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Today is International Women’s Day 2021 and the theme is #ChooseToChallenge.  Central to this campaign is encouraging both women and men to call out gender bias, challenge inequality, question stereotypes and help forge an inclusive world.


We are all responsible for our action/inaction and by being mindful of the need to challenge, we can have a positive impact on our world.  By remaining silent, we can inadvertently be collusive or waste an opportunity to contribute something of value.  As Edmund Burke wrote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

However, what if you are in a situation where you want to assert yourself, yet you find it difficult?  I am mindful people may feel they do not have a voice or lack the confidence to share their view.  It may feel too difficult to say something in the moment.  Or that the impact of asserting oneself comes at too much of a personal cost.  The reasons behind this can be complex and I believe it comes down to how we relate to ourselves and others.

If a client were to bring this to counselling, I would be curious about the following:

  • How do you relate to yourself in terms of your levels of confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth? Do you believe you have anything of value to contribute?  If the answer to this is no, then why not?
  • Were you raised in an environment where you were encouraged to speak freely or were you shut down by your primary caregivers? If it was the latter, then you would have been prevented from learning these skills from an early age.
  • What is the nature of your relationship with the person you wish to challenge? Do you perceive them as someone who is open?  Or is there a power dynamic where you feel you inferior?
  • Are you a people pleaser? Does it feel uncomfortable to speak an inconvenient truth?  How will you handle the prospect that the other person may be hurt or unhappy in their response?
  • Have you tried challenging in the past and had a negative experience? If this is the case, then it is normal for this to feel difficult to do it again.

I am a huge believer in empowerment and if you feel ill equipped to challenge, take some time to read through these tips.  I do hope they will be of help to you.

  • I’m sorry but – Never start a sentence in this way. You should not feel sorry for sharing your thoughts.
  • Ground your thoughts in fact – You will sound more informed, and it gives you a framework upon which to hang your comments.
  • Be concrete – Avoid vague language such as obviously, sometimes, possibly. I remember being picked up by a tutor for saying the word “obviously” when stating an opinion.  What is obvious to us within our frame of reference may not be obvious to others.
  • Be willing to engage in a dialogue – You do not challenge by simply delivering a speech at someone. Be prepared for that person to respond and be willing to engage with them.

If you are interested in learning more about how professional counselling can help, please sign up for my newsletter by providing your details in the “Contact me” section of my website.


Photos by Antenna and Clay Banks on Unsplash.