Have you ever felt like a doormat? Do you struggle with speaking up for yourself and your own needs? Do you find it difficult to say no or set healthy boundaries?
Many people deal with feeling submissive or lacking confidence in social situations. The good news is that it’s a habit and mindset that can be changed. You have the power to stop being submissive and start standing up for yourself with confidence.
It will take practice and perseverance, but you can transform how you think and behave. So, how to stop being submissive? Stop apologizing for existing. Stop seeking approval from everyone around you. Stop saying yes when you mean no. It’s time to find your voice and use it. Read on to learn key strategies to help you stop being submissive and start being assertive. You’ve got this!
Table of Contents
1. Recognize your submissive behaviors.
To stop being submissive, you first need to recognize the behaviors that signal you’re not standing up for yourself. Some common signs include:
-Apologizing excessively. Saying “sorry” too much makes you seem weak and indecisive. Only apologize when you’ve actually done something wrong.
not saying “no”. Do you have trouble turning down requests because you don’t want to disappoint people? Learn to say no in a polite yet firm manner. You can’t please everyone all the time.
Poor eye contact If you have trouble maintaining eye contact, people may perceive you as lacking confidence. Practice making eye contact, even if it’s uncomfortable at first.
-Speaking hesitantly. Pay attention to your tone of voice and speech patterns. Speaking in a hesitant, questioning manner projects uncertainty and can make you seem like a pushover. Speak clearly and decisively.
not sharing your opinions. Do you avoid speaking up in group discussions or meetings? Share your thoughts and ideas confidently. Your input is valuable, and you have a right to express yourself.
accepting unfair treatment. Don’t allow others to take advantage of you or treat you disrespectfully. Stand up for yourself and set clear boundaries about what is and isn’t okay. You deserve to be surrounded by people who appreciate you.
Recognizing these submissive behaviors is the first step to overcoming them. Make a conscious effort to adopt more assertive body language and communication.
2. Build your confidence and self-esteem.
To stop being submissive, you need to build your confidence and self-esteem. How? Here are a few tips:
Focus on your strengths and accomplishments. Make a list of the things you’re good at and the achievements you’ve racked up over the years. Refer to this list whenever you’re feeling down or insecure. Remind yourself of how capable and accomplished you are.
Practice positive self-talk. Notice the thoughts you have about yourself and replace the negative ones with more constructive ones. Say things like, “I can handle this” or “I’m working to improve myself.” Give yourself encouragement and praise for your efforts and achievements.
Stop seeking approval. Don’t let what others think determine how you feel about yourself. You can’t control them; you can only control your own reactions and self-perception.
Set small goals and acknowledge your wins. Don’t aim for major life changes right away. Set small, concrete goals, and congratulate yourself when you achieve them. Each accomplishment will build your confidence over time.
Take care of yourself. Make sure to engage in regular self-care like exercising, pursuing hobbies, and socializing. Take a class on something you’ve always wanted to learn. Do things that make you feel good about yourself.
Learn to say no. Don’t take on more than you can handle just to please others. It’s okay to say no, and doing so will make you feel more in control of your life and empowered.
With practice and consistency, these confidence-building techniques can help transform you into someone who stands up for themselves with poise and self-assurance. You’ve got this! Keep working at it and don’t get discouraged. Your increased confidence and self-worth will shine through.
3. Learn to say no.
Learning to say “no” confidently is a skill that will serve you well in life. It allows you to stand up for yourself by setting clear boundaries and limits with others. Saying no also helps you avoid being taken advantage of or overwhelmed by requests for your time and energy.
Know your limits.
The first step is understanding your own limits and boundaries. What are you willing and not willing to do? Once you define them for yourself, communicate them clearly to others. Don’t feel obligated to give a lengthy explanation. A simple “No, I can’t take that on right now” is enough.
Be polite yet firm.
There’s no need to be aggressive or rude when saying no. You can be courteous while still being straightforward. Reply confidently with something like:
- “No, I won’t be able to make it to the meeting today.”
- “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’ll have to decline the invitation.”
