Unlock Self-Advocacy, Achieve Happiness

A Lesson in Shame

My son is 10 years old.  When he speaks, he does so in such a rambling manner: doubling back on his words and elaborating on things already said, running down distant tangent paths that never return to the original point; until eventually he just kind of fades out without talking about whatever it was he originally wanted to say. 

For the longest time, I simply chalked that up to his very inquisitive, creative, and ever-busy mind. 

But, a few weeks ago, my husband noticed something else about his speaking habits.  When he has command of others’ attention, he fidgets with his hands: pulling, twisting, cracking his fingers. 

I stopped him the other day, putting my hand over top of his.  “Wait”, I said.  I paused and got his full attention before continuing, “I want you to speak loudly and clearly and move forcefully to your point. “You have just as much right as anyone else to talk.  And if you don’t feel that way, it is my fault, and the fault of everyone else who is supposed to teach you to feel loved.” 

He kind of giggled nervously, to ease my very serious tone.  But I think he felt relieved.

He didn’t even know what he was doing.  He just knew that whenever he opened his mouth, he felt some sense of shame, and it was confusing his thoughts and making it hard for him to speak clearly.  As his mother, it breaks my heart. 

What is Self-advocacy?

The 3 parts of self-advocacy are:

  • Knowing yourself
  • Knowing your needs
  • Knowing how to get what you need and from whom

It is easily one of the preeminent skills necessary for the 21st century.

In my years as a teacher, I used to tell parents, “If I could paint something all over the walls of my classroom, it would be the definition of self-advocacy”!  It was always a goal of mine that my students would leave me at the end of the year knowing how to better speak up for their needs. 

What I didn’t realize until later on, is that self-advocacy was too advanced for many of my kids.  For too many of them, I was trying to light a fire in them for which there was simply no spark at all.  Self-advocacy was way too far out-of-reach.  

You see, the problem is, we can’t even start to teach self-advocacy skills until we repair the existing damage people—like my son—are walking around with, or otherwise help establish a rock-solid foundation upon which to build those skills.

Before we can encourage self-advocacy, we have to teach three other primary lessons.

  1. Erase Negative Internal Messages
  2. Understand Your Worth
  3. Believe in the Value of Your Needs

1. Erase Negative Internal Messages

Internal messages are core beliefs that we repeat consciously and subconsciously, and which we manifest through actions that support those beliefs—whether they be positive or negative.   

Pretty obviously, these internal messages can either be true or false.  They can be as harmless as, “I am a tennis player”, which will manifest itself more forcefully on the tennis court than say, “I’m trying to learn tennis”. 

Or they can be extremely damaging like, “I am a victim”, which will lead to self-sabotage in personal and professional relationships; or can cause you to enter into unhealthy relationships or other risky behaviors.

The Problem:

When we repeat our messages so often, they all become true—at least as far as our minds and bodies are concernedOur bodies can only operate on the thoughts we feed it; and our mind, which is a giant “problem-solver” seeks to manifest internal messages into reality so our thoughts and actions are in harmony with one another. 

Wait, what?

In short: if positive, our internal messages create power and fulfillment and attract success.  With those skills, we can unlock and learn self-advocacy. 

But, internal messages that are negative: “I can’t learn this”, “I’ll never be good at this”, “I can’t…, I tried… that’s not who I am…” can only produce failure and other negative outcomes. 

On these messages, no self-advocacy skills can be built. 

The Solution: Stop saying negative things about yourself.

In order to create a foundation upon which we can build self-advocacy skills, the first thing we have to do is erase negative Internal Messages.

Trevor Moawad teaches that it’s not so simple to transfer from negative thinking to positive thinking.  Just like a car, we can’t move it straight from Reverse to Drive.  We first have to put it in Neutral. 

In other words, before we can start positive thinking, we simply have to put ourselves in a neutral position and stop thinking negatively.

Moawad cites these statistics:

  • Saying something out loud is 10x more powerful than thinking it.
  • Negativity is 4-7x more powerful than positivity

That means saying something negative out loud about yourself is, at minimum, 40x more powerful than positive thinking, and 40x more likely to manifest negativity in your life. 

Want to create a foundation upon which you can build those vitally important self-advocacy skills?  Stop saying negative things about yourself.  Stop thinking them, stop repeating them, stop vocalizing them. 

