Self-advocacy is a key factor in wellness and empowerment. But what does it actually mean and why is it so important?
In its simplest form, advocating for ourselves means speaking up for what we want or need. It seems simple, but in practice it can be harder than it sounds. We are often conditioned to associate self-care with selfishness, and self-advocacy with pushiness. And this can be especially prominent if we are prone to people-pleasing.
We might refrain from voicing feelings or personal needs that we deem socially inappropriate. But it doesn’t stop at feelings, it can spill over into simple practical things too. Like refusing something that is offered to us for fear of being greedy. Staying in a situation we feel uncomfortable with so we don’t upset someone else. And even smaller things like needing to use the bathroom during a work meeting, but feeling we should wait until the end, even though our body is begging us to go.
It’s not hugely surprising when are aren’t culturally taught to advocate for ourselves. And when people do overtly stick up for themselves, it can make us feel uncomfortable. But why is this? Historically, many cultures have operated from a system of hierarchy with power structures that kept people in their place and used status to control rather than enable. That mindset has trickled down for generations, and even though things have moved along, it’s still not uncommon to feel we need to know our place and hold our tongue.
But the thing about speaking up for ourselves is that it’s not only vital to personal wellbeing, but it also affects the people around us. If we fail to meet our own needs and become tired and depleted, then we are less positive to be around. And while we do not have a responsibility to make everyone else comfortable, the irony is that making others feel better is what drives people-pleasing in the first place. The very thing we are trying to do is exactly what we end up not doing.
The other important thing to understand about being scared to self-advocate, is that we often make assumptions about other people’s feelings. Here’s an example: someone you’re visiting offers you a refreshment, but you say no because you don’t want to be a bother. You assume it will be a trouble for them. But maybe they wanted to feel like a good host. Or maybe they needed a refreshment themself and didn’t feel comfortable without providing for their guest too. Not only was the assumption inaccurate, but it actually hindered them from doing what they wanted in the moment.
The truth is, we nearly always project our own lens onto any given situation. And that might be shaped by self-esteem, previous conditioning, or an entirely subjective viewpoint. So unless the other person has explicitly stated their feelings, then we are merely assuming on their behalf and might be wrong in that assumption.
Ultimately, speaking up for what we need is a form of truth that avoids unnecessary and possibly inaccurate presumption. It empowers us to manage our own wellbeing and be our best, both for ourselves and those around us.
So whether we want a simple refreshment or something much more important, we should always feel empowered to voice our needs. Because it’s not our job to manage other people’s feelings, and even if it was, we’re not telepathic anyway!