- “I appreciate the offer, but no thank you.”
Stand up straight, make eye contact, and speak clearly. Your body language and tone should align with your words.
Don’t feel guilty.
Don’t feel bad about saying no. You can’t please everyone all the time, and you have every right to set boundaries. Your needs and limits matter too. Remember, you are not responsible for other people’s feelings or inability to accept your refusal.
Suggest an alternative
When saying no, you may want to provide an alternative if possible to still be helpful. For example, “I can’t make the meeting today, but I’m happy to review the materials and provide feedback over email.” An alternative response shows you still value the person and their request, even if you can’t meet them fully.
4. Stand up straight and make eye contact.
When you stand up straight with your shoulders back, your head held high, and make direct eye contact, you instantly appear more confident and self-assured. Body language is key.
Stand up straight with your shoulders back to portray confidence. Having good posture, with your spine straight and your head level, makes you seem more self-possessed and influential. On the other hand, slouching or hunching over conveys timidity and apprehension.
Make direct eye contact and hold it to demonstrate you mean business. Looking people in the eye shows you are engaged, certain, and not easily intimidated. While speaking, connect with the other person by glancing into their eyes. Don’t stare or make them uncomfortable, but do make a point of frequently establishing and reestablishing eye contact.
- Glance into the other person’s eyes, then look away briefly while talking or listening.
- Look into one eye, then the other eye; don’t just focus on one eye.
- If eye contact feels unnatural to you, start by just making eye contact for 3 to 5 seconds, building up as you get more comfortable.
Maintaining steady eye contact can be difficult for some, so start practicing this with close friends and family. As your confidence grows, so will your ability to look anyone directly in the eye while confidently expressing yourself.
When you stand tall, shoulders your back, and look people in the eye while speaking, your body language and eye contact work together to convey your confidence and poise. You appear more compelling and assured, and your words and opinions seem more credible and worthy of consideration. With practice, adopting a confident posture and making eye contact can help transform you into a self-possessed communicator.
5. Embracing Personal Empowerment
To embrace personal empowerment, you need to cultivate a growth mindset. This means believing in your ability to grow and improve through hard work and perseverance.
Develop an “I can” attitude.
Tell yourself, “I can do this!” instead of “I can’t.” Having a fixed mindset where you believe you can’t change or improve will hold you back. With a growth mindset, you see challenges and failures as opportunities to learn. Saying “I can’t” is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Face your fears.
Do one thing each day that scares you but that you know you can handle. It could be speaking up in a meeting, asking for feedback, or setting a boundary. Start with small fears and work your way up to bigger ones. Each time you face fear, you build your confidence and courage.
- Make a list of scary but achievable things you want to confront. Start with something small and build up from there.
Stop seeking permission.
You don’t need anyone’s permission or approval to go after what you want. Believe in yourself and your abilities. If you spend your life seeking validation from others, you’ll never feel truly empowered or confident in yourself.
- Ask yourself why you feel the need for someone’s approval and how relying less on validation from others might benefit you. Practice saying no when you don’t want to please someone else.
Learn from your mistakes.
View failures and mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. Don’t beat yourself up over them. Ask yourself what you can improve on and how you can do better next time. With a growth mindset, you see mistakes as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks.
Embracing personal empowerment is a journey. But with practice and persistence, you can break free of self-limiting beliefs, face your fears, stop seeking permission, and develop an empowering “I can” attitude. You already have everything within you to be confident and stand up for yourself. Now go out there and claim it!
6. Stop apologizing so much.
Notice how often you apologize. Pay attention to how frequently you say “sorry” in a day. Do you apologize for small things that don’t really warrant an apology? Things like briefly interrupting someone or asking a question Make an effort to avoid apologizing in these situations.
Stop apologizing for giving your opinion.
Don’t apologize for respectfully sharing your views or preferences. Your opinions and perspectives matter, so share them with confidence. Say something like “I see it this way” or “My view is” instead of “Sorry, but I think.” Unless you’ve intentionally offended someone, there’s no need to apologize for speaking your mind.
