Be Your Own Superhero: Learning How and When to Stand Up for Ourselves
Do you sometimes feel like the people you know who are able to set boundaries clearly and stick to them, assert their own needs, and just generally stand up for themselves, are like some kind of superhero and you can't imagine ever being as powerful and confident as them? If you do, fear not, for you are most certainly not alone in this. And today is your lucky day: I shall now present you with your very own guide to becoming a Self-Advocacy Superhero!
Some people are born with superpowers, but most of us have to work to create our own tools that help us become heroes. And in fact, I'll let you in on a little secret: those of us who seem like we must have simply been born with these superpowers? We actually weren't -- we've just learned to master the skills with a lot of trial and error. One thing all superheroes have in common: the will, the belief that they can do good and be better. I believe that we all have it in ourselves to become our own superheroes. For some of us it can take a lot of hard work and practise, but make no mistake about it -- if you put the practise in, you WILL be the very next Batman!
What are we talking about when we say "stand up for yourself"? Standing up for ourselves is an aspect of every day life, and has to happen in every variety of relationship we're involved in. Standing up for ourselves is about setting limits and holding them, to protect ourselves from being hurt or trampled on like an old doormat. Standing up for ourselves is about looking after our own mental well-being, and making sure we get what we need to feel safe and happy in a relationship (any relationship).
Some examples of day-to-day situations in which you must don the Superman cape and stand up for yourself include:
- If you do not want to have a certain kind of sex at that particular moment, or you do not feel ready to take part in a particular kind of sex (or various kinds of sex, or ALL kinds of sex), but your partner would like to do so.
- If your friend, or even a stranger, starts a conversation about a topic that you find very painful, triggering, or uncomfortable to take part in.
- If you know that you want to have an exclusive monogamous relationship with your partner, but they have stated that they would prefer a different relationship model (or vice versa).
- If a friend, partner, co-worker, family member, or stranger touches you in a way that you are not comfortable with (excessive hugging, cheek pinching, tickling, etc).
We All Have Our Own Kryptonite
I'll let you in on another secret of the Superhero trade: even the strongest, most awesome superheroes sometimes falter and find it hard to do what's right for themselves. Every superhero has their weakness(es), but that doesn't stop them from being super, or being heroes. Sometimes, when we grow up in an abusive or dysfunctional household, we never learn how to set boundaries, and we never witness what it means to have our boundaries truly respected. This can understandably lead to standing up for ourselves seeming daunting, confusing, difficult, or even kind of dangerous.
We are also often bombarded by societal messages that tell us that a Monogamous Romantic Relationship is a Very Important kind of relationship to have, and that we should do everything we can to hold onto a relationship like that even if it means ignoring our own needs. Sometimes we can also feel insecure about ourselves, and place our feelings of self-worth on the fact that we have the certain kind of Very Important Relationship, and thus we feel the need to maintain that relationship even when it no longer fits us well. Another message that is often ingrained in us (particularly women) by society is that we must be accommodating and do everything we can to avoid making other people feel uncomfortable or hurt their feelings -- to the point of making ourselves uncomfortable!
Despite all of these big roadblocks that we may have in our lives -- or in our own heads -- that make becoming a superhero seem hard or even impossible, the benefits really do outweigh the risks and the hard stuff in the end.
Gotham Needs a Hero: Why Stand Up For Yourself?
In any kind of relationship, it's vitally important for both people to advocate for themselves and their needs, setting and holding limits. For those of us who are just starting out on our journey to become a superhero, who have not had practise with doing this, the benefits may seem kind of unclear. It may seem particularly unclear to those of us who grew up in dysfunctional households, because standing up for ourselves seems like putting ourselves right in the line of fire for a whole bunch of manipulation, or yelling, or humiliation. But standing up for ourselves is actually a good way to weed out the kinds of people who are abusive and who will not respect our boundaries, so learning to do so is an important part of redefining what "normal" is for our relationships. Becoming a Self-Advocacy Superhero empowers us to cut out any abusive relationships in our lives, or any potentially abusive people, which gives us the space to create only loving and respectful relationships.
