05/13/2012 10:44 am ET Updated Jul 13, 2012

Words to Say When You Need to Stand Up for Yourself

"I know up on the top you are seeing great sights, but down at the bottom we, too, should have rights." -- Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, Dr. Seuss

Do you find yourself compromising your values to smooth out a conflict? Or do you worry about that someone will judge you harshly if you speak up? Do you lie or gloss over the truth out of fear of rejection?

We all smooth over the truth and bend in our standards from time to time in order to reduce conflict and make relationships work. But when pleasing others becomes a habit you may find yourself resentful, which ultimately damages your relationships.

Smoothing over disagreements and arguments can become more important than your own personal beliefs, eroding your self-respect.

Situation: Someone puts you down in front of other people.

Try this: Privately explain the situation and how you feel, "I feel belittled by what you said about me today." Express how you feel, "I'm not happy about that sort of comment. I find it pretty upsetting and embarrassing" Ask (and possibly offer a solution), "Please don't make those types of comments in front of other people." If you want, give a positive reason for the person to do what you ask. "I try not to judge you, in front of others and I'd appreciate the same. I'd like us to both feel good about ourselves."

Situation: You clean the house and a partner leaves clutter and dishes all over, expecting you to pick up.

Try this: Start at a good time, "I want to talk about the house, is this a good time?" Give him or her reason to listen, "I know you care for me and feel it's important not to let little things become big problems." State the facts, "Yesterday I spent a lot of time and energy picking up the house and once it was clean, I found myself picking up your dinner dishes and clothes." Say how you feel, "I love you and enjoy doing things for you, but I also feel resentful when I feel I'm the only one picking up." Ask for what you want (you may need to be specific), "Can you take on the dishes, after dinner for the week?" It never hurts to give another reason why this is good for both of you, "It'd take a lot of pressure off of me and would really help."

We can feel taken advantage of in both big and small situations. Basic principles of standing up for ourselves include: articulating the positive aspects of your request, describing (without judgment or all or nothing language) the situation, expressing your feelings, asking or saying no, and keeping it positive.

Some shorthand ways to ask for what you want:
  • "Excuse me, can I have..."
  • "I'd like [___] please."
  • "I was hoping I could ask you for..."
  • "What you've offered is great, but doesn't work for me because [___] Can I have [___] instead? Thank you"
  • "I'm confused, can you explain it to me?"
  • "I'm sorry to bother you, but can you help me?"
Shorthand ways to say no:
  • "I care about you, but I'd appreciate it if you'd stop X (annoying or problematic behavior)."
  • "I'm sorry, but I don't have money to lend."
  • "Thanks for X (thinking of me, getting me something), but I really don't need it."
  • "I know you're trying to help, but I can to do this on my own."
  • "It's not going to work out, sorry."
  • "No, but thanks for thinking of me."
  • "I'm not comfortable with that."
  • "Absolutely not."
  • "Your timing's not good. Maybe another time."
  • "I'll pass."
  • "It won't fit into my schedule."
  • "It doesn't fit my personality."
  • "Try me later."

Sometimes it's hard to stand up for yourself. Often we don't want to disappoint someone or make them angry. It can be tempting to cut some corners to get out of difficult situations with lies or by acting helpless. In the short term, it may be easier to lie rather than explain a painful truth or to pretend you don't know how to do an annoying chore. But just as giving in erodes your self-esteem, a pattern of interacting with others with lies and helplessness can leave you without much sense of personal worth.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response, and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

For more by Christy Matta, M.A., click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.