In a fantasy world, we'd all wake on our 18th birthday with a ton of self-confidence, wisdom, and interpersonal skills. Unfortunately, our brains are just as underdeveloped as they were the day before.
As you grow and move into adulthood, every relationship will have its struggles. (We've been there.) But there are ways even the most timid people can learn to stand up for themselves. You can learn to stand up for yourself as an adult, and these ideas can help you get started.
How to Stand Up to Your Parents
Some of the most difficult people to stand up to as an adult are your parents. Those baked-in childhood dynamics don't disappear when you turn 18, and that can lead to a whole host of problems. Get tips to create a healthy relationship with your parents by learning how to stand up to them in a mature way.
Start a Conversation When You Have Goals in Mind
It's too easy to revert to a teenager mindset when you're dealing with your parent's behavior. Devolving into adolescent taunts and screaming matches won't convince your parents that you're an adult who deserves new treatment.
Avoid this by thinking about the goals or solutions to the problems you see. If they're constantly critiquing your money-making decisions, don't start a conversation to just critique theirs back. Instead, figure out what behavior you'd like to see in place of it, ask for that behavior going forward, and set some boundaries.
For example, if a parent consistently comments on your body and that makes you uncomfortable, say something like this: "[Parent] you might not realize that you make a lot of comments about my body. I'm sure that's coming from a place of love, but they make me uncomfortable, and I need you to stop commenting on my body from here on out."
Set Clear Expectations (& Follow Through)
Once you've figured out the nexus of what behavior you'd like to see in place of the improper ones, you need to set clear expectations.
Let's continue with the body commenting example. After you tell your parent to stop commenting on your body, set the expectations. For example: "[Parent] I know that you might not have realized how much those words hurt me in the past, but now that you do, I need you to immediately stop saying them. If you continue to do so, then we might need to spend some time apart because that shows me that you’re not respecting my wishes as an adult and a human being."
But if you set an expectation, it's important to follow through with it. If you don't, you set the precedent that even you don't respect your expectations so no one else has to.
Avoid Starting an Argument
The biggest power move for an adult child trying to stand up for themselves to their parents is saying something along the lines of: "I see that you're getting very emotional and that we’re not going to make a lot of progress here because of it. So, if you need some time to decompress before you can sit down and have an open, productive conversation, then let's revisit this in a few days."
Parents are people too, and they don't always have a handle on their emotions. It's as hard for them to break down those child-parent dynamics as it is for you! So, don't let them drag you down to immature and unhealthy levels. Instead, start the conversation with a clear, calm attitude.
Give Them a Grace Period
Adult child and parent relationships are hard. They can't be reworked overnight. So, if your parent slips up once in a while but is showing that they're trying to uphold your boundaries overall, then don't sweat the small stuff. Give them a few weeks or months (depending on the situation) to adjust. If things don't improve, however, you might need to take a new approach.
Accept When Standing Up Won't Work Anymore
At some point, with some types of parents, standing up won't be effective at all. Of course, you can try this process first to see if they'll grow and change. But, should they not rise to the challenge, then you might need to distance contact with them in whatever way feels comfortable to you.
A therapist may also be able to help you navigate a difficult relationship with your parents and learn healthy communication strategies.
How to Stand Up to Your Friends
Whether you're making friends in your 20s, your 30s, or even your 80s, there comes a time when you might need to stand up for yourself. Close relationships can be some of the hardest to assert yourself in, but we've got some tips to make sure your voice gets heard.
Address Things One-on-One
People don't like their behavior being called into question when there’s an audience. It can make them evasive, unresponsive, or even belligerent. If you want the best reaction possible, start a conversation about the treatment or behaviors that are bothering you when the two of you are alone.
Hopefully, they'll be more open to listening to your words and engaging in the conversation.
When standing up to a friend as an adult, it's usually best to be fully open and honest with your feelings and the situation. This isn't middle school and you don't need to hem-and-haw over what's going on.
People can't correct behavior or treat you better if they don't fully understand where they crossed the line.