Standing up for ourselves is also an integral part of building healthy and mutually beneficial relationships. First of all, setting and holding boundaries is an important part of creating a relationship based on open and honest communication. Establishing great communication creates a solid foundation for a relationship to grow from. If we do not voice our needs, then the other person in the relationship does not know whether they are making us uncomfortable or whether they are fulfilling our needs, and they thus cannot adjust their behaviour to help make us feel safer and happier. And if our partner is not standing up for themselves with us, then it makes it much harder for us to tell when our partner is happy and fulfilled by the relationship or when they would actually like something to change -- and the idea of unknowingly making our partner miserable is certainly a horrible thought. Thus, it is clearly important that both people in a relationship are willing to stand up for themselves when they need to.
Voicing our needs and boundaries in a relationship is also a central part of the conversation about relationship models and expectations, which creates the whole framework for a relationship. Having these conversations also allows you to recognize if a relationship will be a good fit for you or not; if we voice our limits and needs, and the other person's limits and needs clash with ours, then we know that the relationship will not be one that is a good fit for either of us. Stating our needs and boundaries within an already-existing relationship is also important for adjusting the relationship to better suit us -- it's not just a one-off thing that happens at the beginning of a relationship. Aside from creating the framework for the relationship model, standing up for ourselves is actually also a big part of getting to know each other. Letting a person know that we are not okay with /something/, or that we would really like to have /this thing/ be a part of our relationship to feel satisfied, is letting the person know something about you; you are letting them know about something that is important to your sense of happiness and fulfillment. So, standing up for ourselves actually creates closer relationships and more mutual understanding and trust between people.
Still not convinced? Here's a food analogy (because you know how much we love them here) that I think helps put this into perspective. Imagine you're out for dinner at a nice Italian restaurant. Or maybe Wonder Woman is. Sure, imagine Wonder Woman ordering a burger from a menu. In this imaginary situation, let's say that Wonder Woman's version of Kryptonite is tomatoes -- she's deathly allergic! Or maybe she just hates them. Or heck, maybe she's just had too many tomatoes lately and is REALLY not in the mood for any more of them.
If Wonder Woman goes ahead and orders a burger, but she doesn't bother telling the waiter to hold the tomatoes (maybe she's embarrassed, or she doesn't want to inconvenience the waiter), she risks being served a burger with a dreaded tomato on it! Then her dinner is ruined! But if Wonder Woman says "I would love to have the beef burger with mozzarella and a Caesar side salad -- but please make sure there are no tomatoes!" then the waiter knows and can ensure that there are none. Wonder Woman receives a most delicious, tomato-free burger, and goes home happy.
If Wonder Woman didn't ask the waiter whether the platter she orders has tomatoes in or not, she may be in for a nasty surprise. If she DID ask her waiter to hold the tomatoes on her burger, but the waiter thinks he knows better and gives Wonder Woman tomatoes anyway? I'm sure we can all recognize how horrible that would be on the part of the waiter. And that's just about tomatoes that she may just dislike; when it comes to her relationships, if her partner thinks they know better and refuses to listen to her needs, Wonder Woman knows she would be OUTTA there, and rightly so! Also, if Wonder Woman stopped at an Italian restaurant, skimmed over the menu, and realized she was actually more in the mood for some nice Vietnamese pho? She certainly wouldn't just eat the food on offer at the Italian restaurant anyway, and walk away feeling unfulfilled. She'd go to a different restaurant!
Battling the Big Boss: The Scary Stuff
It's probably now at least a little clearer what the benefits are to standing up for ourselves. And it's certainly easy to imagine the benefits of stating our boundaries and having them respected and our relationship stays in tact. The other person shows respect for us! We establish open and honest communication, we build trust and intimacy, and now we're both just super happy because YAY we're in a cool relationship and YAY now it really suits all our needs! But what can be a lot harder to face, and a lot harder to see the benefits in, are when we feel like we are risking ruining a relationship forever.
