As a Social Worker, advocating for others is standard practice. It comes naturally to most in the profession because they believe in their cause. The most passive person can become assertive when it comes to speaking up for a person or at-risk population. Believing in something is empowering. So how is it possible that seasoned professionals can struggle with self-advocacy? Why is it easier to stick up for others than it is to stick up for yourself? This last week, when my new baby was placed in the NICU, I realized that I am a terrible self-advocate!
Self- advocacy comes from believing in yourself. It comes from having the ability to take a step back or push the “pause” button on a situation to reflect on your own wants and needs. It’s much easier to be consistently aware of what a client or family member wants and needs. The challenge starts with being ACTIVELY mindful of your expectations.
The situations and events where self-advocacy becomes important are endless. Health (both mental and physical), wealth (financial stability), socialization, and obtaining goals all require a certain level of self-advocacy. Are you aware of your wants and needs when it comes to these areas? Do you melt into a puddle when a medical or financial professional suggests something different than what you had envisioned? I know I can’t be the only one. If you’re anything like me, you prefer to sacrifice yourself to avoid conflict.
Let’s stop that nasty habit, yeah? Here’s a plan for a new approach. Something that will help you gain confidence in advocating for the most important person in any equation… YOU.
STEP 1- HAVE A CLEAR VISION. When it comes to making decisions for something you want to happen, it’s important to have a clear vision of what that is. You might even want to make yourself a list of what you expect to take away from a particular event. So you’ll have a nice outline.
STEP 2- BELIEVE YOURSELF. It’s easy to become passive when a professional in the area you’re seeking help in makes recommendations. They’ve been extensively educated in this area, right? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you are required to accept their recommendations. Bottom line, you need to trust your instincts.
STEP 3- EMBRACE THAT UNCOMFOTABLE MOMENT. Have that conversation with the professional. Start it off with something like, “I am hearing your recommendations but I really don’t know if that treatment or plan is right for me”, or, “My gut is telling me I need to wait and think about it”. Unless it’s a medical emergency, you have permission to take time. It may feel weird telling the expert to hold on or no. But you need to honor you, not them.
I’m sure you can look back at a handful of situations where you should have stuck up for yourself. It’s going to feel awkward to shift that pattern but your confidence will improve each time you do.