Avoid apologizing for asking questions.
Asking questions is how we learn and clarify information. Don’t apologize for seeking to understand something better or gain new insights. Phrase your questions confidently and directly, without undermining yourself by saying, “Sorry to ask, but…” or “I’m probably just being annoying, but could you explain…” Your curiosity and desire to learn more are valuable, not annoying.
Forgive yourself for your imperfections.
We all make mistakes and have moments of self-doubt. Learn from your errors and imperfections, then forgive yourself. Don’t waste time and energy beating yourself up or being overly apologetic for being human. Talk to yourself with the same compassion you would show a friend. You are worthy and deserving of love, imperfections included. Focus on growth rather than perceived faults. With self-forgiveness comes confidence from within.
The more you avoid unnecessary apologies and speak up confidently, the more empowered and sure of yourself you will feel. Stay focused on self-improvement, learning, and embracing who you are, flaws, and all. Before you know it, you’ll be standing up for yourself with a bold, authentic voice.
7. Challenging people-pleasing behavior
To overcome people-pleasing tendencies, you need to challenge behaviors that reinforce this habit. Start recognizing when you’re putting other people’s needs before your own to gain their approval. Then, make the effort to do things differently.
Say “no” more often.
People-pleasers have a hard time saying no because they worry it might upset someone or damage a relationship. But saying yes when you mean no is dishonest and leads to resentment. Start small by saying no to little requests that you don’t want to make. Be polite yet confident in your refusal. You’ll find that the world doesn’t end and people still like you! Practice this and work your way up to bigger asks.
Stop seeking validation.
Break the habit of constantly worrying about what others think of you and your choices. Their approval doesn’t determine your self-worth. Do things because they feel right to you, not because of how they’ll be perceived. When self-doubt creeps in, remind yourself that you don’t need validation. You are enough, just as you are.
People-pleasers often have weak boundaries because they’re afraid to anger or alienate others. But boundaries are essential for healthy relationships and protecting yourself. Be very clear in communicating your limits kindly and respectfully. Let people know what is and isn’t okay, and follow through with consequences if those lines are crossed. Don’t feel guilty for putting your needs first in this way.
Challenging these tendencies will feel uncomfortable at first. But with practice, saying no, refusing to seek approval, and setting strong boundaries will become normal. You’ll build confidence from within and develop closer, more authentic relationships—the kind that comes from a place of mutual respect, not subservience. Stay patient and committed to overcoming old habits. The rewards of improved self-esteem and assertiveness training will make the effort worthwhile.
8. Set boundaries
The first step to setting boundaries is determining what your limits are. What makes you feel disrespected, stressed, or taken advantage of? Be very clear on your core values and priorities. For example, if spending time with family is important to you, don’t let work commitments regularly infringe on that. If you value your weekends, don’t check your mail once you’re off work. Define what you will and won’t tolerate.
Once you know your limits, confidently and directly communicate them to others. Use “I” statements, like “I need to leave work at 6 p.m. to make dinner.” Explain how certain behaviors make you feel and what you expect instead. Be polite yet firm. Avoid aggression, but don’t beat around the bush or make excuses. Your needs and limits are valid; you deserve to have them respected.
Follow through with the boundaries you set. Don’t bend your rules or make frequent exceptions just to please others. While some flexibility is reasonable, inconsistent boundaries will only lead to frustration and being taken advantage of. Politely but firmly reiterate your needs if someone continues to push against your limits after you have clearly yield communicated them. Consistency and follow-through are key.
You can’t control others.
You can only control your own actions; you cannot force others to respect your boundaries. Some people may get angry or resentful when you stand up for yourself. But don’t let that stop you. Their reactions are not your responsibility. Stay calm and remember why you need to set this limit. Get support from others if you need it. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for taking care of yourself.
The ability to set clear boundaries is empowering. While it can feel uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re prone to being submissive, practicing these techniques will build your confidence over time. You’ll develop healthier relationships and learn to value your own needs. Stop being a pushover and start standing up for yourself!