The biggest Supervillain of all for a lot of our users, the really big Boss who makes people shy away from ever becoming a Superhero, seems to be the question: What if I state my needs, and they leave? There can't possibly be benefits to standing up for ourselves and scaring away the other person! But I assure you, young padowan (okay now we're mixing up our metaphors), there truly is a silver lining to this otherwise miserable cloud. Say you do stand up for yourself by setting an important limit and holding it, and the other person says "Okay cool, I can understand that -- but this is also a pretty big dealbreaker for me, and our needs are in exact opposition here, so I think this relationship really won't work for us." It totally sucks when we want a certain kind of relationship with someone but there's something that just clashes between us and means it would never be a totally satisfying relationship. However, it does give you that information: that this relationship just wasn't going to work, because you both need very different things. And staying in a relationship that doesn't fulfill our needs? That can make us feel really terrible after a while, and it just gets worse and worse as time goes on, so it's a good thing to not get stuck in a relationship like that.
If you state your boundaries and stick to them, but your partner gets angry with you and leaves you because How Dare You Not Do What I Want -- or perhaps when you have previously attempted to stand up for yourself, they decided to convince you that your boundaries are Wrong or Silly, or they just didn't listen to you at all. That's all giving you a whole lot of information right there, as well. That's telling you that they clearly do not respect your boundaries; having boundaries that are different from theirs is not acceptable in their eyes. If you put on your cape and finally become your own superhero, putting your foot down and saying No This Will Not Do, and that makes the person leave? You are doing yourself a huge favour and are also possibly The Most Awesome Superhero Ever. You are avoiding having your needs ignored or trampled on, you are escaping from feeling pressured to do things you are not comfortable with, and you give yourself the opportunity to find someone to form a relationship with in which all of your needs will be respected and fulfilled. And although it won't feel like it at first, that is awesome and totally worth it.
The wise and wonderful Captain Awkward (clearly already a Superhero, they've got the name and everything) stated in their response to a recent advice column question: "There are two big conversations to have here, and both of them might blow up this friendship, but they are also the only conversations that have any chance of fixing this friendship. So I say “bombs away!”" Even when you are seriously concerned that stating your boundaries will end up ruining the relationship, or permanently changing it in a significant way... The fact is that your needs are not being met, and they will continue to not be met if you do not say anything about it, so the only way to try and salvage the relationship is to speak up. You could be risking ending your relationship, but not having your needs met -- or having them disrespected and trampled all over -- is a surefire way to destroy the relationship anyway. So, would it not be better to take the chance at fixing it, or finding out that it won't work early on, instead of much much later when it has already tanked?
The Consequences of Killing Batman
There's a moment in the Batman comics (and the recent movie) when Bane breaks Batman's back, and Gotham risks losing its hero forever. Gotham without Batman would be chaos; the supervillains would run rampant with nobody to stop them. Just like with Batman, killing your own superhero within you has some pretty terrible consequences. When we don't stand up for ourselves, we put our mental well-being and our relationships at risk of slowly (or sometimes not-so-slowly) disintegrating.
If you don't stand up for yourself in your relationships, you never establish that vital groundwork of full and honest communication. You and your partner (or friend, or family member) will never have full understanding of each other because neither of you will ever really be sure what the other person needs in the relationship. Your wants and needs will never be able to be fulfilled, because neither you nor the other person are mind-readers; it's impossible for them to be able to know what you need if you never tell them. The likelihood of them just stumbling into doing something that's actually important to you is slim to none, so expecting that it will just work itself out without you saying anything is pretty unrealistic. Because your (or your partner's/friend's/family member's) needs are never voiced and never fulfilled, the relationship itself will never be able to be a particularly good fit for you, and thus you will never be able to be as happy as you could. That's a pretty miserable consequence to live with.
