Why Don’t You Speak Up For Yourself?

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My counseling clients often complain to me about interactions they had with a partner, friend, parents 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/she won’t listen.”
“We will just end up fighting.”
“He/she will make it my fault.”

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?”

“Yes.”

“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 say this the next time Esther is harsh with you?”

“Yes!”

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 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 what is important. And you might be surprised at how the other responds!

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a best-selling author of 8 books, relationship expert, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® process – featured on Oprah. Are you are ready to discover real love and intimacy? Click here for a FREE CD/DVD relationship offer, and visit our website at www.innerbonding.com for more articles and help. Phone Sessions Available. Join the thousands we have already helped and visit us now!

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a best-selling author of 8 books and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding healing process. Dr. Margaret Paul is the author/co-author of numerous best-selling books, including: Do I Have To Give Up Me to Be Loved By You? Do I Have To Give Up Me to Be Loved By You?…The Workbook Healing Your Aloneness The Healing Your Aloneness Workbook Inner Bonding Do I Have To Give Up Me to Be Loved By My Kids? Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By God? Margaret holds a Ph.D. in psychology and is a relationship expert, public speaker, seminar leader, consultant, facilitator, and artist. She has appeared on many radio and TV shows, including the Oprah show. She has successfully worked with thousands of individuals, couples and business relationships and taught classes and seminars for over 42 years. Dr. Paul’s books have been distributed around the world and have been translated into many languages. After practicing traditional psychotherapy for 17 years, Margaret was discouraged by the results – both for her clients and herself. She had spent years trying to heal from her own dysfunctional and abusive background, but found herself still suffering with anxiety and relationship problems. She started to seek a process that works fast, deep, creates permanent change, loving relationships, inner peace, and joy. In 1984, she met and became friends with Dr. Erika Chopich, who had half the Inner Bonding® process, and Margaret had the other half! They have been evolving this incredibly powerful healing process for the last 26 years. Margaret works with individuals and couples throughout the world – on the phone, in workshops and 5-Day Intensives, and with members of Inner Bonding Village at http://www.innerbonding.com. She is able to access spiritual Guidance during her sessions, which enables her to work with people wherever they are in the world. Dr. Margaret has just completed a 12 year project call SelfQuest®, which is a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution software program. SelfQuest® is being donated to prisons and schools and sold to individuals, families, and businesses. You can read about SelfQuest® and see a short video of it at http://selfquest.com. In her spare time, Margaret loves to paint, make pottery, take photos, watch birds, read, ride and play with her horses, and spend time with her children and grandchildren.

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