Why is it important to stand up for yourself at work?

Today I want to talk to you about the way in which passivity or running away isn’t necessarily the best solution when dealing with injustice or abuse by those who feel that they can take advantage of us or are superior to us, about the necessity to stand up for yourself  and defend your rights, the courage to fulfill your potential, and not settle for  less than you deserve.

Perhaps your professional life didn’t lack compromises, perhaps being influenced by society or your family you have chosen a college or a specialization that you didn’t want, you got a "temporarily" job, but that temporary job has turned out to be permanent. You have been caught in the accelerated rhythm of life, caught in debt and responsibilities, in the fatigue and routine that have taken over your life and forgot about your dreams, passions and desires. Perhaps you would like to quit your job that you hate so much, perhaps you would like to go another way, start studying again, but the fear of the unknown and tomorrow’s problems don’t leave you.

Inside you know that you can do more than that, that you are capable and talented enough to be able to make your dreams come true and embrace that activity, profession or career you want, but you accept your boss or colleagues to treat you with disrespect, you accept others to take advantage of your kindness and availability, you are afraid to tell what bothers you and to demand your rights.  Maybe you undertake other people’s tasks, you stay late at work, you are dedicated to your job, but you don’t feel appreciated at your true value. You are disappointed because you don’t get credit and you tell to yourself that is pointless to invest so much time and energy into your work, that you won’t allow anyone anymore to cross your personal limits and boundaries, to treat you with disrespect or to take advantage of you. But every time the same thing happens - you notice that next time is also hard for you to say no, to renegotiate your work relationship, to make your voice heard. And you give in again. It’s like you’re spinning in a vicious circle.

The more you bow your head and accept to be treated incorrectly, the more you allow abuses and injustices, the more they will grow. A lack of assertiveness, the fear of standing up for yourself - all these make those who show more power than you to become more aggressive and more abusive. A victim's attitude makes others become aggressive. Sure, some people can show compassion or rather pity in such situations, maybe they will want to protect you somehow, but this is not the most common reaction, especially in such competitive environments like those nowadays.

Relationships with those in the working place can become very tense precisely because of the competition. In a constantly developing society, each of us wants to keep up with change and evolve. We often have problems with those around us because we are too focused on the differences between us and less on the similarities we share, because we fail to understand what others want and what their needs are. We are far too focused on gaining some personal benefits, and instead of collaborating and using in our benefit the similarities we have, we can get to step over others, and tensions, conflicts, frustrations - all can lead to different forms of abuse.

When we talk about abuse, we may imagine a child that is devalued by a parent or a partner who dominates the other one, but this kind of abuse can also exist in the workplace, especially when there is a power imbalance between the employee and the employer, where there is competitiveness, envy, jealousy.

Workplace abuse may include:

- a colleague or a hierarchical superior using a language to intimidate or humiliate you;

- using defamatory remarks;

- blackmail, manipulation, control;

- favoritism or incorrect treatment - for example, rewarding other people to your own detriment although you have put the greatest amount of effort into fulfilling the tasks;

- discrimination;

- personal attack, attacking your credibility, integrity or competence;

- actions to sabotage your work;

- a colleague or a hierarchical superior underestimating  your work or taking credit for the results of your work;

- the feeling that you are constantly watched every step and move you make, finding fault;

- constant and unjustified criticism;

- discrediting, ridicule, gossip, spreading rumors, harassment, attack in front of others, insults, screams;

-unreasonable claims and demands that, if not met, are followed by threats of getting fired or loss of certain benefits;

- requiring different personal favors or actions that are unrelated to the work context;

- being ignored for long periods of time or the refusal to communicate without even knowing the reason;

- social exclusion;

- fear for your own safety;

- physical violence.

The first important thing to realize is that running away or bending your head down won’t help you at all. You have to learn to stand up for yourself and stop allowing people to abuse you, treat you with disrespect; you have to know your rights and defend them in order to protect yourself from any form of abuse.

Besides that, remember that an abuser will continue to behave the same way with you if you allow it. They think they can control you through fear, that you are too fearful to answer in any way, they will take advantage of the fact that you may not be willing to lose your job so they will take advantage of your passivity, your lack of action, their abusive behaviors increasing every day. But when they realize that you are not the kind of person who simply stands and accepts anything it’s "thrown" to them, that you are strong enough to face their attacks, there is a good chance they will step back and stop this kind of behavior.

Stop allowing yourself to be controlled by your fears that create the illusion that you can’t do anything, that you are powerless, that there are no solutions. If you want to enjoy what you are doing, to live a less stressful life, to evolve, to get a promotion, to advance, or achieve your goals, it’s necessary to adopt the attitude and behavior of a confident person who trusts their own capabilities, who is aware of their abilities and value. Don’t allow anyone to treat you with disrespect even if that person is superior to you from a hierarchical point of view, especially then.

Show that you are a capable, assumed, upright person that you can rely on, who isn’t afraid to stand up for themselves, who is aware of their abilities and who doesn’t allow anyone to treat them otherwise than they deserve.

If you don’t defend your rights, if you don’t respect yourself, if you don’t "fight" for yourself and for fulfilling your goals and dreams, who do you think will do that for you? As Erich Fromm also said, “man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve.”

In any situation you will find yourself, facing any kind of problems, take the responsibility and actively seek for solutions that will help you overcome the dark moments of your life. I trust you can do that and that you will succeed!

Dr. Ursula Sandner



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