Address the Issue in Person
You might be tempted to just text your friend how you're feeling, but most of the time this only leads to an argument. People can't sense the physical components of context when they're not in front of you, and that’s super important when trying to navigate a difficult situation.
Establish Clear Boundaries
In all relationships, there should be reasonable boundaries. You don't necessarily need to be making boundaries off of a singular petty incident. But something consistent and continuous — especially if you've already brought it up before — warrants you making a boundary.
As you grow older, boundaries are one of the best ways to hold people accountable and stand up for yourself. Setting boundaries in your friendships is much easier than cutting and running entirely, and it gives your friends the chance to change their behavior.
How to Stand Up to Your Boss
Many of us have gotten that 11 p.m. call asking us to come in for the morning shift on a day off. If you're dealing with a manager, shift leader, or other type of boss who keeps disrespecting your personhood and the boundaries of your professional relationship, then it's important to stand your ground.
Gather Evidence of the Offenses
Before you approach your boss about their overstepping or inappropriate behavior, make sure you have concrete examples you can bring up.
For example, if they tell you you can't leave a shift until the next person arrives despite you working your scheduled time, write down the exact words they use and the date. It's difficult to refute pages of concrete examples.
Use Your Examples to Assert Yourself
Facing a boss and fearing backlash (though it's supposed to be illegal to do so) is super scary. This is where having documented examples will give you something to fall back on and guide your conversation. You can start with something like: "On [date] you said [thing they did], and according to our policy that's not accurate and a misuse of your power. You don't have the right to ask those things of me and if they continue, I'll be talking this to your supervisor."
Contact Human Resources & Set Up a Meeting Through Them
Sometimes trying to instigate a conversation on your own won't have the desired results. If you fear retaliation or don't feel confident in being able to speak up, get your HR department involved. Have them set up a meeting with your boss so you can air your grievances in a safer environment.
Don't Follow Through With Inappropriate Demands
This is one of the hardest things to do at the moment. When you’re facing an authority figure who's abusing or misusing their power, you can absolutely freeze. However, in serious situations, the only solution for sticking up for yourself is getting out of them.
If what your boss is doing is unethical, unlawful, or against company policy, then you shouldn't be reprimanded for walking out. And if for some unbelievable reason, you are — then that company isn't a place to be working at anyway.
Sometimes there are situations at work where two people just don't agree. It's ok to disagree respectfully though, and you can try to work through the situation by listening to each other's viewpoints and working to find common ground.
How to Stand Up to Your Partner
Ideally, you wouldn't be in a situation where you need to stand up to your partner, but even in a healthy relationship sometimes people act (or react) inappropriately. Ensure that your voice is heard by learning these steps to communicate well and stand up for yourself.
Immediately Acknowledge the Behavior
This might sound like a callout, but you don't want to take it to that emotional height. The more you ignore bad behavior, the more often it'll happen. One of the best ways to curtail this is to nip it in the bud right away. The first time your partner crosses the line, calmly denounce the behavior with something like: "That [behavior] that you just did was really hurtful, and I need you not to do things like that in the future."
Set Clear Boundaries
As with family, friends, and work, setting clear boundaries in a relationship is one of the best ways to not have to stand up for yourself in the first place. If someone takes deprecating jokes too far, constantly uses your items without asking, or doesn't follow through on plans you make, then it's probably time to set expectations.
Just be ready to follow through with whatever expectations you give your partner. And if they don't want to respect those, then it might be time to rethink that relationship.
Leave Toxic Relationships When Possible
Sometimes, the most powerful way you can stand up for yourself is by leaving a relationship. Of course, there are many reasons why that might be difficult, or near impossible, but if you can safely leave, then you may need to do so.
Related: Red Flags in Relationships to Know
Standing Up for Yourself Is Hard Work
Don't let any thought guru tell you that standing up for yourself is as easy as watching the sunrise. Centering your own emotions and charging your crystals won't give you all the tools you need to navigate messy adult relationships.
Practice speaking up, setting boundaries, and learning when to cut loose. Because that's all it really takes to stand up for yourself as an adult.