Some people seem to feel that giving way to the other person's wants and needs, completely ignoring their own, is a way of expressing care. One pretty common example of this is: "They want to have a certain kind of sex so badly, and I am really uncomfortable with that right now, but I want to show them I love them so I will have that kind of sex with them anyway." Another common one is "my friend wanted me to take part in an activity I'm really not comfortable with, but I did it anyway so they'll still think I'm cool!" This kind of thinking stems from the fear that if you stand up for yourself, the person will no longer want to have a relationship with you.
But acting as though you have no needs or wants of your own does NOT demonstrate care. What it DOES actually demonstrate is a complete lack of faith in the other person; it demonstrates a belief that the other person does not like you enough to stick around if you have your own boundaries. If your partner or friend has not said anything that would imply that they would immediately stop wanting to hang out with you or be your partner (and if they have, that's been addressed earlier), believing that they would do so shows a lack of trust in them on your part. This lack of faith in the other person may come from a reasonable place, but sometimes it doesn't -- sometimes it comes from you, not from them. It's very frequently the result of insecurity; a lack of belief in your own worth outside of fulfilling a certain role, or feeling like you are not worth anything unless you provide /something/ (like sex, or constant phonecalls, etc). But you can beat this insecurity! Don your Superhero cape (or skip the cape, if you don't want to get sucked into jet engines) and battle that Boss so you can have happier, healthier relationships.
Because NOT facing up to your Supervillains, letting them break Batman's back, has consequences in our lives and relationships that are usually far worse. Shoving Wonder Woman in a closet, locking the door, acting like she isn't there (maybe even forgetting that she really is there), while telling yourself you're being a good friend/girlfriend/son for not making the other person uncomfortable? Does not solve the issues in your relationships. You will continue to feel unsatisfied as long as your needs go unaddressed, and continued dissatisfaction eventually leads to growing resentment, which destroys relationships far more horribly and completely than standing up for oneself would. And to once more quote the experienced superhero Captain Awkward: "Working around someone’s terrible behavior while you grow to dislike them more and more and more isn’t actually kinder. "
So You Want to Be Your Own Superhero?
Okay, okay, we get it! Standing up for ourselves is mightily important and the consequences of not doing so are awful. But asking us to become superheroes overnight is ridiculous! Where do we begin?! Well, first off -- you don't have to become a superhero overnight. In fact, nobody DOES become one overnight. As I said at the beginning of this piece, it takes practise! Ugh, homework?!? Don't worry, I'm not going to be asking for any essays or studying to be done here. Instead, I am going to give you my Tips For Success! Here follows The Amazing Onionpie's Guide to Becoming Your Very Own Superhero.
Tip #1: Start Small
Spiderman started off as a superhero taking down the small street criminals -- the thieves, the assaulters, generally just the bullies of the town -- before moving onto bigger targets and finally facing the supervillains. Likewise, don't expect yourself to be able to jump into The Hard Stuff immediately and do superbly. There are many examples throughout day-to-day life of ways we can all learn to stand up for ourselves better, and these are the things you should focus on first. Do you want another slice of pizza? "No, thanks, I'm good!" Oh come oooon, just another slice, you've barely eaten anything! "No, really, I do not want anymore pizza, please do not ask me again." One very common example that most people are pretty decent at are the salespeople who get in your face and try to convince you to let them tell you about their product or give you a test-run with it. "No, thanks, I don't have the time right now!" and just keep on walking by! If you get really excellent at these small things, you're ready to move to the next difficulty level. "I'm sorry, I'd love to catch up with you later sometime, but right now I really need some time to myself to unwind."
Tip #2: Three Strikes -- You're Out!
When practising the Smaller Stuff from example one, you can often feel pretty unsure of when to get Really Serious about your boundaries. People are often pretty self-conscious about seeming like they're "making a scene" or "overreacting" so they don't want to really strongly state their boundaries. In these cases, when you're not used to navigating boundary-setting, what can be very helpful is implementing the Three Strikes rule: give them three chances, and if they continue to ignore your boundaries, out come the big guns! Depending on the level of discomfort they are creating, you can decide to either just clearly state your boundaries and then re-direct the conversation after these three strikes (by changing the topic), or you can choose to walk away from the conversation.
