This is a painting VanDewater did last week to practice painting water. VanDewater discusses the importance of building confidence in your feelings, beliefs and abilities. - Editor-in-Chief / Kalie VanDewater

For a long time, I have been “the quiet girl.” Most of my acquaintances up until a few years ago would probably say that I was shy and a wallflower, but generally really nice.

In the past, I haven’t always stood up for what I believed in or felt. I never was the one to say what I thought about something first, voice my displeasure or go against the status quo.

Before this year, I had never even considered myself capable of writing an opinion piece for The Whit because, as I told everyone around me, “I don’t have opinions.” What I believe I was unconsciously saying was either something along the lines of “I don’t think I can stand by my beliefs if I face backlash from people I care about.”

But then I learned to believe in myself, by myself. Over the past year, I’ve spent time building confidence in my abilities, my beliefs and my worth. I repeatedly reminded myself of what I had accomplished: I painted so many paintings, I wrote this number of articles, I completed this length of a hike.

This eventually turned into more firm declarations: Yes, I really did paint all the pictures on my bedroom wall, and they’re beautiful. I wrote articles that are well-thought-out and focus on topics important to me. Being myself warrants love and support from others.

My doubts about standing by my beliefs when faced with people close to me who believe the opposite subsequently faded. Now, I stand by what I say and do. I voice my opinions and concerns. I’m still nice, but to a relative outsider it might seem like I’ve grown slightly colder and harder. I’ve written opinion pieces for The Whit.

All this is a recent change in my behavior, something that people I knew even a year ago probably wouldn’t recognize in me if we bumped into each other today. And honestly? I’m fine with that, even proud.

Frankly, I think past me just didn’t want to face conflict — not that I particularly enjoy it now. Whether it was naysayers or just people who held jarringly different personal beliefs than me, I didn’t want to risk upsetting anyone or “step out of line.” I didn’t want to make someone feel any sort of animosity toward me.

I think many people, particularly young women, can relate to the feelings past me encountered regularly. One of my friends recently told me that she felt sick to her stomach when she was planning to break up with someone who was pushing an incredibly uncomfortable amount of emotional responsibility on her. She told me she “didn’t think she could do it” and that “he’s so nice.”

Another one of my friends told me about a slew of interactions she had with someone in her friend group that made her uncomfortable and were just outright rude. She told me that saying something to him would “just make things awkward,” and that she could handle it for the rest of the semester because “it’s only a few more months.”

I have a tremendous amount of respect for both of these people, but their situations make me think back to all the times I put myself through discomfort or stayed silent to avoid any rift between me and someone else. Why didn’t I stand up for myself or for those who weren’t able to defend themselves in a particular conversation? Why did I allow someone to voice their opinions that created turmoil within me, but not reciprocate with my own opinion? Why didn’t my friends do the same?

At least part of the problem in all these situations is the feeling of connection and intimacy on the most basic level. I took a course on linguistic anthropology in fall 2019, and one of the minor points that struck a chord with me was that women’s conversations are based on “softer” topics like relationships and feelings, while conversations between men are more formal in a sense, with mention of feelings kept minimal.

The topics of conversation in turn influences how different people perceive communication. In linguistics, it has been long thought that women use more hedges in speech than men — words like somewhat, maybe and sort of, which lessen the intensity of their statements.

However, a meta-analysis published in 2011 established that the disparity of hedging between men and women is much smaller than previously thought. The main difference in communication between men and women is seen instead in the interpretation of these hedges, with “women [being] more likely to interpret tentative speech as a sign of interpersonal sensitivity and men more likely to view it as a lack of assertiveness.”

And that’s why I think it’s so difficult for many young women to stand up for what they feel and believe. The main thing holding my friend from ending a clearly toxic relationship was hurting the person’s feelings. What’s holding back my other friend in confronting the person causing her discomfort was also a form of social connectedness; dealing with the situation head-on would likely alter the overall dynamic of her friend group.

It’s something I sympathize with because I have actively worked on overcoming it. Boosting my self-confidence on my own time and surrounding myself with people who support me and bring out the best in me has done wonders. I have been able to stand up for myself and what I believe in.

I’ve even written multiple opinion articles for The Whit, with my first-ever piece receiving both backlash and support from my family, who primarily hold beliefs directly contradictory to mine. And how I responded to the backlash was a very defining moment in my journey for standing up for my beliefs: I didn’t back down and I didn’t let their feedback go unchallenged. I held my ground firmly, which was strongly disliked by those naysayers, one of which ended up blocking me on social media.

My experiences with standing up for myself have tested my personal strength and self-confidence, but I believe that I am a better person for it. It may be difficult and uncomfortable, but I strongly encourage other people who identify with these experiences to find ways to build themselves up so they can stand up for what they believe and feel. I promise it’s worth it.

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