No, You’re Not “Too Stubborn”
“Why are you so stubborn?”
I don’t remember how old I was when I was first called stubborn. But I do remember how my grandmother would always quip, “You’ll go crazy if you don’t change your ways!” As a young girl, I wasn’t easily swayed; I knew what I believed and what I wanted. In typical first-born fashion, I’d huff and puff if I didn’t get my way.
But I was just a girl, still learning, still figuring out how to decipher between true strength and inflexibility. My grandmother’s words were only ever spoken in jest and with affection—not like later in life, when I’d be called a “stubborn woman” for remaining unyielding in my opinions. Soften your stance. Seek permission before making an argument. Stop being so stubborn. The world, I learned, preferred me as a people-pleaser, at least that’s how it seemed. And so, by the time I was in my early 20s, that’s exactly who I became.
It’s true that stubbornness isn’t always a good thing. It can be harmful when it shows up as narrow-mindedness or the refusal to listen to (or respect) others. Challenging ourselves and our opinions is an essential part of learning, even when it feels uncomfortable. When we argue to prove a point, many times, we’re just stroking our egos.
We often act this way because of fear—we’re scared that if we reconsider our views or shift things around ever so slightly, our entire foundation may crumble. And it usually does. But crumbling can be necessary for growth.
There is another kind of “stubbornness” though, and it’s actually not stubbornness at all. Steadfastness, tenacity, and the ability to dig one’s heels in on the issues that matter—these can all make a person appear to be stubborn when actually they are exemplifying strength.
“Stubborn is so often seen as a negative trait, and it can be when used in a certain way,” writes Jo Becker, a Disability & Inclusion Specialist in the UK. “It ultimately means that someone is not going to let up on their thoughts, beliefs, or grudges for quite some time. This can be quite annoying for some, but it is actually really powerful. It demonstrates persistence, tenacity, perseverance in the face of everything.”
This is when the stubbornness trope can be most harmful, especially when it stifles people’s voices or when one party has more power than the other. Often, we’re forced into situations where we need to remain steadfast, either for ourselves or others. It’s not that we’re unwilling to change, but rather that we’re standing up for our beliefs and values.
It took me years to learn this. I went from being a tenacious girl to an appeasing woman because I was told it was better that way. I hid any part of myself that appeared to be stubborn—parts of me that I now understand I inherited from my grandmother. Her quips from when I was younger were likely because she saw herself in me, or me in her, a strong-willed spirit passed from one generation to another. Now in my 30s, I’m only just beginning to reclaim that spirit, to stand firm and unwavering despite possible tropes about stubbornness.
Language is a powerful tool. And now is an urgent time as ever to consider the words that have for too long harmed or silenced others, words that perhaps we’ve even used to silence ourselves. The world needs more people who can stand up in the face of adversity—whether that adversity is an internal battle or everyday activism. And we need more people who trust their gut instinct and aren’t so easily swayed by circulating opinions.
We also need people who can say no, who can set boundaries with themselves and within relationships. Friendships and partnerships are hard work, yet with tenacity and determination, we can grow alongside one another, even in the most challenging seasons.
Most importantly, we need people to refuse to budge on the issues that matter or to shrink themselves to maintain the status quo. Too often, we’ve seen people being called stubborn for pushing back against oppressive systems and people in power. Yet, we have the right, and the duty, to call out narrow-minded policies that actively harm and oppress. Let’s flip the script and understand that “stubbornness” does not, in fact, describe those advocating for equality; it describes the parties refusing to listen.
So are you “too stubborn”? Maybe, but maybe not. It’s worth pausing the next time someone labels you as a stubborn person to ask yourself: Am I refusing to listen? Am I scared that if I reconsider my own stance, my entire world may crumble? Or am I remaining steadfast in my truth and values?
Because if it’s the latter, you’re not stubborn at all. You’re simply tenacious.
Kayti Christian (she/her) is a Senior Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for enneagram 4s and other sensitive-identifying people. Outside of writing, she loves hiking, reading memoir, and the Oxford comma.