This should NOT be applied to situations when your safety is being threatened, or when there's a really big violation of your autonomy at hand. The Three Strikes Rule is for the smaller stuff. You can, of course, enforce your boundaries strongly before three strikes -- three strikes is just for those of us who have a hard time getting over feeling like we don't want to offend someone or overreact. Set yourself the Three Strikes rule so that after the third time, you state your boundaries very firmly and do not give them another chance to break them.
Do you want more pizza? "No thanks!" Oh come on, you've barely had anything! You're allowed another slice, go on, take it! "No, really, I've had enough thank you." No you haven't, you've only had one piece! Come on, nobody else is going to have it, you really don't need to worry about having it. "I have told you already that I have had enough, now I need you to stop asking or I'm going to have to leave." Then you can change the conversation topic. Now, that may seem pretty awkward and super Serious Business for just being offered a piece of pizza, but remember this: it is them who made this situation awkward and too "serious" by continuously insisting on ignoring your boundaries. So having to react that way is not on you, it's on them for forcing you into that situation.
Tip #3: Practise, Practise, Practise!
When you're just starting to learn how to stand up for yourself (in situations in which you know you're going to try to do it) you may find that you can say what you want to say a hundred times in your head but as soon as you're faced with actually saying it out loud to that person, you choke up and just can't do it. Don't worry! All superheroes are nervous the first few times they face down their villainous nerves and uncertainty! A great way to get yourself a bit more prepared to talk to someone about An Issue You Are Having, is to try practising stating your boundaries out loud, not just in your head. Okay, you might feel pretty stupid doing this -- but just like with a speech for debate class, the more you actually practise it out loud the more sure you become of what you're going to say.
Another thing you could practise, before you even have An Issue You Are Having in a relationship, is to practise different scenarios with a friend. You will of course giggle a lot during this practise. But that's fine! Again, just practising stating your boundaries out loud is a big part of getting used to this. Practise the Pushy-Pizza-Giver scenario, practise more serious scenarios, practise totally silly ones! Just practise saying "These are my boundaries, they are not changing, and you need to respect them right now or I'm out of here" in a hundred different ways, that's the important thing.
Tip #4: The Pep Talk
If you're faced with a real situation in which someone has been crossing your boundaries and you've decided you're going to address it the next time you see them, or the next time they cross that boundary, giving yourself The Pep Talk can help keep yourself from running away or hiding Wonder Woman in the closet again. Remind yourself of what the issue is. Remind yourself of how it makes you feel when this person crosses your boundary (perhaps unknowingly, if you've never addressed it before). It feels awful! It makes you miserable! You want it to stop! Remind yourself of the positive change that will be created if you do state your boundaries and they adjust their behaviour. Your boundaries will no longer be violated! You will no longer have to be on your guard all the time around this person! Remind yourself of the negatives that will happen if you don't voice your boundaries. They will continue to do That Thing That Bothers Me! I will still be totally annoyed or hurt or uncomfortable every time they do it! Now you are sure that this is the thing to do, and you can do it! You can do it! So go and do it!
Bonus Level: Scripting Some Examples
Sometimes it's hard to think up how exactly you're going to go about standing up for yourself in various situations. That's why practising scenarios with a friend is a good idea. I also recommend thinking up various situations you are likely to encounter that will require donning your cape, and thinking up the kind of way you will respond. Having a sort of script for the conversation handy in your head is very helpful when you're faced with a real life situation. I'll start you off by providing some quick scripts for the situations I listed right at the beginning of the article.
Superhero Script Situation #1
Wonder Woman's partner wants to make out in her invisible aeroplane, but she feels uncomfortable because she wants their makeout sessions to be more private.
Partner: "Hey baby, I'm thinking, you know what would be really hot? I really want to make out with you in your invisible jet, what do you think?"
