Self-Advocating 101

If you don’t stand up for yourself, who will?

There was a time in my life where I thought that it was other people’s responsibility to stand up for me. In my mind, I was locked in an ivory tower without a long ladder–or really long hair–and I believed that I had no other options and remained there at the mercy of others.

It took time and many painful lessons to learn the truth. Not only is it my job and responsibility to stand up for myself, but it’s also my privilege and one of the greatest acts of self-love. Instead of looking for someone with a ladder, I built one.

For starters, you are worth it.

Let’s start with the basics. You are worth standing up for. That’s it. Your opinions, feelings, wants, and needs all have value because you have value. This is non-negotiable. People who advocate for themselves come from a place of self-love and empowerment. The world would like you to believe that it is born from a place of selfishness when nothing could be further from the truth. Standing up for yourself is a worthy and noble cause.

You are honoring your mind, body, and spirit when you choose to stand up for yourself. It brings you to a place of peace, even in difficult situations. Tough conversations are never easy, but when self-advocating you are aligned with your truest self and needs. It’s your job and yours alone to provide that.

Let go of the need to explain.

You don’t need to possess the validation of another human being or even a dog for that matter–although I do like making dogs happy–to approve of or defend your position. If it’s how you feel, then it’s how you feel and you are more than allowed to have those feelings. The dog won’t mind. Others do not have to come to your way of thinking for your thinking and point of view to be valid. Only you will truly know what is best for you.

I remember back when my marriage was crumbling. We tried going to a marriage counselor and well, that doesn’t work when you ex is flirting with the naive counselor. She gushed over every word he uttered and got up and left. I decided to find a counselor of my own.

Once I found one, I recall sitting down in her office ready to melt into a puddle of emotions when I found myself apologizing for how I was feeling. Honestly, I began apologizing for all of my feelings. I said to her, in a disparaging tone, that I was a pretty awful person because I was always making emotional decisions. She came back with the most healing response I’ve ever heard.

She said, “So?”

I sat dazed and confused for a moment. (A little Led Zeppelin reference for you old rockers). I just looked at her and she kindly let it marinate for a moment as I sat there basking in her non-judgment.

She explained that most of society will say that emotional decisions are always equated with bad decisions but that your emotions tend to be very connected with your heart and heart decisions are not always a bad thing.

Her words were a glass of cold water in the desert to me. She gave me permission to feel what I was feeling without my usual guilt and shame that accompanies it. I desperately wanted out of my miserable and abusive marriage and somehow I was advocating for everyone but myself. What would happen to my then husband’s job, I worried. His profession looked down at divorce. What would happen to my children? I’ve always worried about them the most, not fully realizing at the time that the last thing children should be exposed to is abuse.

I learned eventually to give myself permission to feel what I was feeling. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t invite my brain to the party. I didn’t for a time and I learned. Now, all together, my heart, brain, and emotions make some pretty good decisions with learning to speak-up and self-advocating being at the top of that list.

Draw some big lines in the sand.

There’s a quote I frequently see floating around social media that says, “Be kind and loving, but have boundaries like a motherfucker.” Yep. That sums it up. Setting healthy boundaries can be tricky for some of us. Being a natural caretaker, empath, and recovering codependent, my first inclination is to take care of the other person and their feelings at the demise of my own.

We cannot simultaneously set a boundary and take care of another person’s feelings. It’s impossible; the two acts contradict.”

Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go

The writer who basically saved my life, Melody Beattie, brought light to the confusion of setting boundaries. She wrote that “We cannot simultaneously set a boundary and take care of another person’s feelings. It’s impossible; the two acts contradict.

Many times when we self-advocate we feel like we are stepping on another person’s toes. What if they get upset with us? What if we get fired? What if they decide to leave because of the boundary you have set? You must act in your best interest, period. Even if that means the other person doesn’t like what you have to say. You cannot control their reaction or the outcome from setting a boundary with another individual. The choice of how someone responds lies directly with them– and that’s okay!

Many times people can and will take advantage of those with weak boundaries. That’s why self-advocating through healthy boundaries is a must. It is self-preservation at its finest.

I’ve got your back.

Does self-advocating mean that you always have to go it alone? Of course not. It’s okay to have people in your corner. I hope you always have people in your corner. However, if everyone else is standing up for you and you’re not, then there’s a big problem. Others can never save you and you alone are responsible for knowing what’s best for your life. Opinions welcomed, not mandatory.

In my current life out of the ivory tower, I definitely seek council from many of my closest friends. I’ve chosen an incredibly strong, albeit smaller, circle of friends whom I trust explicitly. I will listen to their advice but I still make the decision I feel is best for me. It’s like the old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Being a Texas girl, that analogy speaks to me, but it is up to the horse if he wants to drink or not. Your friends can lead you to the water but if you want to drink it or not is up to you.

You owe it to yourself.

There’s always going to be difficult people and difficult situations in our lives. Always. Find your voice and try not to focus so much on the outcome. Learn to trust yourself and the process that follows after learning the art of self-advocating. Your path will appear when you bravely step in the direction of loving yourself. It’s okay to come out of your tower now. You’ve got this!

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