Being your own advocate

Advisor speaking with studentHave you ever spent a long time thinking about how to ask for something from someone, only to have that person not respond or dismiss your concerns? Or have you ever stayed up at night thinking about other ways a recent conversation could have gone? It can be crushing to feel like your needs and feelings have been minimized. Knowing that the people you're approaching are besieged many requests and information from multiple places, it can be easy to feel like your requests and concerns are unimportant. So, what can you do to make your voice heard? Be your own advocate.

According to healthyplace.com, “Being a good self-advocate means taking personal responsibility for your own life - putting yourself back in charge and staying there. Speaking out means insisting that others respect your rights and treat you well.” Believing in yourself and your needs is the first step to putting your self-advocacy into action.

In general

Before you ask for something, think about what it is you actually want and need. Write it down if you need to, make a few drafts of how you want the conversation to go and even take the final draft in point form with you. That way, when you approach the person you are making the request of, you’ll have a clear and concise plan for what you want to say.

Even if the subject matter of your request is serious, try to approach the conversation in a positive and organized manner. An article from mentalhealthrecovery.com suggests, “How you say something often makes a greater impression than what you say. State your message clearly and simply. Tell the person exactly what it is that you want. Explain why you need it.” It is also important to remember to be respectful of the other person's perspective and time, even if the conversation doesn't go the way you hope.

At school

An example could be that you would like an extension on an assignment due to extenuating circumstances like a breakup or an illness. Instead of sending an email, consider making an appointment with your instructor to speak in person. Make sure you understand how they like to be addressed (for example, if they prefer Dr. Smith or Professor Smith) and how to say their name in advance. When you request your extension, have a reasonable plan already formulated that shows when you plan to finish the assignments and the steps you will take to make it happen. Explain your circumstances calmly and, if possible, provide a reference for your illness like a Verification of Illness form from Health Services or a Support Letter from Counselling Services.

If your conversation with your instructor does not work out the way you hoped, consider your options. Faculties have different policies regarding extensions, so do your research to find out which apply to your situation. If there is an appeals process, consider whether that is something you are interested in pursuing. Or maybe you’ve decided that’s where your advocacy will end, and that’s alright too. Only you can know how best to advocate for yourself and circumstances. Feel proud that you’ve tried to make a positive change in negative circumstances and take notes afterwards for how you’ll handle the situation in the future.

In a relationship

In any relationship, whether it is a friendship or a romantic relationship, you need to practice self-advocacy to make sure you stand up for your needs. It could be that you hesitate to disagree with the other person because you are afraid to make the other person unhappy. But honouring your own feelings is important, and keeping your thoughts to yourself can lead to feeling resentful of the other party.

According to the University of Washington’s Health and Wellness department, communication is one of the key components to a healthy relationship: “When you and your partner are communicating, try to make them feel justified in their emotions…Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Be as clear and direct as possible.” This advice holds true for friendships too. Setting clear expectations and boundaries is important to successful social relationships.

Remember

Life is full of ups and downs, but if you practice self-advocacy and stick up for yourself, you can help ease yourself through many experiences in your life. Need help becoming your own advocate? See our resources section for more information and links, or consider booking an appointment with a counsellor for coaching on how to self-advocate.

Sources: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-illness-overview/speaking-out-for-yourself-self-help-guide/

http://mentalhealthrecovery.com/info-center/how-to-self-advocate/

http://depts.washington.edu/livewell/advocate/healthy-relationships/

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