9. Building Self-Awareness
To stop being submissive, you need to build your self-awareness. Get to know yourself better by reflecting on your thoughts, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses.
Identify your triggers.
What types of situations cause you to become passive or deferential? Recognizing the triggers that activate your submissive tendencies is the first step to overcoming them. Common triggers include:
- Fear of conflict: You may go along to get along to avoid disagreement or angering someone.
- Low self-esteem: If you lack confidence in yourself or your own worth, you may be more prone to yielding to others.
- Habit: Submissiveness can become an automatic habit loop that’s hard to break. Pay attention to when you slip into that habitual behavior.
Challenge negative self-talk.
Notice the thoughts you have about yourself that reinforce your submissive behavior, like “I’m not good enough” or “My opinion doesn’t matter.” Then, challenge those thoughts with more constructive ones, such as “I have valuable insights to share” or “I deserve to be heard.” Speak to yourself with encouragement and compassion.
Know your strengths.
Focus on your talents, skills, and positive qualities. Remind yourself of the unique strengths and value you bring to any situation. Don’t underestimate yourself or the contributions you have to offer. Your input and needs are just as important as anyone else’s.
Make sure to engage in regular self-care activities that boost your confidence and self-worth, like exercising, pursuing hobbies, and engaging in social interaction. Staying in good shape physically and mentally will make you less prone to submissive behavior and give you the strength to stand up for yourself when you need to.
Building self-awareness and a strong, positive self-image is key to gaining confidence in yourself and learning to advocate for what you need. Know your triggers, challenge negative thoughts, focus on your strengths, and practice good self-care. With time and conscious effort, you can break the habit of submissiveness.
10. Developing Assertiveness
To stop being submissive, you need to build your assertiveness. This means learning to confidently stand up for yourself while still respecting others. With practice, you can strengthen this skill.
Recognize your worth.
Know your values and priorities. You have just as much right to your own needs and boundaries as anyone else. Remind yourself of your strengths, accomplishments, and goals to build confidence from the inside out.
Don’t feel like you have to transform overnight. Begin with lower-risk situations, like declining a request you can’t fulfill or speaking up when someone cuts in line. Pay attention to how it feels to stand up for yourself in a constructive way. Over time, you’ll get more comfortable advocating for yourself in bigger ways.
Use “I” statements.
Say “I feel” or “I think” instead of accusing “you”. This approach is less threatening and helps others understand your perspective without feeling attacked. For example, say “I feel disrespected when my time is wasted” rather than “You never respect my time”.
Remaining calm and collected is key. Take a few deep breaths to keep your emotions in check before responding. React in a measured, reasonable way instead of becoming aggressive or confrontational. Your message will be much more effective.
Compromise when possible.
Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean refusing to cooperate or see other points of view. Be open to listening and finding common ground. You can say something like, “I’m willing to consider alternatives if we can agree that my needs will also be respected.” This collaborative approach leads to better outcomes for everyone.
You’ll gain confidence, build better relationships, and ensure your needs are met, all while empowering others to do the same. Stay motivated by how much happier and less stressed you’ll feel when you’re no longer submissive and start standing up for yourself.
You’ve learned a lot about how to build your self-confidence and stop being submissive. The key is practicing these techniques each and every day. Stand up straight, make eye contact, and speak clearly. Don’t be afraid to say no, and don’t feel guilty about putting your needs first. Stop apologizing all the time and start owning your space. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but with regular practice, standing up for yourself will become second nature.
You’ve got this; now go out there and start being the confident, assertive person you were meant to be. The world is waiting for the real you to emerge from your shell. Shed the submissive behaviors of your past and step into your power. You deserve to be heard, and you have so much amazingness to offer. Now go get ’em, tiger!
- Varieties of Submissive Behavior as Forms of Social Defense: Their Evolution and Role in Depression By Paul Gilbert (Book – Subordination and Defeat)
- Being Treated Like A Doormat? Reasons Why And What To Do , 2021 by Viktor Sander B.Sc., B.A. published in sociallife.com
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