Amy Carroll » Blog » How Do You Speak Up Without Making Others Feel Bad?

How Do You Speak Up Without Making Others Feel Bad?

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My default is defensiveness.

It’s sad and painful but true in certain situations. When I feel like I’m not good enough… When I feel like you think I’m not good enough… When my integrity is called into question… When I’m being treated unfairly…

Defensiveness raises its ugly head.

Recently, I had a flood of defensiveness pour through me because of a string of circumstances in one day. First, I switched into fight mode because of a true offense leveled at me. Later in the day, someone got the worst of me because I was still feeling like I had to defend myself. In both cases, a boundary had been breached with the first being much greater than the second. Still, defensiveness is a root that produces rotten fruit. It keeps me from my goal of being a godly woman who speaks up in godly ways.

Yes, as I said in my last post, speaking up for our boundaries is best because it keeps us from bitterness. But I’m working to do it better. I want to speak up, maintaining healthy boundaries, without making others feel bad. I want to bring healing into these situations instead of hurt.

Is Anybody Else Struggling?

Just from watching my social media feed and listening to conversations swirling around me, I’m positive that I’m not the only one with a problem with defensiveness. Every interaction these days seems to be one side-ways word away from a battle. People speak up and fight. Battle is in the air. Do you feel it too?

Recently, as I was reading Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard, I realized that battle takes two main forms in human interactions. He says it this way:

The exact nature of the poison of sin in our social dimension is fairly easy to describe, though extremely hard to deal with. It has two forms… assault or attack and withdrawal or “distancing.”

I recognize those two poisons, both assault and withdrawal, in my own interpersonal reactions. Do you? While “nice Christian women” may save emotional assault for those who live with them in the walls of our homes, we’re pretty prone to withdrawal.

What’s the Solution to Assault or Withdrawal?

In my two difficult situations last month, I had a choice. I could attack or I could withdraw. Both are a type of harm that we inflict on others that leave them (and usually us too!) feeling bad. Neither leave us ready to speak up in healing ways.

But we have a third choice. Instead of defaulting to assault or withdrawal, we can lean in with love.

That’s the first and hardest decision we have to make when a boundary has been breached. Will we choose love over both assault and withdrawal?

In part 2 of “How Do You Speak Up Without Making Others Feel Bad?”, I’ll share some practical steps I’m taking that allow me to choose love over defensiveness. I’ll tell you about how those two situations that brought my blood to a boil turned out.

I’ve been taking notes as I practice, fall down, and get back up again to practice some more. I can’t wait to tell you what I’m learning and how I’m growing. There’s hope for us, sisters!

Thank You for Your Feedback

Thank you, thank you, friends! I asked for your feedback, and I was stunned but honored at how many of you answered my questions. I deeply appreciate each of you who left a comment or sent an email.

The vast majority of you prefer writing, and since I’m a reader like you, I can identify. I’ll keep writing. You gave me fuel for years to come! (Did I say THANK YOU?!)

If you’re a new reader here in this community, you might not know about my book, co-authored with Cheri Gregory, Exhale: Lose Who You’re Not. Love Who You Are. Live Your One Life Well. Our book has lots in it about boundaries and how to implement them so that you can live your one GLORIOUS, God-given life well. Pick up a copy today!

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  1. Mary Morash says:

    I’m really looking forward to more on this. As we get back to more normal gatherings, I’m placed in situations where I’m confronted by people who have strong opinions that differ from mine. I don’t want to argue so I tend to withdraw. This can make me feel isolated or perhaps I’ll just keep relationships superficial. But in the end, I really want to be heard and accepted “as is” and then I’m ready to listen to other viewpoints.

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      I totally understand the desire to withdraw in those circumstances. Holley Gerth gave the best script on Instagram last week. She suggested 7 words: “Can you help me understand?” “What else?” I’m going to practice engaging with these questions and listening with love so that I can lean in. Eventually maybe they’ll be open to our perspective too. 😉

  2. Just tuned in to the reply from you. Thank you, am defitnetley buy ing the book….

  3. Hi Amy! My head has been in grandma cloud (a very good place, indeed), so just a question: will this be a webinar? I would love to attend! I truly struggle with speaking up and usually speak up with horrible results!

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      Kathleen, I love your idea, but right now I don’t have any plans for a webinar. I’ll be writing about this lots, though, since it’s the learning loop I’m currently facing. Let’s do this better together! Hugs to you!

  4. Leslie Newman says:

    Amy, thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve been looking hard at my own boundary-setting journey and I notice that I have the same two defaults — becoming defensive and different forms of withdrawal. I’m looking forward to your next post as I work on practicing better responses. I really appreciate knowing that none of us are walking this journey alone, and that many of us walk in the same shoes. It’s a journey in progress!!

  5. Eve Nelson-Barry says:

    Thank you!!! This is so on point…..

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      I’m so glad I’m not alone. Let’s grow together!

      1. I definitely need to grow together Amy, was even embarrassed to write about this. It is empowering to know that I don’t need to be fearful about how I am. My main prob is making myself speak up to my children which are all adults because that is always critisizm or feeling from them that I am playing favorites to the ones they don’t think I should be speaking up for to save family fueds…aye,aye,aye…

        1. Amy Carroll says:

          Lol! I totally get it because I have adult sons too. Speaking up with our kids is truly tricky, and I’m learning (sometimes the hard way) to take my words about them to God instead. I’m excited that you’re in this community with me!

  6. Elizabeth Richardson says:

    Thank you, Amy for using your life to bless mine. I, too, have been dealing with learning what it means to have boundaries and I seem to get defensive more than anything else. I think that if I don’t defend the boundary then it will just get pushed through. Thank you for showing me there is another way to defend my boundaries. (I thought there might be, but I hadn’t seen it mentioned until now).
    May God continue to bless you and your ministry as you follow His leading.

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      Last night, I honestly contemplated delaying or deleting this post. I thought I was revealing too much of my ugly, and I felt the pain of vulnerability. I’m so happy that we’re growing together in community and finding ways to move beyond defensiveness.

      1. I’m so glad you did not delete this post! Defensiveness could be middle name. I look forward to reading more. Thank you, Amy.

  7. Can’t wait to read Part 2! So timely! My small group, just last night, were discussing how we feel we have to bite our tongues to be quiet, agree to disagree…but so many times it feels cowardly to not speak. It’s a hard thing to “speak up and disagree, but be kind”.

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      Whew. It’s so hard, isn’t it? You’ve got me to thinking… there needs to be a future post on when it’s time to speak up and when we should be silent. (I think there’s both, don’t you?) Any further thoughts on this? I’d love to hear what your small group thinks.

  8. Thank you for helping us to “see”. Identify really is a first move isn’t it?

    Can’t wait for your next post!

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      It really is. Thanks to my counselor and long conversations with Barry, I’ve painfully identified defensiveness as an area for major work. Hurts so good!

  9. Pam Pagel says:

    Oh my, this feels like it was written just for me. The timing of this is absolutely perfect. I’m so thankful that God speaks to me through others. Thank you for sharing. ❤️

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      Thank YOU for letting me know that I’m not alone. I almost didn’t hit “send” on this one because I felt so wretched about my confession. 🙂

  10. Boy did this one hit home for me. As a pleaser who is trying to set boundaries, responding to someone who has crossed those boundaries is hard to do in a loving way. Looking forward to your tips and they can’t come soon enough!

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      Thanks, Lisa! I can’t wait to share. I feel like I’ve gotten some great personal application. Now to apply!