“Why do you let him push you around like that?”

I overheard a woman asking another woman on the train lately. While I had no idea who “he” was – her boss, her lover, her father, or her co-worker – I sensed that the person in question had been pushing her around – to use her friend’s language –  for some time.

I could hear her friend’s bewilderment and frustration and how passive her friend had been in the face of poor treatment. Perhaps you’ve felt that way yourself at times. But let’s face it – if it were easy to stand up for ourselves, everyone would.

The reasons so many people allow others to step on their dignity and treat them with a lack of respect, care or kindness are as complex as human nature itself. But at the core it it lies our  fear of what might happen if we do stand up for ourselves.

That we’ll be further humiliated. That we’ll be ostracised by friends, family or co-workers. That we’ll have to deal with an ugly fall out. Maybe even lose our job. That we’ll make a scene. That we’ll only end up feeling worse about ourselves that we already do.

Our deep desire to belong coupled with our fear of rejection can trigger our vulnerability and override our better judgement. Sometimes it may simply be that we let an issue fester with a colleague at work rather than addressing it. But the closer the relationship, the higher the stakes and the steeper the toll on our happiness.

We know that many people feel powerless when they encounter bullying in the workplace, even when they aren’t. Likewise, a quick glance at domestic violence statistics reveals how many people – both women and men –  choose to stay in abusive relationships for years because they are too afraid to leave. Afraid of what they will have to give up – security, social status or the comfort of the familiar. Afraid of being alone.  Afraid they aren’t deserving of better.

While you may never have found yourself in a situation as extreme as this, there’s a lesson here for us all: Not believing in our own innate worthiness can cause us to settle for far less than we want, need or deserve. At home. At work. In business. In life. It also affirms the truth in the adage:

You teach people how to treat you.

Whatever the current state of your personal or professional relationships,  take a moment to consider where you sometimes stay silent rather than speaking up to make a stand for yourself. Or where you tolerate being treated in ways that leave you hurt, frustrated, resentful or undervalued. It may not seem like a big deal, but over time, we teach people how to treat us. It’s why bullies prey on those they can get away with bullying. In the end, we get what we tolerate.

I recently spoke with Kerry Armstrong on RawCourage.TV, who stayed in a physically and emotionally abusive marriage for 22 years for “all the right and all the wrong reasons” before she found the courage to walk away. When she finally did make a stand for herself, she discovered a whole new realm of personal power. Not only did she meet and marry a man who respects her deeply, but she found the courage to give up the security of her high paying sales job to pursue her passion as an artist.

As Kerry discovered when she finally found the courage to trust in herself and walk away from a destructive relationship , whole new possibilities open up for us when we refuse to let fear run our lives and find the courage to stand up for ourselves.

So own your worth. Speak your truth. Treat others with respect and refuse to tolerate being treated with anything less yourself.