethe and resent privately but don't let things go – forgive but never really forget. I've also let go of trivial things, and people have asked me why didn't I speak up when I should have – and I've always shrugged and said, why bother. While it's still true that we must pick and choose our battles, I need to come out of that mould for my son's sake – he'll watch and learn and I do not want him to think some day that he's passive cos his mother was.

    1. Two things Sreesha from what you said I agree wholeheartedly with – forgive but never forget – that's me exactly. The other thing about choosing your battles – that's true too. We definitely have to do that. But saying your bit – that's very important too, specially when letting go doesn't make you feel good.

  15. This was so fascinating to read and I must admit I've been non-confrontational for as long as I can remember. I do admit though that I would never take an insult lying down. I'd say my piece and then walk away. Never believed in the 'last word' concept. With Gy I find that she is making her own way. Given how analytical she is, she takes my suggestions and her dad's and then works out her own response to a situation. It's fascinating to watch actually. She is reading Blyton's school series now and with each character she draws parallels to kids she knows personally and explains their behaviour. She is very kind at heart so it takes some effort to stand up for herself and assert it but I know she's learning how to do it without being offensive.

    1. I'm not talking about insults Shailaja – it's the little things like who gets the swing for how long or who decides what to play – things that don't matter much as isolated incidents but when one person is giving in all the time it can turn into a personality trait – the letting go without asserting claim – that's not a good thing.

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