Wonder Woman: "Hm, I do love making out with you, but I don't think I'm comfortable doing it where everyone can see us, you know? But I'll totally keep you up to date about if that feeling changes, okay?"
Good Partner Reaction: "Sweet, no worries! Let's keep making out right here, then."
The End! Unless...
Bad Partner Reaction: "Aww, c'mon babe, it would be so sexy!"
Wonder Woman: "I do NOT appreciate you trying to pressure me on this. I'm not comfortable being sexual with anyone who tries to push me into something I don't want to do, so if you keep doing that this really isn't going to work. I'll let YOU know if or when I'm feeling ready for other stuff, okay?"
Bad Partner Reaction: "Man, no need to get so defensive/serious/rude!"/"Wow, jeez, I was just kidding."
Wonder Woman: "It's pretty normal to get serious when someone's pushing you past your comfort levels. I really need for you to stop asking when I've said no the first time, no exceptions. How about we dial it back to something fun and relaxing like watching a movie instead?"
"I'm really not comfortable with the way you keep pressuring me. This is pretty clearly demonstrating some serious disrespect on your part, so I'm going to have to ask you to leave now, and I need some time to re-think our relationship."
Superhero Script Situation #2
Batman has PTSD flashbacks about his parents' death whenever he hears about people being murdered. He attends a meeting for his company, and his colleagues start discussing the local news.
Colleague: "Wow, did you hear about that murder over the weekend? Yeah, some drug addict just up and shot three teenagers while they were on their way home from the movies! Just for some money! Can you imagine??"
Batman: "While that sounds really horrible, and I'm so sorry to hear about it, I really can't deal with talking about murder victims, okay? It makes me so uncomfortable."
Good Colleague Reaction: "Oh, god, I'm sorry! I'll make sure to remember in the future. So how about that baseball game?"
The End! Unless...
Bad Colleague Reaction: "Ha, are you kidding me? Are you seriously that big a baby?"/"Life doesn't come with trigger warnings!"
Batman: "I'm afraid your opinion on this isn't really what's important here. What's important is that this type of conversation makes me feel really horrible, so I really need you to stop talking to me about these types of things. I'm sure others in the office would love to take part in that conversation, but with me I really need you to avoid those topics. If not, I'm going to have to walk away, alright? So how about that baseball game?"
Bad Colleague Reaction: "Hahaha, okay, whatever Mr. Baby Pants. So this drug addict like, shot a bullet right--"
Batman: Walks away.
Superhero Script Situation #3
Superman has been dating one person for a while now, and they have started up a conversation agreeing to become more serious partners. Superman's partner wants to have an exclusive relationship, phone conversations every night, and a date at least once a week. Superman's schedule of saving the world does not allow him enough time off for all of those things, and he is not sure how monogamous he wants his relationship to be.
Partner: "Hey, so I really like you, and I'd really like to get more serious about our relationship. But I do really like seeing and hearing from my partner a lot, and I need for a romantic relationship to be monogamous. Does that sound good to you?"
Superman: "Well I really love spending time with you, and I'd be thrilled to make our relationship more concrete, but I'm not sure how I feel about monogamy. We can try it out, but I can't guarantee that it will work for me, so I would need to check in with you about that really honestly every once in a while. I also don't think I would be able to phone you really regularly -- my schedule is so hectic I'm just not available for a few days on end sometimes. I could totally work with having a date at least once a week, although I'm afraid I may sometimes have to cancel, as things come up last-minute at work quite a lot. But we could re-schedule those if you're up for it."
Good Partner Reaction: "Hm, okay, I'm not sure if that would be enough contact for me, and monogamy really is a dealbreaker. It seems like maybe a more committed relationship isn't what's going to work for us. How about we keep things casual for now, if that's something you want to keep doing?"
The End! Unless...
Bad Partner Reaction: "Are you sure, though? Couldn't you make more of an effort to keep in touch with me? And I really need you to really hold to your plans for dates, otherwise it just throws off my whole day. I thought you cared as much about me as I care about you, why are you not willing to compromise on some stuff to be with me?"
