When I was in college, I had a job through work study on campus. Being a business admin major, I lucked out and got a job in the purchasing office. It wasn’t a lot of hours, maybe less than ten per week, but it put book money and gas money in my pocket and gave me a unique experience working in a university business office.
It also gave me insight into people. I worked with three wonderful superiors there: Barb, Sharon, and Dale. They were all kind, upbeat, upstanding folks and were happy to teach me. But Sharon, she stood out. I can’t recall her exact title: she had her own office, dressed impeccably, was stunningly beautiful and elegant, a sort-of Sophia Loren of the business world. When she entered the room, everyone noticed. And she was friendly and happy and she was also independent and bold. I took note.
I remember her recalling a situation she’d been in where she felt someone had taken a verbal shot at her. I don’t remember exact details except that she’d approached the potential offender and said, “That felt like a dig. I just need to know, was that a dig?” (It was a dig, by the way). I’m not sure what happened next in her story, but it was striking to me that she had the self-esteem and grace to simply and privately, but with strength, approach someone she felt had said something quite hurtful about her. She called them out.
This was a bizarre and foreign concept to me. I was definitely used to standing up for others. All my life I’d been the underdog’s biggest cheerleader. But stand up for myself?! Yeah, right.
And thus went the next couple decades of my life: I could bitterly defend my family, friends, even strangers who were being bullied or treated otherwise unfairly. But I rarely felt strong enough to stand up for myself. It felt presumptuous and haughty.
The past few years, however, I came into my own and learned it’s not only okay, it’s sometimes necessary to stand up for myself, to question others who’ve wronged me. I’ve learned to choose my battles, of course. I’m well aware of things people have said behind my back or even to my face that felt hurtful. However, I do consider the source.
Is this something that person says regularly…and not just to me? Are they sadly a miserable person who has to insult others in order to elevate themselves? Not a battle I’m interested in and I can easily dismiss this and actually feel sympathy for that person.
Was the potential dig a simple slip-up, something they likely didn’t even mean? Not going to put on my battle gear for that one either.
Is this is a person whose character you know well so even if something felt slightly tinged in insult, you know they’re never mean, so you can let that easily go and move on?
But then there are the legit digs: When you’re pretty sure someone is maliciously gossiping about you or making a clear verbal attack on you or a loved one. Or has someone just been a repeat offender and like a slow leak, has been mistreating you, even in small ways, and it’s become a pattern that you’re just done with?
Then stand up for yourself.
It seems uncomfortable, even a bit brazen, to stand up and say “It’s not okay, what you’re doing.” But sometimes it’s necessary. Think on this: if someone (a relative, a friend, coworker, acquaintance, etc.) is taking pot shots at you on the regular and you do nothing, you’re enabling their behavior!
Whoa, how did this get to be on me? you wonder. Valid question indeed. But you’re their chosen target of bad behavior so the burden is on you to stop it. Sorry, but true. You can walk away. You can choose to just not have any contact with said person again. But if that’s not possible or at least not immediately possible (you’re not going to quit your job or you don’t want to lose the friendship or they’re a relative you see often), speak up and stand up.
Besides my college boss’s example, here are some more examples of what you might try:
- Meet with the person, just the two of you. Calmly broach with them that you feel like they have an issue with you. Give some examples of things they’ve said or you’ve heard have been said. Ask them to please clarify. I believe a face-to-face is the best way to handle this: no misinterpretation of written texts or emails but…
- If you can express yourself best in email, give that a try but use your words sparingly and don’t allow things to get heated or go on and on. That’s not helpful and leaves too many opportunities for things to get lost in translation. Suggest a face-to-face.
- If they have a problem with you, ask them to come out with it already. What’s the problem? Is there any way you can make peace?
- If they don’t see a problem with the ugly things they say about you, share with them how you feel, why it’s hurtful to you, why it bothers you.
- If they still don’t see it, you can politely but firmly explain why this doesn’t work for you and if they’re going to continue to act and respond the way they do and not consider your feelings or boundaries, you’re going to have to keep your distance. “You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life” as the memes say.
You may be met with some maturity. Let’s hope. The mature person will either not realize what they’ve been doing is hurtful and will apologize or they will know they’ve been hurtful, humble themselves and explain and apologize. (Maybe they’re jealous of a promotion you received and have resentment, etc.) Such an exchange can be tremendously fruitful and healing and perhaps even grow a new relationship.
If you’re not met with that maturity and instead the person balks and doesn’t validate your feelings (“Oh, I was just kidding. You need thicker skin.” Or “I never said that” (when you heard them say that or saw evidence of the written word) ). If they can’t take ownership of what they said or acknowledge your feelings, it’s okay because you know can now move on from that and grow, but unfortunately, the relationship, will not.
You have a responsibility to you. You don’t need to be up in anyone’s face any time you feel they’ve made a snide remark about you. But if something is really weighing on you, you owe it to yourself to address it appropriately and you don’t have to feel a bit bad about it. Do you think we’re meant to just accept bad behavior from others? We’re not.
After all, if someone is behaving hurtfully, you’re not doing them any favors either by not bringing it up. If they’re being nasty to you, you can bet they’re doing it to someone else. You can be strong enough to stop that cycle. Even if they walk away from you, maybe your words planted a seed of change in them that will eventually grow.
Approach in love. Sometimes it’s hard: you want to sling their mud right back at them. But don’t. You won’t feel good about it later. Keep your head about you and respond with class and elegance. You are worth it.
Meet Melanie P. :
Melanie Pickett is a mom, wife, writer, blogger, and Jesus girl. Melanie spends most of her time at her own blog, melaniespickett.com where she writes about her domestic abuse survival, healthy relationships, life, and faith. She is busy with her work in progress, her first nonfiction book. Melanie contributes to Sonoma Christian Home and has been featured on BlogHer.com and published on Splickety Magazine, Whole Magazine, Breathe Writers Conference blog, and various other blogs as a guest writer. She is a volunteer at Proverbs 31 Online Bible Studies. Having worked in the medical field for nearly two decades, Melanie recently “retired” so she could concentrate on her family and writing career. She is also a substitute teacher. Besides writing, Melanie loves to read, playing piano, listening to music, helping and encouraging others, volunteering, movies, dreaming of tropical getaways, and hanging out and cheering on her very favorite people: her family. Melanie lives in west Michigan with her husband, two teen children, and her pug Gracie. They recently said “until we meet again” to their beloved beabrador Lillie. Her favorite Bible verse is Jeremiah 29:11 and one of her favorite quotes is: “They call us the dreamers, but we’re the ones who never sleep.”