Dealing with Conflict: Speak Up Before You Blow Up

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“I aim to please. It’s okay, no worries. Please don’t worry, its no big deal.” These are some things I’ve said when interacting with others. The truth was that it wasn’t okay, and it was inconveniencing me.

I could never voice this to people. What if they didn’t like me? Growing up I learned to be polite and to respect my elders, so I considered it rude to tell someone that what they are asking for or what they are doing is actually not okay. I also didn’t want to create any unnecessary problems or conflict.

I always seemed to end up doing things I didn’t want to do or helping people with things that they should do themselves. I would get frustrated and annoyed and end up taking it out on those people who are close to me. Why did I do this?

I was sitting in an aisle seat on an airplane once when a man asked me if I wouldn’t mind swapping with him. His friend was sitting next to me, and he wanted to talk to him. The problem was that this guy’s original seat was near the back and was a middle seat.

I didn’t want to do it, and yet I did. I reluctantly smiled and said, “Sure, no worries.” I then sat in the middle seat on the flight between two very large passengers, feeling cramped and annoyed. This is when it all started going wrong.

It never rains but it pours. The passenger in the window seat wanted to go to the bathroom, so there was a lot of climbing in and out of the seats. I just smiled and said, “No problem.”

The meal cart arrived, and because we were at the back, they had run out of the vegetarian choice, so I had nothing to eat. I just said, “Not to worry.”

My bag was in the compartment above my original seat, so I couldn’t just stand up and get my book. The guy next to me was reading the paper, and it draped into my space. I couldn’t really say anything, because, as you know, reading a newspaper in the confines of an airplane is difficult, and he was trying.

The other guy next to me was hogging the middle arm rest. My justification was that he was a big guy and he was cramped, shame.

I was fuming inside because I did not stand up for myself and for what I wanted. I started blaming the guy who was sitting in my original seat for how I was feeling. If he had just stayed in his seat then none of this would have happened. This was the story of my life. 

The truth is, I was a people pleaser and didn’t like others to be inconvenienced. I would rather have been inconvenienced than let them have to go through that.

I had learned from an early age to teach people how to treat me. I was teaching them that it was okay to take advantage of me, because deep down inside I believed I was not enough.

My key insights that pushed me to change were:

  • I did not like unnecessary conflict and viewed conflict as destructive.
  • I did not know how to speak up without blowing up.

Dealing with Conflict

“Conflict is a natural disagreement resulting from individuals or groups that differ in attitudes, beliefs, values or needs.”  ~Anonymous

This simple statement helped me realize that conflict is natural and a given. The world is full of conflict and it would never go away. I just had to learn to deal effectively with conflict. This required that my inner emotional state needed to be able to handle the conflict without taking things personally and getting upset.

I started seeing conflict as good, as it allowed me to speak my truth. I learned that I was not responsible for how others felt about my choices as long as I was not being selfish or offending. I started standing up for myself, and my experiences shifted.

Making My Needs Important

I had to realize that my needs were important, as they expressed my inner desires. If I wanted to start living a great life, I had to start living it for me. This meant I had to make my choices real by voicing them. This did not mean that I did not see others’ needs as important. It just meant I gave a voice to my needs, which I had never done before.

This was not easy, as I had to change. People resisted this new me and there were some people that didn’t like it. Instead of rejecting them for not accepting me, I loved them harder. I just ensured they understood that these were choices for me, and not against them.

Speaking Up Without Blowing Up

Now that I understood conflict to be natural, and that all I had to do was voice my opinion, I just needed to know how. I wanted people to know what was important for me. I needed to be able to take responsibility for my needs and for expressing them.

I needed to change how I spoke. I wrote down all the things I used to say that put my needs second and I wrote out a list of ways of expressing my needs so they were first. I then practiced these statements and made them so real to me. A few examples include:

  • Actually it really doesn’t suit me. Is there something else you can try?
  • I really would love to help, but unfortunately I have something that I have to do that is really important for me.
  • Please may I ask that you respect my choices and don’t try make me feel bad because of them. I do care about you. This choice is for me.

