Lessons from a guy who had severely low self-esteem.
By Anthony J. Yeung
When I look back on what I did and didn’t do in life, I don’t regret the deals or investments I missed out on, or the chances I didn’t take.
After all, if I start regretting those things, I’m going to spend my life living in the past and second-guessing everything. Also, those moments made me who I am—they forced me to learn, challenge myself, and create opportunities that I enjoy today.
You can’t know everything. As long as you’re making the most wise, educated, and ethical decisions possible, based on what you know at the moment, that’s all you can do.
But the only thing I truly regret—and I figuratively kick myself over—is one head-slapping mistake I repeated countless times in the past.
MY ONLY REGRET
I didn’t stand up for myself when I had the chance.
When someone was being rude, mean, or hurtful, I didn’t say anything.
When some business cheated me right in front of me, I didn’t say anything.
When I was the target of racism, I didn’t say anything.
I didn’t challenge people when they needed to be challenged.
Instead, I got angry, went blank, and walked away.
I let it happen too many times in my life — and each time, I felt so fucking disappointed and frustrated at myself.
Now, some people might say that it was the “mature” or “right” thing to do. But where I currently am in my personal development journey, I disagree.
Standing up for yourself is not about cussing at someone, throwing punches, or being an asshole. Instead, it’s about calling people out for disrespectful behavior in a firm, fair, and civil way. It’s about putting your foot down, not letting yourself get pushed around, and speaking your piece to the aggressor, to yourself, and to the universe.
It’s about training the world how to treat you.
Looking back on it, I believe played a big part in those aggravating situations. Sure, they were wrong to be disrespectful, but I still allowed those situations to happen.
“You’re the trainer of your external world. Your world is a reflection of you. Everything in your life right now is simultaneously what you tolerate and what you’re committed to.”
— Dr. Benjamin Hardy
Due to childhood traumas, I grew up with severely low self-esteem and had a “freeze” response (part of the fight-or-flight response)—this is where, in moments of extreme stress, fear, or danger, rather than attacking or fleeing, you actually can’t move, can’t think, and go blank.
It was my survival mechanism, which blocked me from standing up for myself because I always made the excuse, “I didn’t know what to say; it caught me off guard.” (Of course, I’d think of something to say moments later when it was too late.) But the truth was I froze and my mind went blank—it had nothing to do with not knowing what to say or being surprised.
And having a freeze response can lead to some serious consequences:
“For survival, we then utilize either the flight (withdrawal/capitulation), fight (aggressive assertion), or freeze (avoidance of pain trauma) response — whichever originally worked for our survival will be our method for life. If freeze is chosen — the genesis of TMS [Tension Myositis Syndrome] begins. The physical symptoms that result from the freeze response are the TMS symptoms discussed throughout this book. These symptoms result from a lack of discharge of the energy pent up by a fight or flight response that never took place — expressions of conflict that desire to be known, and yet for personal reasons, cannot.
Obviously, you don’t need to fight over every little thing. (Also, you should know when someone is threatening you and the best action is to flee.) But when someone’s cheating, bullying, or taking advantage of you, you have every right to stand up for yourself and say something. Here’s the best way I’ve learned how:
How to Stand Up For Yourself
Sure, you can learn phrases to say—like making “I statements” instead of “You statements”—but the only way to learn how to stand up for yourself is to take action in the moment, even when your heart’s pounding and your legs are shaking, and start reshaping your identity.
You might be afraid of upsetting people or putting yourself in a vulnerable situation. But speaking from my years of regrets, I can tell you that the alternative is always much, much worse.
Once I promised myself to always train the world how to treat me, I never missed an opportunity. I stood up to people in foreign countries with a bunch of mean faces glaring at me. I stood up to people who made racist insults. I put my foot down when countless people tried to take advantage of me.
But I didn’t insult them, I didn’t return their negative energy, and I didn’t “release” all my buried anger from the past at these people. Instead, I gathered myself and calmly stated my feelings, explained my frustrations, and let them know I wouldn’t tolerate it.
Every time I did so, even if I resolved the problem or not, I felt a million times better.
Ultimately, the outcome didn’t matter—what mattered was I asserted myself and confronted the situation. And by doing so, I felt proud for proving that I had the confidence, courage, and self-worth to stand up for myself.
Ultimately, to unfreeze, I had to force myself to take action. I had to practice being comfortable with the uncomfortable. And as crazy as this sounds—and don’t take this the wrong way—I had to stop being so nice to people.
You see, I was always taught that showing anger was bad and that I needed to be “nice“ at all times. I never learned (or was allowed) to express anger appropriately; so while I may have “acted” nice on the outside, inside, I was royally pissed.
Look, I’m all for being kind and loving, even towards unpleasant people. But in my specific case, forcing myself to be kind was just repression that buried my rage and led to more problems:
“Trying to be too nice — all things to all people — is a self-denial that sends increased energy into the shadow. To deny that one has been sexually molested, abused, or abandoned, and that there is no hatred toward the one who did these things gives great power to the shadowy complex. To deny that one hates his job or spouse, or life has a shadow-building effect… If fake-niceness rules, then there must be an equal counterbalance — and that counterbalance is pure rage. The opposing psychic force to feigned niceness is blinding rage which happens to be the root of [Tension Myositis Syndrome] pain, and most likely all illness. So, life is a constant dance for balance between intellectualization and feeling — repression and expression.”
— Steven Ozanich
If you’re not used to standing up for yourself, it will take practice. It will be uncomfortable. And there will probably be times you accidentally go overboard. But when that happens, do not beat yourself up and do not stop standing up for yourself.
Imagine a superhero movie: A person suddenly gets their new powers, but at first, they don’t know how to use them—so they’re awkward and clumsy and accidentally breaking shit.
That’s where you are right now. You’re developing a new power you’ve never used before so there will be times you go too far or not far enough. But as you practice, you’ll learn over time. As you keep taking action, you will improve.
And as you commit, you will change.
You’ll finally train the world how to treat you.
And ……. you’ll never regret it.