Self-Advocacy and Assertiveness: The Way to Self-Love and Respect

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5540463792_5ed995cd6a_zHow often do find yourself in a place where you are not being heard, are being short-changed, or are just not getting the service or respect that you feel is warranted?

Let’s face it. We all have to deal with people who are just plain unethical, disingenuous, selfish, or incompetent, and we might as well get used to it. The goal is to not let these encounters affect our mental and physical well-being.  Whatever the reason for our need to speak up for ourselves, we all dread conflict (at least most of us do) as it makes us uncomfortable. We know complaining puts people on the defensive, and this will require you to be stronger and more forceful, which many people feel they can’t handle.  Some days we just can’t, or don’t want to, deal with the negativity.

Here are just some things you may be able to relate to when we need to be our own advocates:

  • Your wheelchair dealer gets your order wrong or the chair breaks and they won’t repair.
  • Your car repair man fixed your issue, but now there is a new problem when you get your car back.
  • The repairman in your home left a mess, or didn’t come back to finish the job.
  • The dentist fixed your tooth, but now it is sensitive to heat and cold.
  • Your specialist doctor won’t give you the RX you need any longer, and now wants you to go to your primary.
  • Your children’s school is not accessible, and you missed the drama performance.
  • Your hairdresser made your hair orange.
  • The vet has given you a ridiculously high bill, and you feel you ripped off.
  • Those damn people who abuse the handicapped spots. (For more on that, see Gina’s Article.)
Image of Gina by Loren Worthington for PhotoAbility.net

Image of Gina by Loren Worthington for PhotoAbility.net

You get the picture. I am sure you can all make a similar list. Probably just from things that have happened this week!

The emotional strength it takes to say: “Hey, excuse me, but I need to address this issue with you,” in a positive and constructive way, calmly and without anger, is often more than we can muster some days.  It is often much easier to advocate for someone else that you care about, than for yourself.  If someone messes with your child or loved one, we will more than often find the nerve and the fortitude to be the lion we need to be in defense of ourselves.

When it comes to our own needs, what do we often do?  We ignore it, let it go, accept it, and we do not advocate for what we deserve.

Well, STOP DOING THAT.

Stand up for yourself.  You deserve to be heard and to be taken seriously.  You deserve to get what you paid for, and you certainly deserve to have your time and your health respected.  You may be shy, and assertiveness may not come naturally. We are all different and unique, and that is exactly how it is supposed to be and what makes the world go round (imagine if we ALL had type A personalities!), but if your gut is telling you that you are being pushed too far, don’t ignore it. Take the steps you need to defend and protect your own best self-interest.

Courage is inner power to make you fight for your very existence, and trying when you know you may lose. Courage and determination makes a fighter.

 

When to self-advocate:

Simple: When your gut tells you “this is wrong”. When you feel hurt, angry, and taken advantage of, your body will tell you. It will cause you to feel the negative effects of stress and anger, or even depression will result.

Write out your issue, send an email, text, or call, and make sure you have your points ready to present.

Give the facts and leave the emotion out of it. Use “I” language and not “You,” which can feel like an attack to the person you are communicating with. Instead of saying, “You really screwed up my car,”  say, “I went here on this day, and I paid this to have my car fixed. I came back and noticed my rear door is not closing properly.”  Then STOP.  Let them reply.

Expect push back.  It is typical.  If you expect it, then you won’t be taken aback by it. Stay strong, assertive, and don’t back down. (Hey, if this were easy, no one would be a sucker, and all those who allow this is the reason you are probably getting bad service in the first place!) Expect to hear, “I have never gotten a complaint before,” or, “You’re the first person who was not satisfied.” Well, they are lying, or it is irrelevant. You are not satisfied, and you have good reason.

Calmly restate your desired outcome and then stop talking.  Don’t oversell, explain more than you have to, and JUSTIFY why you feel it is needed.  Your feeling is enough. It is not good enough. Period.

Next steps: If you cannot resolve the issue.

Google is your friend. “Should my new crown hurt?” Yep, you will find experts who will tell you are not crazy in case you began to doubt yourself.

Write about it on a pertinent community forum and get the advice you may not have considered.  Forums or Facebook groups can be amazing resources.

Get a professional opinion via search or sites such as “answer.com” or “ask.com.”  You can ask a tax question, a vet question, or a legal one, and you can set a price for the answer, and reject it unless you are satisfied.

Determine the proper channels to complain. Be it a licensing board, consumer complaint hotline, or a government agency. Determine if there is any recourse. It may feel like it is not worth it, but your money and your dignity should be valued.

Once armed with the new information, you can go back and re-address the issue with more confidence and knowledge.

If nothing works and you can’t get your complaint resolved or money returned, you may only be able to warn others to stay away from this business. Yelp, social media, and other platforms may be your last resort.

Unfortunately, self-advocacy takes time… and most of us don’t want to spend our days dealing with a negative headache.  So we let it go, and we go on with the broken chair, the broken car, the orange hair, or the poor workmanship. Sometimes you have to cut your losses, but at least by speaking up for yourself, you are building the courage and skills you might need for future issues.

It takes self-confidence.  Fake it if you have to, but start to build the real thing by not letting others take advantage of you.  Don’t mumble, look down, or sound scared.  Remember, don’t get attached to the outcome… just state your piece.  If you do not get the response you want, don’t take it personally, and just move on to the next person in the line of command.  Don’t get emotionally invested.  Look at it as a process, and go step by step until you feel you have a resolution. Stay calm.

Sometimes if feels like nobody cares about doing a good job anymore, or cares about their clients/patients or service. It can feel overwhelming. It often IS overwhelming. So take a deep breath, exhale, and remember that you are worth it.

Deborah Davis

Deborah is a Speaker, Disability Inclusion Consultant, Entrepreneur, Writer and Business Owner of Wheelchair Lifestyle Enterprise Push Living Inc.

She was a Former Dancer, Accident Survivor (C 6-7 Spinal Cord Injury resulting in incomplete Quadriplegia 1985), College grad (BBA Finance 1991 U of Miami), with a background in Sales and Marketing and Non Profit Development and Management.

She is now embarked on new path creating a market for Disability Inclusive Stock Images with the creation of PUSHlivingPhotos.com and publishing an online enterprise: PushLiving.com. The mission is to create Inclusion for people with disabilities through stock images for advertising, marketing and editorial uses, providing accessible properties for travel, swap or purchase, publishing an online magazine for improved health and well-being, providing information and opportunities for Accessible Travel, and operating an online store with products that improve lives.

She is most passionate about building a network of people with disabilities who are empowering, supporting and creating a more inclusive world. Personally, she is a mother of two beautiful, wise and exceptionally bright young women, and residing in South Florida.

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