Superman: "Caring about you has nothing to do with whether a relationship is going to work or not. Of course I care about you, but that doesn't change the fact that our needs are clearly pretty different. If I tried fitting into your needs around this, or if I tried making you fit into my needs, it just wouldn't work and wouldn't be happy. So, I really do like you, but it seems like a more committed relationship just wouldn't work for the two of us. How about we keep things more casual, because I do still like spending time with you -- does that work for you?"
Bad Partner Reaction: "Wow. Clearly you don't like me as much as I thought. I can't believe you're so unwilling to compromise. You really don't want to put any effort in to make things work? Relationships take work, what are you expecting -- things to be easy?"
Superman: "The way you're really trying to push me to ignore my own needs here is pretty upsetting. I'm rethinking whether I even want to keep things casual with someone who so clearly doesn't respect my boundaries. I'm really not comfortable continuing this conversation." Superman walks away.
Superhero Script Situation #4
Spiderman (aka Peter Parker) really hates being hugged, and he is going to visit his aunt for Thanksgiving. He knows she is an excessive hugger, and he has felt pretty uncomfortable when she hugs him in past years.
Aunt: "Hiya Petey! It's so good to see you! C'mere my choochee-chums!" She runs over to hug Peter.
Spiderman-aka-Peter: "Hey Aunty! I'm so glad to see you! Happy Thanksgiving! Could we maybe hold off on the hugging this year, though? I really love seeing you, and it's nothing personal, I actually just kind of hate hugs. I could kiss you on the cheek instead, if you'd like!"
Good Aunt Reaction: "Aw, that's totally okay! I'm sad you didn't tell me earlier, I could have spared you many an uncomfortable squishing! Oh well, now I know! How about I just ruffle your hair adoringly?"
The End! Unless...
Bad Aunt Reaction: "What? How does anyone hate hugs? I can't even expect a hug from my favourite nephew? That's ridiculous! You just need to get used to them."
Spiderman-aka-Peter: "While I get that other people totally love hugs, and I know they're your way of expressing your love for me, they're just not my thing at all. They make me feel really uncomfortable, and I'd much rather come and visit you knowing that we will all have a totally discomfort-free Thanksgiving!"
Bad Aunt Reaction: "Well I just can't believe that you actually love me if you aren't even willing to give me a hug. Everyone hugs, what's the big deal!"
Spiderman-aka-Peter: "I don't hug, so no, not everyone hugs! My boundaries aren't going to magically disappear around this, so this conversation really needs to end now, and I need you to express your affection in some way other than hugging. Did you watch that football game over the weekend?"
Standing up for yourself will almost certainly feel awkward and rude and making-a-scene-y the first few times it happens. But remember to give yourself The Pep Talk, and remind yourself that it is not you making the situation awkward and rude. It is them who made it awkward and were being rude by ignoring your clearly stated boundaries. It is thus not on you to try to make them more comfortable. It is on you to make yourself more comfortable by refusing to ignore your own needs. Your needs are just as important as anyone else's, and the person who needs to look out for your needs is YOU! Because you're the one who knows them best, you're the only one who can advocate for them the best.
Every superhero stumbles every once in a while, especially when they're just starting out. They take on a villain that's just a little too big for them to handle at the time, or they make a mistake and the villain gets away. That's okay, it happens to the best of us, and it doesn't mean you've failed. It means you keep trying, keep practising, keep taking small steps, and as you get more used to standing up for yourself, you find yourself stumbling less often. You find yourself feeling more confident, you find yourself in relationships that really make you happy and are mutually beneficial, you find that those relationships are stronger than ever, and you find that your ability to communicate has skyrocketed.
So equip yourself with your new-found knowledge, don your shiny new superhero cape, defeat your Supervillain self-doubt and insecurity, and get out there as a newly born Self-Advocacy Superhero! We'll be searching for you in the skies!