Our therapists often hear from clients that, in relationships of many kinds (with bosses, coworkers, significant others, partners, friends, family) they lack the confidence to ask for what they need. In an effort to avoid being seen as pushy, demanding or overbearing, some people retreat to the other extreme suffering in silence by dismissing their own needs and desires as unimportant. Eventually, however, that wears them down. They miss out on opportunities, work harder than they have to, and do without necessities or pleasures that make life easier or simply more enjoyable.

Often those who put themselves at the bottom of their own priority lists are considered people-pleasers. They don’t like to say “no” to requests for their time, effort and resources because they don’t want to appear selfish, lazy or uncaring. (Tartakovsky, 2016). They end up taking care of everyone else, leaving nothing for themselves. Others are just too shy to ask, or fear rejection or embarrassment. Lack of confidence and low self-esteem can be a result of depression or other mental illness (Tartakovsky, 2013), and can lead to other problems like perfectionism, passive-aggressive behavior, and hyper vigilance. (The Self-Esteem Institute, n.d.) In such cases, specific resources, including therapy, are available for assistance. [Get Help Now]

Everyone has insecurities, but yours don’t have to stop you from leading a full, peaceful and balanced life. That often-cited oxygen mask analogy (airplane passengers are instructed to put on their oxygen masks before assisting others) really does apply to life in general. You can’t help anyone else unless you take care of yourself, if not first, at least in addition to.

When you’ve spent a lifetime deferring to others and letting your own wishes go unheard, suddenly stepping up and asking for what you want can be a giant leap out of your comfort zone. Here are some ways you can gradually build the confidence to communicate your needs and wants effectively.

  • Make your request reasonable. Asking for the moon, and then scaling back to what you actually want works in marketing and fundraising, explains Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., but is less effective in personal relationships. “Gauge your target and pitch your request at close to what you think that person can, and will, do for you,” she suggests.

  • Write it down. Organizing your thoughts ahead of time can help you feel less rattled or embarrassed, says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. When you ask for something (or say “no”) clearly and directly, with only your best one or two reasons, you are more likely to get a good response.

  • Tell yourself you’re worth it. There are many reasons we convince ourselves we don’t deserve something. Our own biases about gender, age, ethnicity, etc., can lead us to create assumptions about what others think, before we even give them a chance to respond for themselves. Taking the time to understand what has led you to internalize these messages can help you recognize them when they pop up and also keep them from getting in your way.

  • Take the other person’s needs into account.  In your effort to get your own needs met, be sure to notice what is happening with the person you are asking.  “If someone looks troubled, preoccupied, or stressed, then you’re stacking the deck against having that person grant your request by making it right then and there,” says Whitbourne. She cautions, however, not to use this as an excuse to indefinitely put off making your request. (Whitbourne, S. K., 2012)

  • Take responsibility for yourself. You, and only you, can make new things happen in your life, writes Maud Purcell, LCSW, CEAP. The best way to change is to take action. Even a small step can create momentum that leads to positive results.

  • Act “as if.” If you lack the confidence to ask for what you want, act as if you already have it. “In the field of psychology we have come to understand that by changing our behavior, we can change our feelings,” Purcell adds. In other words, if you act with confidence, true confidence will come.

  • Find a mentor. Do you know people who always seem to act confidently?  Watch what they do in different situations.  Ask how they do it.  “Most confident people are happy to help. They remember the courage and effort it’s taken them to get where they are today,” says Purcell. (Purcell, M. 2016)
  • Surround yourself with supportive people.  Most of us know someone who just “gets us.” A friend or family member who accepts our quirks and flaws, but also motivates us to be our best. Connecting with someone who appreciates you as you are may be the self-esteem boost you need, says Therese J. Borchard, associate editor of PsychCentral.com.

  • Know it is invisible. No one can see your insecurity, and even if it seems obvious to you, most people are too worried about their own insecurity to notice yours, says Borchard.

  • Consider it beautiful. Insecurity is not “bad,” Borchard reminds us.  Reframed as humility, she adds, it is considered “divine.”  Vulnerability is often what allows us to connect with one another in authentic, meaningful ways. It is part of being human. Accepting our insecurities and recognizing them in others, is one way to move beyond them rather than be controlled by them. (Borchard, 2015)

Like most things, developing confidence takes practice. Some days and some situations will be easier than others, but with time and learning what works best for you, it will become more natural. 

Is there something you’ve wanted to ask for but lack the confidence to do so? These tips can help you get started, but if you need more assistance, please consider talking to a therapist. You can connect with one through our Access Center at 303-867-4600.


Tartakovsky, M. (2016). 21 Tips to Stop Being a People-Pleaser. 
Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/21-tips-to-stop-being-a-people-pleaser/

Tartakovsky, M. (2013). 8 Suggestions for Strengthening Self-Esteem When You Have Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/01/24/8-suggestions-for-strengthening-self-esteem-when-you-have-depression/

The Self-Esteem Institute (n.d.) Behavioral Symptoms and Consequences. Retrieved on September 21, 2016, from http://www.getesteem.com/lse-symptoms/behavioral.html

Whitbourne, S. K. (2012) 9 Ways to Ask For (and Get) What You Want. Psychology Today. Retrieved on September 22, 2016, from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201212/9-ways-ask-and-get-what-you-want

Borchard, T. J. (2015). 5 Things to Do When You Feel Insecure. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/06/08/5-things-to-do-when-you-feel-insecure/