Like many people of my generation, I was raised in an Authoritarian household. I do not share this to bash anyone. I realize that for many of our parents, this was all they knew. Some may have chosen this style of parenting even if presented with other logical and healthy choices, but for many it truly was all they were ever exposed to.
As one example of being raised in an authoritarian fashion, if an adult asked for a hug (or most anything) I would be expected to comply. To pull back or to say no to anything an adult asked me to do would have been unthinkable. That is just one example and I know I’m not alone in this. It the way many of my friends were brought up as well. Especially if we were the more compliant types, we didn’t fight back on our behalf, or we may have even gotten a smack on the mouth or something of that nature. So, it has taken me a long time to realize the importance of advocating for myself. To boldly say:
“No, that doesn’t work for me.”
“No, I won’t be doing that.”
“No, I am not able to participate this time.”
“No, I cannot take that on at this time.”
I can advocate for other people all day long. I thrive on it. There isn’t an ounce of discomfort or hesitation for me when it comes to speaking up for others. If it comes to my attention that Mary is in need, or something unfair just happened to Mary, I can raise up my hand faster than the speed of light and say, “Hey, hey! Mary needs this…” Or, “STOP doing that to Mary right now, or there’s gonna be trouble!” I will be ready to take off my high heels and earrings at a moment’s notice and smack somebody down on Mary’s behalf but for me…I have just sucked it up way too many times. But I’ve gotten a lot better at it since I became aware of the need for change, and the Holy Spirit has helped me.
Speaking up for me takes a lot of deep breaths before I do. I still feel a twinge of guilt when I speak up for myself. I say with no exaggeration that if Jesus Christ came in the flesh and told me, “Deanna, stand up and do ‘this’ for yourself…” there would still be some part of me that felt a pang of guilt. I know that’s crazy and I hate that. Nevertheless, it is also the Spirit of God that compels me to advocate for me, because I know it’s what He wants. God doesn’t want me– or anyone, to live in such a way that we are wrangled into things that aren’t for us. He doesn’t desire us to live in manipulation and coercion and with someone else in the driver’s seat except Him.
I had an epiphany more recently that when I do not advocate for myself, I end up doing a lot of things inauthentically. Because I’m really not into it. I’m doing it because I feel forced into it, not because I want to do it. So it’s not real. As a person who is passionate about living authentically, I realize, the need for self-advocacy.
So…how can we do better at self-advocacy?
One excellent resource is the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud, and any book in the Boundaries series by Cloud. Keep in mind that the more upset people get when you set boundaries, the more it shows that the boundary was needed! Keep a pulse on what you are feeling when you deal with certain people in your life. If you are feeling shame, anxiety, fear, discomfort, or you are feeling manipulated in any way when you are around them, stronger boundaries need to be put in place with that person. If you are feeling discomfort with them on a regular basis, they are crossing lines with you that they have no right to cross. So, draw a line! If they do not respect the line, they do not really care about you.
Dr. Cloud says, “Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our nos. They only love our yeses, our compliance. “I only like it when you do what I want.”
If someone only loves you when you do what they want, they do not love you.
The bottom line is, you do not have to do something just because someone (or a bunch of someones) expect you to.
Dig Deeper and Ask Hard Questions
People often say things like, “I don’t want to go on this trip with my mother, but I HAVE to.”
But…do you really HAVE to? Look deeper and ask yourself some hard questions.
Am I doing this because I want to, or because I feel God wants me to…or do I just feel pressured to?
Am I doing this out of guilt, or desire?
Am I doing this only because it’s already paid for?
Do I really HAVE to go?
Speaking up and saying, “This doesn’t work for me. I will not be able to do this right now,” is not easy. So, more often than not we do what everything in us does not want to do. And then, we are miserable the whole time we’re doing it.
If you’re only doing it out of pressure it’s time to take a deep breath and speak up and say, “This doesn’t work for me. I’m not going to be able to go this time.”
“But wait,” you say. “I actually can go. I am able to go. So isn’t that a lie?”
Consider this…for the sake of your mental health, you are not able to go.
For the sake of your physical health, you are not able to go. (Does it make you feel bad in any way physically when you go through with things like this that you don’t want to do? I know it does me…)
There may be a reason you are “not able to go” that you just aren’t focusing on. Again, we tend to place our own needs aside for other people every time when we are a person who has a hard time advocating for ourselves. We will allow ourselves to feel sick to our stomach or deal with a stress headache all night long because we went through with something we didn’t want to do. Time to say NO!
Find Allies Who Will Help
I find that it’s hard for me to make changes in my life such as these without the help of allies. Being a believer, I want to have allies in my life who encourage me from God’s Word and also know how to pray and will be faithful to do so.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says:
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”
It is much easier to advocate for myself when I have two friends standing strong with me as I do it. Everything is different when you know you aren’t alone.
I often ask two long-time friends for their wisdom, and to cover me in prayer when I have to take that deep breath and say, “This doesn’t work for me.” They encourage me right up to the moment that conversation takes place, often through a quick text to let me know, “Hey! I’m praying right now!” and then they debrief with me when the conversation is over.
Finally, I know it is easy to just keep doing what you don’t want to do, and give in to the wishes of others every time. But choosing what is always easy is not good for anyone in the long run. What is easy is seldom what is always best for us or for anyone. Your spiritual, physical and emotional health depend on you doing the right thing, not just the easy thing. Being raised in an authoritarian way, we can be sucked into thinking that going with what others want (especially if they are our “elders”) is the noble thing to do, but not always. It is worth it to dig deeper for truth on this, because we will never go wrong listening to God.