The result: I started seeing myself as being enough. When I recognized this and started behaving in this way, the world started seeing me as being enough.

We have to accept ourselves to be accepted by others, and we have to teach people how to treat us. We deserve to be treated like the amazing, beautiful souls we are.

Photo by VinothChandar

About Stephen Light

Stephen loves people and sees them for their potential, not the behaviors they display. His purpose is to connect, share, serve, and grow. He sees his life as a journey and loves that he can make a difference in people’s lives. Visit him at, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

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  • Jo

    I find that “No, thanks” is the perfect response. A flat out No changes into a polite No.

  • Erica

    I use to be a people pleaser too until I felt like my thoughts and opinions were not being taken seriously. This articleis a big help.I never knew how to express myself without eventually blowing up. Thank you!

  • diana marie bruen

    This is wonderful and I am very much in the middle of discovering my own voice and expressing my needs / wants.

  • Stephen,

    Excellent story. I find myself in such similar situations, and I wrestle with being present with my surroundings (go with the flow) and true to my desires (no, I’m going to do this for me). It feels like a mixed bag from time to time. There’s that fine line between knowing and doing what’s in your heart, and letting go of the attachment to outcomes and just following the flow of energy.

    This would be so much easier if there was a handbook for all of it, right? Sheesh, someone should really get on it already!

    Again, great article, Stephen. Shared.


  • This is exactly how I behaved, always saying yes trying to help everyone, pleasing everyone but ending up not being happy with it, still not saying it, feeling like a doormat. I am well on the way to be able to say a polite no as I realize that I am important too. I finally feel good myself and respect myself and do think that I am amazing too. Fantastic post which helps a lot! Thank you!

  • lv2terp

    FANTASTIC!! Wonderful post, thank you for sharing your experience, what you have learned, and your wisdom/tips! 🙂

  • karen

    good words ,i have been a people pleaser all of my life and have just started learning to say no ,sometimes it,s not easy especially when it is family or people close to us, but i think we have to recognise that sometimes we have to think about our feelings too and learn to not feel bad or guilty for not doing something we do not want to or do not feel right about. when people choose to not understand our wishes or become argumentative or distance themselves then we know also they have no respect for us. ,respect yourself and others will respect you for being that way x

  • louise

    wow. did I ever need this. Thank you.

  • Lacy

    Awesome post! Thank you for the reminder. I really needed it!

  • Chantal

    I am such a people’s pleaser I really need to to start pleasing me. Great post thank you x

  • Gigi

    Thank you for writing this. It was extrememly helpful. Your post was very insightful. Very well done!

  • VC

    really nice post.I could really relate to the feelings u mentioned about – the frustration of always being a pleaser and ignoring my own feelings. Thanks for sharing.

  • Liz Roberts

    Wow, do I ever recognize myself in this well-written post. Earlier this week I was walking across a cross walk to my vehicle, which was parked at the local mall. A vehicle turning left, but stopped at the time I was crossing suddenly pulled into the turn almost hit me and, as one could imagine, I was rather shaken up and angry as the driver was distracted by what was going on the vehicle and not paying attention while she was driving. But not wanting to cause her any upset, I said “it’s ok, no problem.” I let this lack of speaking up bother me for the next couple of hours. I could have avoided the inner struggle I created for myself by saying something to the effect of “I’m ok, but pretty shaken up. Please take better care to keep your eyes & mind on task while you’re driving.” Thank you for the lessons shared in your post Stephen, and the great tip on writing, and then practicing, expressing your needs. Sending peace and joy your way. Liz

  • PB

    Couldn’t agree more–I have a lot pent up from similar experiences where I have sacrificed for others, believing that they are more important than me. It is time to stop this nonsense and start putting myself and my needs first. I thought it wasn’t possible without causing such disappointment but you have elegantly described that conflict is a natural part of life. I am going to start incorporating strategies so my needs are put first. Starting with my bed time–I am sick of waking everyday late and exhausted, skipping my morning run and as a result being cranky and unproductive all day because I have spent time into the late hours for someone else. Let the change begin!