2. Understand your Worth

How could we ever expect anyone to stand up and advocate for their needs if they don’t feel inherently good about themselves?  Without that firm belief, what are they advocating for? 

Do we try and garner support for a cause we don’t believe in? 

Then how can we start advocating for our needs if we don’t believe ourselves worthy of those needs? 

The Problem:

Small children are profoundly impressionable.  Their brain structure in infancy is comparable to an empty sponge—poised to soak up information from their surroundings.

But their malleability doesn’t end with their intellect.  Children are absorbing everything: from language, to emotions, to behavior, to perceptions about themselves and others.      

Everything is taught to children—whether good or bad, intentional or unintentional.  And one of the things being taught is whether or not a child has worth.

Children frequently receive “evaluative” responses in their childhood:

  • “You’re a good boy”
  • “Good girls don’t pull hair”

And from those statements, we learn to equate our mistakes and successes with our inherent worth

By the time we become teenagers, we believe our worth is negotiable.  We have received thousands of nicks and cuts that have marred our self-worth, and we carry around a big bag full of criticisms that we periodically take out to cut and bruise ourselves with.    

Even worse, we empower others: friends, parents, teachers, to dictate our worth. 

  • I am good because I’m an ‘A’ student; I am bad because I’m a ‘C’ student.
  • I am good because I look like a model; I am bad because my nose is too big. 

The Solution: Understand the Divine Nature of Your Worth

The truth?  Our worth has nothing to do with our actions or behaviors on Earth.

“None of us come to this earth to gain our worth; we brought it with us.”

Sheri L. Dew

Read that again.

Our worth isn’t negotiable.  It was bestowed on us whole and complete. 

  1. Life is not a race that separates the “Haves” and the “Have-nots”. 
  2. We are not in a competition to obtain a limited amount of worth. 
  3. Most importantly, no one else assigns or dictates our worth.

We are all human.  As such, we are all children of God.  That Divine nature is what determines our worth, nothing else.  And that worth is complete, unalterable, and equal to—not greater or less than—everyone else. 

3. Believe in the value of your needs

The equality of our Divine nature that we all share also means no one’s needs are greater or less than anyone else’s.   

We joke around with the idea of “First-world problems”: “My bottled-water is too expensive”, “I scratched the back of my new iPhone”, “My neck hurts, I need a massage”.   

But, when it comes to legitimate needs, the reality is, a need is a need. 

The Problem:

Too often we believe our needs are less important than others, and often discredit them so greatly that they are completely ignored until they grow into a crisis of need. 

Yes, we may sometimes need to distinguish needs from wants, but when it is legitimately a need, then no one individual’s is less significant than another’s. 

Have you ever found yourself poised to ask someone for help, and then they tell you a big problem they’re struggling with?  Then, when they ask you what it was you were going to say, you reply, “Oh nothing. It doesn’t matter.”

Why do we do this?  We’re going to leave our needs unfulfilled because it appears to be less serious than the one it’s standing next to? 

Needs need to be met, period.  And if we can’t fill them ourselves, we need to seek help

The problem is, we discredit our needs.  We tie them to our flagging self-worth: “My needs aren’t as important as so-and-so’s needs”.  This is inherently incorrect.  Your needs are just as important, they’re just different. 

The Solution: Stop determining the worth—or lack thereof–of your needs. 

When we participate in the scenario described above, do we ever stop to think, maybe helping with someone else’s needs is the exact act of service that person needs to forget their own troubles? 

“…the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others…”

Gordon B. Hinckley

Who are we to deny someone the potential happiness they can reap from helping us?   

If we can honestly, truly believe that we all possess equal worth as sons and daughters of God, the next step is to believe that our needs possess similar worth

Then, and only then can you learn to speak up for yourself—to advocate for your needs. 

Now We Are Prepared to Learn Self-Advocacy

Only after we learn to practice these three integral things:

  1. Stop speaking negatively of ourselves
  2. Believe we are endowed with innate worth
  3. Understand that our needs also have value

…will we have a strong enough foundation that we can unlock self-advocacy.

When we advocate for ourselves, we recognize and accept that we need help, that we are worthy of help, and identify who can help us best. Then, and only then, are we able to unlock our potential and achieve happiness.  

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