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Why is Self-Advocacy So Important?

When you think of self-advocacy, your mind might immediately go to asking for a pay raise or standing up for yourself. While true, self-advocacy is so much more than that.

And it can be tough to wrap our minds around.

None of us want to be thought of as selfish, a word that comes attached with so much negative connotation. Yet, self-advocacy isn’t selfish. Moreso, it’s linked with the ability to learn and voice what you want out of life.

And so much good comes from this, including (but not limited to) being free to go after that job you want, pursuing a relationship you’re comfortable in and that aligns with what you want in life, feeling like you belong, helping others feel like they belong, and then some.

In a way, self-advocacy skills are closely linked with learning and your ability to admit mistakes and improve upon them.

So, let’s dive a little deeper into this topic. What is self-advocacy? How does it benefit you? And how can you gain more self-advocacy skills?

What is Self-Advocacy?

There are technically three parts of self-advocacy. These include:

  • Knowing yourself
  • Knowing your needs
  • Knowing how to get what you need

It’s about learning to speak up, making your own decisions (without interference from others), the ability to gain info to understand things that are important to you, problem-solving, and more.

Other words that may strongly align with a self-advocacy definition are independence and courage. These are very closely linked.

But you can’t get to this point without truly knowing yourself (hello self-care and alone time!).

At the same time, self-advocacy is the ability to take responsibility, own your mistakes, and learn from them. Life shouldn’t ever become truly stagnant. In truth, we should always be learning, and sometimes, the best way to learn is by messing up (we all do it, it’s okay).

Usually, it’s how you handle your mess up after-the-fact that is really telling.

If you’re high in self-advocacy, you’ll probably handle these situations with grace, even if they result in the ultimate negative, such as getting fired from your job.

As a person high in self-advocacy, you’ll immediately set out on a job application spree and know your worth and what you bring to the table. All in all, this can result in a better job that you are more well-suited for - and you know it!

Alright, so what about the rest of us that aren’t great at self-advocacy? How can we overcome these barriers to self-advocacy and, ultimately, lead a better life?

The Basics: Self-Advocacy for Adults

Step 1: Believe in Yourself

This is a hard one. But you can do this - even from scratch and yes, even when you’re feeling down on yourself and out. Sure, things might suck right now. But you have the power to turn them around.

Believing in yourself also comes down to knowing yourself. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Try to be subjective, and try to avoid beating yourself up in the process (know that this doesn’t help).

Then, take those steps to treat yourself right. What can you do right now to be better to your number one - you?

That might mean showering for the first time in a few days. Or getting outside for a quick breath of fresh air. You know - even deep down - what will make you feel better, so do it. Prove to yourself you can trust yourself and that what you believe can happen.

And there’s something to be said about fake it until you make it.

Maybe you don’t really believe in yourself right now. Let’s pretend that you do - what would that look like? Push this along until you really believe in yourself. Deep down, part of you already does. You can’t see it yet, but you will!

Make sure to check out: How to Actively Practice Radical Self-Acceptance

Step 2: Raise Your Self-Esteem

I think we all struggle with self-esteem from time to time. It’s easy to critique ourselves, beat ourselves up, and treat ourselves the worst out of anyone.

The good news on this one is that you don’t have to work on improving it alone. Buddy up! Spend some time with a good friend and take about 15 minutes to tell each other what you truly love and admire about the other person.

Dig deep and let it all out.

If you don’t want to buddy up, take 10 minutes for yourself (or longer). Write a list of things you love about yourself.

If inspiration isn’t hitting right now, it’s okay. Come back to it. Create a list when you’re in a better state of mind. I actually have a list of everything I’m proud of myself for that I come back to during sad moments. This list boosts me up in those down moments. It reminds me of what I stand for and what I want from my life. And - you guessed it - it definitely elevates my self-esteem.

So, next time you feel good, write that list.

Boost your self-esteem. And then, refer back to it during those dark moments. It can really help, and it can prevent the serious spiraling of negative emotions.

Step 3: Define Your Needs

What do you need to feel good in a relationship, a career, or amongst friends?

When you believe in yourself and have higher self-esteem, this may come easy, or it might not, but knowing yourself is really important, especially if you want to self-advocate. This means knowing your wants and needs.

Now, this wants and needs list doesn’t have to be overcomplicated. Keep it simple.

What are your needs? What do you want out of life? What does this require? It may be a shortlist or a long list. The point here is to write it out and know it.

Make sure to read: How to Let Go of Negative Self-Talk

Step 4: Know Your Facts Before Your Self-Advocate

Alright, so you’ve hit all the three steps above - now what? Should you forcefully start advocating for all the things you want and need?

Let’s rewind for a quick second.

In any given situation where your using self-advocacy skills, you’ve got to know the full story. Get your facts. As humans, we assume far too much, and it gets us in trouble (watch any Hollywood movie, and this is the basis of any plotline: silly assumptions. If someone had just asked or said something, the main character wouldn’t be in a mess they are in).

Now, this may mean asking people who have done what you want to do or finding information regarding the rules or regulations relating to what you want (like a pay raise).

Or perhaps it means having a deep discussion with your partner about what you both want out of life. It’s okay if it’s not the same. Leaving a relationship is a form of self-advocacy. You won’t be happy if you’re forced into something you don’t want, and neither will your partner.

Being open to discussions and knowing that you don’t know can actually help you self-advocate.

It can help you gather information and understand the next steps you need to take to get what you want or need - without causing any wars or issues for others.

Self-advocacy really is a matter of assessing each situation, planning a strategy, and making moves. But you don’t want to go about this the wrong way. Keep an open mind. Don’t force things too hard but at the same time, stand firm in what you want or need.

When you do, your life path might start to take the direction you’ve wanted it to.

Self- Advocacy: It’s Not Just About Standing Up For Yourself

People can easily think they are honing in on self-advocacy skills, but in reality, they might actually be self-sabotaging.

Think about it. You believe you deserve a pay raise. You go into your boss’s office and haven’t gathered all the info about how this works. How will this play out? Possibly not that well.

Maybe your boss has no control of it, and you come off as accusing. From there, you don’t get a pay raise, and the situation escalates. Eventually, you’re out of a job.

I’m not saying this to scare you or prevent you from standing up for what you rightfully should have. I want to ensure we all treat ourselves right (and others) by self-advocating in the right way.

There is a diplomatic and strategic way to do it.

Be courageous but thoughtful. Stand up for yourself while being mindful of others and their abilities. Know what you want and need and communicate it openly from the get-go.

Self-advocacy can be learned, but many other factors come into the equation, like self-esteem, self-care, and believing in yourself. Working on you is a sure-fire way to get better at this.

And you know what? I believe in you!

Anyone has the ability to improve and change. If you find yourself agreeing as you read this, you’re already well on your way to becoming a better self-advocate.

Related article: How to Celebrate Yourself in 2021

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

"Believing in yourself is really half the battle," says Krista. Anything is possible and you really can achieve anything you set your mind to, is her motto. Physiotherapist, Piano player, skydiver, yogi, adventure traveler and energetic force of positivity, Krista is herself a (delightful) force to be reckoned with! As... Read More

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