And how your beliefs can empower you too
At the beginning of 2015, I became vegan. Two friends introduced me to the veggie lifestyle and there was no going back for me. This also happened to be the time I started a new job, one where I had to attend dinner parties where people feasted on all kinds of non-veggie delicacies.
It didn’t take long until my dietary choices came in the way of my job. “I am vegan”, I replied when my boss enquired about why was I not eating what everyone else was. There was a shade of confusion on his face, followed by an assertive command: “Don’t tell that to people. Instead, tell them you are allergic”.
A few months before that, I would have obeyed. “Sure, I will tell everyone I am allergic to meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. It sounds very likely”. But becoming vegan didn’t only change my diet, it changed my mindset. I told him “no”. And, ever since, I have been telling “no” to everyone who intrudes in my life or disrespects my beliefs.
A Belief is Bigger Than Yourself
You can become vegan for plenty of different reasons. I became vegan, then changing to vegetarian, because I came to the conclusion that I don’t need to hurt animals to live happily on this planet. I can go through life as one with all other living beings, in communion with nature. I deeply believe this.
Being vegetarian gives you a sense of connection to the world, of belonging. Studies show that “the psychology of vegetarianism involves a particular way of being or experiencing the world”. Surprisingly, even though this is a personal choice, it is one that seems to bother quite a lot of people.
My boss was not the only person I encountered who had problems with me being vegetarian. You can expect conflicts to arise from time to time, but every time they do, you have a solid belief system to revert to. You don’t drop the conversation and give in to other people’s pressure. Slowly, empowered by one situation after another, you practice standing up for yourself.
First, you tell your boss you will not eat meat at the company’s dinner. Then you gather with your family for Christmas and skip the turkey. Eventually, you meet your new girlfriend’s parents and politely decline their chili con carne.
It’s uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier every time. You will notice this spreading onto other areas of your life as well. Slowly, you gain the courage to tell your neighbor that his jokes are racist. You call out your in-laws when they tell you what to feed your kid, and you stop hiding your sexuality from people at work.
It’s About Much More Than Being Vegetarian
Why should you care about it if you are not a vegetarian nor thinking of becoming one? Because none of this is about being vegetarian. It’s about believing in something so deeply that it empowers you to stand up for it.
It can be the environment, politics, racism, migrants, women’s rights, LGBTQ issues, anything. Causes that are bigger than yourself give you a sense of belonging to a group. They provide the courage you need to make your voice heard, the courage that, otherwise, you might be lacking.
Psychological studies show that “standing up for your beliefs, expressing your opinions and demonstrating your core values can be a positive psychological experience. It could easily be overwhelming to face a group on the other side of an issue, but this study suggests that reminding yourself of wanting to be an individual can make it a better experience, challenging instead of threatening, invigorating instead of overwhelming”.
How To Stand Up For Yourself
Standing up for yourself and your beliefs is something that develops over time. It becomes easier as you gain experience from situations, and as you get older and more confident. But there are techniques you can apply to practice this. Here are some suggestions:
It all starts with telling others what you think. It might be scary at first but you need to remind yourself that you are entitled to your own beliefs, even if they go against the crowd. Remember that studies show it is more beneficial to your mental health than hiding or lying about it.
Beliefs change. Seven years ago, I ate meat and fish on a daily basis, now it’s unimaginable for me. It all changed because I listened to others and I was open to the conversation. You don’t let yourself down by opening yourself up to different ideas, quite the opposite. You will have more informed opinions and be able to defend your point of view better when talking to others.
There is a limit to everything. If you feel bullied, diminished, or receive any kind of negative impact from others because of your beliefs, walk away. It’s not worth it to fight with those who won’t listen. And it is definitely not worth it to put yourself through hardship because of people who don’t respect you. Practice saying “enough”.
Standing up for yourself has a lot to do with confidence, and every time you fail to do it, you hurt your confidence a little more. It’s a cycle you want to break. Instead, enter a positive one, where you reinforce your sense of worthiness and start to feel you deserve respect. Regardless of anyone’s opinions on your ideas.
You can’t build confidence overnight, but you can do it with small steps if you keep walking in the right direction every day. If you need a crutch, in the form of belonging to something bigger than you, it is totally fine.
Learn with it, build on it, and eventually, you will be able to stand up for yourself without any crutches. You are worth it, regardless of what anyone else has to say.