Self-advocacy is an art unto itself, though many people either haven’t heard of it or don’t really understand what it is. When you go to a doctor or a therapist, it doesn’t matter how many online masters in counseling psychology programs they’ve got under their belt, they are there to assist you. The same is true of any profession, plumbing, electrical work, or building. However self-advocacy doesn’t just apply to economic or business transactions, it applies to your personal life as well, as self-advocacy is a tool used to assert yourself and ensure that you’re not getting walked all over by your boss or demanding family and friends.

Today we’re going to talk about self-advocacy skills, how to appropriately advocate for yourself, and more. 

What is Self-Advocacy?

When we self-advocate, we communicate and enforce our needs or boundaries. It sounds simple, but the act of self-advocating takes a lot of certainty and a fair amount of courage. It shouldn’t be difficult to do, after all, everyone has needs and (provided they aren’t being toxic or entitled about it) deserves to have those needs met. So why do some people struggle with it so?

There are a lot of reasons. The first thing is that environments where self-advocacy is usually necessary are usually in some sort of established power or authority dynamic. For example, a patient may accept a diagnosis from a doctor they believe to be fraudulent, but resist asking for further tests or a second opinion because the doctor represents the authority in a medical setting. A student who has received a bad grade unfairly may simply take it instead of putting their concerns to the necessary authority because the teacher is the authority in an educational setting.

To advocate for yourself demands that you either cut through or see past the established power dynamic. That you be certain enough to contend with someone that you are socially conditioned to think of as having more expertise and experience than you.

Self-Advocacy, or Entitlement?

Another part of the reason self-advocacy is difficult is that we often confuse it with entitlement. While the entitled and derogatory behaviour of so-called “Karens” has made for both disheartening and hilarious viewing, it is important to establish the difference between advocating for yourself and demanding to see the manager.

When you self-advocate, you merely establish your boundaries and desires and speak up about them. Advocating for yourself does not demand or warrant abusive language, raised voices, escalation to violence, threats, or threatening body language. A tirade of entitlement however is based on a sense of…well…entitlement. You aren’t asking simply for what you need when you act like a Karen, you are demanding what you want. Often in an abusive, unnecessarily cruel manner.

As long as you remain polite and courteous, and treat the person you’re engaging with respectfully, you have nothing to worry about. 

How to Self-Advocate

The most important thing with self-advocacy is to know where you stand. If you’re making unsubstantiated claims that authoritative bodies are telling you are false and providing solid evidence, but you’re insisting that you’re correct – you aren’t being an advocate for yourself, you’re being a conspiracy theorist. Possibly even a Karen.

Self-advocacy starts with one, simple thing. Knowledge. Understanding what your rights are and when they are being abused is the foundation of advocating for yourself. When you start a new job, for instance, it’s good to read through the contract thoroughly so that you know what it includes and how it protects you. People have saved their jobs by enforcing the rules of their contracts through self-advocacy.

This is why self-advocacy is important. It comes from an understanding of what you are entitled to, what you deserve or need, and sticking up for it according to your rights.

If you feel a doctor is missing the mark, that has direct consequences for your quality of life and well-being. You have the right to ask for a second opinion, or to examine a particular symptom more closely. You do not have the right to abuse a doctor for asking you to vaccinate, a medically proven, common, viable measure that protects yourself and those around you.

The Words

The final thing to be mindful of is that self-advocacy is also about tonality and phrasing. When you say “Give me a refund for this item I don’t have a receipt for you idiot or I’ll report you,” that isn’t self-advocacy, that’s entitlement and it’s problematic. You don’t have a receipt for the item, you are not legally entitled to a refund, but you’re using bullying to try and pressure someone into giving you what you want.

However, “Excuse me, I bought this item but it’s not the one I wanted. I have the receipt here, is it possible to get a refund?” is much better. You have explained the situation, you’ve explained what you need, shown that you’ve complied with policy to get what you want, and politely made the request. This is self-advocacy. Respectful, grounded, and calm. 

We hope this information helps. Self-advocacy can be scary, especially if you’re not used to doing it, and we understand that it can be easy to feel like a burden when asking for what you need. Don’t forget, you have a right to ask for your needs to be met, and as long as you’re doing so clearly, with no malice, bullying, or entitlement, you’re not being a Karen, you’re advocating for yourself.