Use your words.
Mary is sitting in a restaurant and just received her salad. Even though she ordered it with dressing on the side and no tomatoes it comes back covered with vinaigrette and sprinkled with tomatoes.
She sees this, feels frustrated and does not say anything nor does she request another salad.
For the third time Carol stops by the seamstress to pick up the dress she was told would be done 10 days ago. And for the third time she is told that things got backed up and she needs to come back.
And for the third time Carol feels disappointed and angry. Again she does not voice her anger.
Linda’s husband, for many more times than she can remember, yells at her for being a bad cook. He adds some very unflattering descriptions of her looks and her weight, and calls her a few nasty names to add insult to injury.
She feels hurt, ashamed and humiliated. Again, as usual, she swallows her words and doesn't say anything.
It's a pervasive problem that women aren't standing up for themselves. Their self-esteem plummets, they feel depressed and hopeless. They start to have headaches, backaches and stomach distress and lose their sexual desire.
Can you relate at all? It's sad to hear my clients talk about these types of experiences. And sadder to hear that they don’t think that they can change. We explore the reasons they don’t speak up and we find commonalities.
Reasons Women Are Afraid to Speak Up:
1. Fear of people
The other person may get angry and direct the anger at them.
2. Fear of conflict
There may be an underlying belief that to speak up will lead to conflict (which some people want to avoid at all costs).
3. Fear of being belittled or judged
They're afraid of hearing things like “you're too sensitive” or “what’s the matter with you, you shouldn’t feel like this.”
4. Fear of how they are being perceived
They may be concerned that their husband will think, or say, that they are “crazy” for addressing something or feeling like they do or that she is “too emotional” or “too much work”.
5. Fear of abandonment
If he feels like this then he may decide she is not “worth the trouble” and pull away and distance, or, even worse, leave the relationship.
6. Fear of hurting someone
There are concerns that being honest and expressing concerns may hurt someone’s feelings.
7. Fear of being hurt
In some relationships a person might be physically and/or emotionally harmed if they speak up.
8. Fear of losing control and becoming aggressive
Some people are afraid that if they speak up they will get very angry and lose control by screaming, hitting something, throwing something etc.
Some people are concerned that if they speak up more, or become more assertive that they will be seen as aggressive. As such, it is important to understand that there are differences between being assertive and being aggressive.
Being assertive is expressing one’s thoughts, feelings and needs directly, honestly and confidently while keeping the focus on themselves. Communicating like this is very healthy. Being aggressive can be overt as when a person gets loud, threatening, very angry and blaming.
Their anger exceeds what the situation warrants and may result in destructive actions or consequences. Another form of aggression is referred to as passive aggression. Here a person expresses their anger in subtle, hidden sorts of ways.
It's much less obvious and overt than what was just described yet it is also unhealthy and has painful consequences.
Tips to Speak Up
1. Become aware of what you are feeling
You can do this by asking yourself whether you are feeling happy, sad, angry, lonely or afraid.
2. Relate what you are feeling to what someone is doing
Then you can say, when you do such and such, for example, leave your dirty clothes lying around on the floor, I feel and then name the emotion that you feel ie. Anger, sadness, disrespect, hurt, resentment, happiness, fear.
3. Keep the focus on yourself
Avoid blaming statements and accusations.
4. Know that you have a right to speak up.
5. Practice what you want to say
You can do this by talking to a friend, writing in a journal or practicing in front of a mirror.
6. Address your concerns regularly
Doing so will prevent you getting to a breaking point where they come flooding out and you become overly angry.
7. Know that the more you speak up the more comfortable you will become with it.
Join a support or counseling group to explore and overcome your fears. In summary, many women have difficulty speaking up so know that you are not alone.
There are common reasons for this difficulty with predictable and painful consequences. Please also know that you can learn to speak up and assert yourself. Doing so can change your life.
Jeff Schneider is a N.Y. State licensed clinical social worker and relationship expert in New Paltz, NY. He has helped people from all walks of life struggling with relationship problems, addictions, depression, fear, low self-esteem and how to integrate counseling and spirituality. You can learn more about him at Relationship Success Solutions.