Another Reason To Stand Up For Yourself

This is a true story thatold_lady I experienced many years ago. I’ve often said that my clients teach me something every day. Well, this client taught me a great deal in a matter of minutes. I hope her story impacts you as it did me.

About twenty years ago I was asked to do a consultation at a skilled nursing center. The patient was a 97 year old woman who was exhibiting symptoms of depression.

When I arrived at the facility I reviewed her chart and made my way to her room. There I found a very prim and proper lady sitting up in a chair and fully dressed. She invited me to have a seat, as she was expecting me, and knew the reason for my visit.

Following introductions, I began the process of getting to know her and assessing her symptoms. Her thinking was very clear, and she answered my questions readily.

After about fifteen minutes of conversation, she interrupted my interview abruptly by saying, “You can stop now.”

I responded, “Stop what?”

She explained, “You can stop asking me questions. You see, I know you are trying to understand the reason for my depression, and I know very well why I’m depressed. I have been observing you as we’ve talked. I have decided that I can trust you, so I will tell you why I’m depressed and save us both some time.”

Somewhat taken aback, I simply said, “OK, why are you depressed?”

She continued, “You see, I’m 97 years old. I know that, at best, I will only live two or three more years, but that isn’t why I’m depressed. The reason that I’m depressed is that, when I look back over my life, I realize that I have lived my entire life for everyone else. I have spent my years trying to please everyone else or at least not displease them. I did what others wanted me to do. I lived my life for them while they were living their lives for themselves, and no one has lived a life for me, not even me. And now it’s too late.”

I was so struck with the lady’s words that I have no idea what I said after that point. I hope I provided some comfort.     Parables for a Wounded Heart: Overcoming the Wounds to Your Self-Esteem and Transforming Your Perception of You  (2012)


Question: How can we balance the need to take care of the needs of others and also take care of our own needs? Do you think self-esteem wounds sometimes cause us to ignore our own needs, in an attempt to please those around us?

Standing Up for Yourself

Stop!If you experienced events during childhood that wounded your self-esteem, you may have difficulty being assertive about your wants or needs. You may doubt your opinions or choices or you may be afraid of displeasing others. You may know what you want but have difficulty being assertive about it. Proper assertiveness involves expressing your wants or needs in a balanced way.

Consider the following scale:


Non-assertive                                  Assertive                                    Aggressive

If you are non-assertive, you honor the other person’s rights but don’t honor your own rights. You comply with other’s wishes and fail to express your own. If you are aggressive, you honor and defend your own rights, but do so in a manner that does not honor the other person’s rights. You demand your way, while not considering the other person’s needs or desires. If you are assertive, you honor and express your own desires and needs in a manner that also honors the rights of the other person.

Those with a wound of the heart tend to have difficulties with assertiveness. They often fluctuate between being non-assertive or aggressive. Most of the time, those with low self-esteem are non-assertive and they honor the needs of others but don’t honor their own needs.

Over time, they build up resentment that their needs are never met, and when that build-up reaches a certain level, they explode and express their needs in an aggressive way. Then there is a type of rebound reaction. They feel guilty for the aggression and go back to being non-assertive. They continue being non-assertive until the emotions once again build up, and they explode in an aggressive manner once again. As you can see, they skip assertiveness altogether. Being properly assertive allows you to avoid the difficulties inherent in non-assertiveness and aggression.

One way to determine whether a response is assertive is to imagine that your best friend gave that response under the exact circumstances you are experiencing. How would you feel about your friend’s response? Would you feel that the response was appropriate? Would you feel that it was too aggressive? Would it simply be assertive? You would probably want your friend to give an assertive response and think that she had a right to do so.

When you are assertive about your needs, you show a respect for yourself. Practicing assertiveness can go a long way toward improving your self-esteem. From: “Parables for a Wounded Heart: Overcoming the Wounds to Your Self-Esteem and Transforming Your Perception of You” (2012)

Question: What do you think about  the relationship between self-esteem and assertiveness? Have you seen examples of self-esteem being lowered by non-assertive behaviors or raised by assertive behaviors?