  • sid

    All I can say is – Thank you – for showinng me the way forward !

  • Teresa

    Thank you for sharing, I appreciate your article 🙂

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    I found it really touching as well. As a recovering perfectionist, I
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  • Greg

    “You don’t need to be accepted by others, you need to accept yourself.” Why are you quoting tich nact tich? That’s just common sense, he’s not clever. I could’ve told you that myself.

  • Ana Correia

    Thank you for sharing your insights on this. I found it relatable and very helpful. I will be trying your strategy for speaking up without blowing up!

  • annashun1

    This article…so spot on

  • Smmr13211

    This is a very interesting article. I have learned from experience that being nice to some people can backfire. I helped my sister and her husband with their household chores for 8 years. They asked me if I could help them because their daughter was in a bad car accident. The car accident left their daughter with a closed head injury.

    When my sister asked me to help her, I didn’t give her an answer right away. I waited for 2 weeks before agreeing to help them. 2 weeks after helping them, they said that she didn’t need me anymore to help. Two weeks after that, they asked me to help them again, and I agreed to help them. When I did come back to help them, my sister never explained why they gave me a break, but her husband told me that my sister told him that I didn’t do much for them anyway. Actually, that was a lie, because I did more for them than what a professional house cleaner would do. I never said anything to my sister, about what her husband told me about what she said. At the time when I came back to help them, I had a “gut feeling” that there was something wrong in their marriage, and with me helping them. But, I didn’t act on that “gut feeling” because at the time I thought that I was just imaging things. So I helped my sister for 8 years. I went to their house to help two days, and sometimes 3 days a week. I helped them from October, 1999 to November 2007.

    After helping them for awhile, her husband and I decided to go gambling after we had asked my husband, and my sister for permission. They both said they trusted us, and it would be ok. I asked my sister if she was sure it would be ok, and she said, “Sure, I don’t mind”. So that’s how it went for 8 years. During those 8 years, my sister acted like she really trusted both her husband, and I.

    In July,2008, my sister and her husband were going through a Divorce.When my sister was going through the Divorce Proceedings, her and her in-laws started putting me down with their false accusations and suspicions that implied that her husband and I were having an affair during the time that I was helping her. When they started doing that, I figured out that my sister had been lying to me for those 8 years that I was helping her. I figured out that she had been lying that whole time, because she was pretending everything was fine with me being around her husband, but it really wasn’t fine with her. She hid her true feelings from me back then while I was helping her.

    Because of all the lying she did back when I was helping her, now I don’t believe her when she is telling me the truth. I don’t know if we can really resolve our conflict this time, because she will not give me a serious apology without blaming everything on me. She says now that I didn’t have to help her, and I could have stopped helping her at any time. I told her that at the time that I agreed to help her that I felt sorry for her because of her daughter’s accident. It looks to me that my sister, may have been taking advantage of me helping her because she lied to me just so I would continue to help her.

    Every conflict that my sister and I ever had, I was always the one to reconnect with her. Sometimes we didn’t talk to each other after a conflict for 3-4 months. When I did reconnect with her, she always completely blamed me for whatever happened between us. She would always pretend that nothing ever happened between us. Then we would go on with our relationship until she would do something else to provoke me. Then we would be separated again.

    With our current situation, this is the worse thing that she has ever done to me. There’s so much distrust this time. She will not discuss anything with me so each of us can understand why our conflict has happened. I have no idea if her perceptions of me are the same now, as whar she was revealing through her Divorce Proceedings. I know now that her in-laws do not like me, because I heard it from some of their other relatives. I was told that my sister’s in-laws wanted to destroy my sister’s and my relationship for a long time, and they found the perfect time when I was helping my sister. I feel,if I reconnect with my sister, that it will be only a matter of time before they separate us again. My sister will not stand up to them for me either, she just goes along with whatever they make up about me. I don’t feel that this conflict will ever get resolved because of my sister’s irresponsibility of owning up to her words and actions….