Advocating for Ourselves

“Self-advocacy is the choice to take control of your life” – Abby Edwards

Survivors can especially benefit from improving their self-advocacy skills in navigating the healing journey, justice pursuits, and their lifelong well-being. Self-advocacy skills can be used in any arena of life, from interpersonal relationships to the classroom to the workplace, on the field, or on the court. 

We have victim, legal, and health advocates; these resources are valuable. Nevertheless, our most important tool is being able to advocate for ourselves. 

Self-advocacy specifically refers to knowing your needs and rights, garnishing any needed support, and carrying out plans and communications with yourself and others to meet these needs.  

Most simply put, you are the expert on you! No other person, professional, expert, or system! In this day and age, we live in a world of go-getters, complex systems, experts, and antiquated norms. We hear ongoing opinions, advice, and recommendations from others, on what we should or could do. We tend to put others on a pedestal and trust their insights and guidance. Most certainly, consider these inputs, just remember that seeking resources and information is about gathering an understanding of options and choices. 

The decision around those options and choices is then in your hands. Sometimes, we can feel pressured or think others have our best interests at heart and know best, and maybe they do, or at times, your choice is similar to their proposed outcome…The bottom line is that no one else lives your life and is in your shoes or with you 100% but you. You ultimately know what is in your best interest. 

Self-advocacy is not being selfish, rude, or confrontational. It is about personal empowerment, self-reliance, self-compassion, self-awareness, self-care, and self-love. 

Our bodies have an internal alarm and messaging system through our intuition and emotions. If and when we listen, tune in, and check in with ourselves we can identify cues regarding what feels in alignment and what feels off. By honoring our internal compass and trusting our bodies, we can better see opportunities in which we could advocate for ourselves – perhaps for changes we need in our interpersonal relationships and environments. Take a moment now for a deep breath and to reflect on any sticky points you may feel in your life; take note of changes you’d like to have happen to feel more calm and content. 

Ultimately, when we are asking what we need for ourselves, we are doing what is best for everyone. When our needs are met, we feel supported and can operate at our best. Practicing self-advocacy builds internal knowledge and strength in respectful communication, seeking support, and understanding the uniqueness of ourselves and others. 

So when and how do you advocate for yourself?  You could be starting on a new sports team and want to ensure they have a safe and supportive environment. Or you want to make changes in your current sporting community. Or your care plan or justice-seeking option is not working for you….Try these steps!

Step 1: Identify and Educate 

  • What do I need?
    • If you do not know right now what you need in this circumstance, situation, or environment, then you need time and space to figure out what you need. It can be helpful to set aside some space to reflect. Think about the gap between how you are currently feeling and how you would like to feel. Then it may be easier to map out what you need to feel a different way. 
  • What are my rights?
    • Research and learn more about policies, accommodations, and options that exist regarding the issue at play. Information about expectations and responsibilities can help offer insight into resources that may be available. 

Step 2: Support and Practice

  • Practice using “I” statements to flesh out what you want, need, and desire.
    • Remember this is about you and speaking these out to a trusted person or writing them down can help you focus and fine-tune your wishes. For example, “I need my coach and teammates to respect my boundaries,” “I need time alone to process what’s been going on” or “I need to get help managing my emotions.”

Step 3: Proactive and Persevere 

  • Do your best to get ahead when possible - you can always advocate for yourself and change at any time. Speaking up proactively, in the moment, and after the fact is all part of the process. Persevere, know your non-negotiables, and keep seeking the outcome you desire.
    • Some helpful tips include having someone with you when you are speaking up for yourself, talking to another person if the first person disregarded your needs and requests, and documenting your efforts and results to track progress and changes. 

We do not have control over how others may respond to our self-advocacy efforts, and we do not control if others can meet our needs. What we do control is our volition in speaking up for our needs, and deciding what actions we want to take next if our needs are subsequently met or not met. If something doesn’t feel right, practice self-advocacy and get the changes you need!

For developing other personal tools like self-advocacy check out the Athlete Toolkit, and as always visit our resources for any additional support.

Kathryn McClain, MSW, MBA

Program and Partnerships Director at #WeRideTogether

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