Published on January 21st, 2014 | by Evita Gahagan

Speak Up For Yourself: Three Steps to Effective Self-Advocacy

My 7-year-old daughter picked up her 1-year-old sister who was deeply engrossed in making a block tower.

The little one shouted, “No!” and struggled to wiggle free.

This is self-advocacy.

The Ethnic Disability Advocacy Centre says, “Good self-advocacy [is] about speaking-up about your thoughts and feelings, asking for what you [want], working towards solutions, and making decisions for yourself.”

Babies, despite their primitive communication, seem to understand self-advocacy is a natural and essential part of our lives. It can be as simple as crying when something is uncomfortable. This basic human function gets complicated as we move into adulthood.

Care2 offers a simple formula for self-advocacy: “self-education + self-awareness + self-confidence = healthy self-advocacy.”

 self advocacy

1. Self-Education

When we are aware that all is not “fine,” we can take steps toward educating ourselves to find solutions.

If I’m not aware that my symptoms are more than just “tired mom of little children” and are actually more in line with Postpartum Depression (Postnatal Depression), how will I begin to gather the resources I need to care for my mental health?

Through the internet we may have at our fingertips the resources we need to live more fulfilling lives. Access to those resources begins by knowing our need of them.

Reading books or publications (like Wyn Magazine {grin}), and talking openly with friends can give us the language we need to research and understand more about what we’re going through and the alternatives to simply enduring.

When I had mentally unhealthy times, I didn’t want to simply lie down under it, a victim to a brain that chemically turns on me occasionally (although sometimes I did). What I needed was to know what was happening and whether there was something I could be doing, getting, or out-sourcing that would manage those symptoms or bring about recovery.

I started educating myself on the one subject in life that was always changing and yet had been the last on my list of priorities to learn about:


I was no longer the familiar self I’d met in my early 20’s, yet somehow I cared for myself as if my needs were the same: lots of social time, fast paced and challenging work loads, little sleep. Things that I thrived on over a decade ago were no longer doing their job of keeping me well.

2. Self-Awareness

When I started to learn more about who I am in my current season (a mom of three small children, living in a urban environment, married to a man who works full time in finance and is also a pastor of a growing church), I realized I had changed.

Observing that now I am far more introverted than I use to be, I could see that the things that used to rejuvenate me were now actually costing me my mental health. I need more than 5 hours of sleep a night. I need time to reflect—alone. I need to laugh more regularly and read things that stimulate the artistic side of my mind.

Through paying attention—another way to say self-awareness—I could seen the old ways weren’t working and practice new skills while gauging their success.

I increased my self-awareness through self-education: I took new personality tests, read articles on mental health and maintenance, consulted a nutritionist, and set out to be a non-professional expert on what would facilitate good mental health for me.

3. Self-Confidence

Healthy self-advocacy comes from a place of confidence, not fear.

We are able to play our unique roles more fully in our families, communities, and society at large when we are physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.

No one can know us better than ourselves, yet women tend to be the last ones to stick up for their own needs on a regular basis. Picture this scene at a restaurant: The dynamic and powerful woman ordering her food suddenly becomes a passive beggar, “Excuse me….um…Do you think there’s ANY way that it’s possible to please get a glass of water….?”

In a study on self-advocacy, Dr. Jacqueline Wiltshire and her colleagues found that women (and particularly black women) were less likely to speak up for themselves regarding their medical care (see an abstract of their study).

It may be easier to advocate for our personal needs if we have the flu or some chronic illness, yet we need just as much when we are having a stressful/depressing/emotionally complicated (read: mentally unhealthy) week.

Why do we so quickly require from ourselves 100% performance and gloss over those valid limitations?

We may have believed the lie so prevalent in our society: “Suck it up. Everyone has ‘needs.’ You are being weak.”

Whether or not you’ve been given a proper “diagnosis,” your needs are not illegitimate. It is imperative that in our awareness, we legitimize and prioritize our own mental health.

We must be our own strongest advocates.

Who else has a better incentive for our health? Who else knows the details of our daily lives? If I am not aware of my worth to myself, my family, and my community, how can I properly prioritize my care when I have demands pulling at me from all sides?

Over time, I decided to educate myself to be mentally healthy, I became more self-aware, and I began to speak up confidently to get my needs met. I’m thankful I’ve done those things. I realized I must be my strongest advocate for finding the right ways to have my needs met. It has proven to be the most loving thing I can do for my marriage, my children, and the community that I love and serve.

Photo by KDH0521 via Stock.Xchng

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