By Barbara Davis
Last week my son and I needed advice and advocacy on a matter involving a government agency. I asked a friend and advocate to go with us to meet with the agency staff. When I did this, some eyebrows were raised, probably because asking him to go with us looked like we could not advocate for ourselves. In truth, I was afraid of that myself. While my son usually does a pretty good job for himself, this was a new situation for him. Also, I was so overwhelmed at the time that I lacked confidence. I thought having someone come with me would serve as a reminder to stick to my guns, which it did.
Over the past thirty years I have come a long way from the non-assertive, shy wimp I once was. With the help and advice of others, I have attended assertiveness and self-advocacy workshops and read numerous self-help books. My favorites among these are The Dance of Anger, What Smart Women Know and So You Had Controlling Parents. Healing from the fallout of toxic relationships is a huge step toward healthy assertiveness.
It is not easy to become your own best advocate, but with determination and persistence, it is possible, no matter how shy and non-assertive you may be now. Below are some tips that I have learned along the way:
Learn everything you can about assertiveness techniques
Read, attend workshops, and seek advice from people whom you feel are excellent self-advocates.
Keep abreast of current legislation that can impact your rights
It is difficult to advocate for your rights if you don’t know what those rights are. The internet is a terrific place to search for information. Social service agencies often provide workshops pertaining to the rights of a specific group of people. The library and other community organizations generally keep postings on their bulletin boards about these workshops. Find a workshop that pertains to you and attend it.
Put what you learn into practice
Granted, learning your rights and how to become assertive is an important first step. The second most important step is to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t attempt the assertiveness techniques that you have learned, you are not very likely to become a successful self-advocate.
Don’t let your failures drag you down
You are not going to run before walking or crawling. Begin with baby steps. If you don’t succeed, give yourself a pat on the back for at least trying. Be patient with yourself, and don’t give up. Eventually you will see that the more you assert yourself, the easier it will become to continue doing so.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
We all slip and slide in our quest for self-improvement. Grief, financial hard times, an overwhelming number of hoops to jump through, and illness or injury can erode our self confidence and sap our energy. This makes it easy to fall back into old non-assertiveness habits. If you feel you need to, ask someone you trust to go with you. It could be that simply having that person there will serve as a reminder that you need to stay on track.