When Ron first went to prison, I felt so intimidated by….
well, by just about everything and everybody. It was really hard to stand up for myself. I felt as if I was not entitled to have a voice. This stemmed from feeling like a second-class citizen and unimportant. Read more of my story.
I felt as if everyone viewed me as pathetic, ignorant, or stupid because my husband was in prison and I was still married to him. Those feelings of being “less-than” caused me to avoid confrontation. I began to feel disgusted with myself for not standing up for my family and myself. I didn’t want to step out of the way so everyone else could get what they wanted anymore. This gave me the courage to speak up and change things. I made a decision that changed our lives. I decided to find my voice and use it.
There are so many places and situations that require us to speak up.
Getting visits approved and visitors approved on the list, our child’s education, our education, our employment, navigating government assistance programs, family disagreements, and so many more. Normal life requires us to be able to speak clearly and state what we want. But when your husband is in prison, it becomes even more important! Now, we are the only ones negotiating with the bank, talking to the teachers at school, explaining why we want our money back, convincing someone to hire us, take something back, or give it to us for a better price……. the list goes on and on!
“If we don’t know how to advocate for ourselves and our family, we will never get what we really want out of life. We will walk in fear, anger, and resentment. Knowing how to find your voice and use it is one of the first steps to becoming successful in overcoming setbacks and letdowns.”
Most of the time, people either hide their feelings and run, or they vent their anger and walk away.
Do you see what I just wrote? Whether they are holding in their disagreement or letting it all out, they are still retreating in the end. Retreating is so much easier than finding a resolution. Working with someone else to resolve a disagreement takes commitment, self-control, and skill. When we feel disregarded or “lower” than others, it becomes nearly impossible to find the courage to advocate for ourselves or our families. Instead of working toward an agreement, we find ourselves giving up or only working to prove we are right and demanding we get our way.
If our only goal is to prove we are right, we are struggling with self-identity and self-confidence. When we have confidence in ourselves, we want to be heard and understood more than we want to be right. Being right is great, but it doesn’t always get us what we want. Respect, friendship, and support are all gained when we advocate instead of arguing.
You’re probably wondering what the difference is between advocating and arguing. Here is how to know the difference:
Prove that I am right
Only care that I win
Show my frustration by either raising my voice or the tone of my voice
Don’t care what they have to say or how they feel about me
Figuring out what I will say next while they are talking (so I am not really listening)
Seek to understand and be understood
Care that the outcome is fair and just
Maintain a calm tone of voice
Want to leave and have them want to help me
Causes respect to be earned
We all want to earn a good reputation and be taken seriously. Raising our voices, threatening people, or demanding our way does not help us reach those goals. Even when we disagree, we must speak calmly and respectfully. Acting kindly and calmly does not mean backing down! We can stand our ground longer when we are calm, and we will also gain support from others. Sometimes, it can be really hard to advocate and not to argue. But that is when it is even more important to use skill to make your point. When we use skill to talk to people and share our opinions and concerns, it makes it harder for them to ignore us, talk down to us, or fight with us. Read other communication tips I’ve learned here.
Many, many times over the 15 years Ron was in prison, I had to advocate for something. The times I remained calm and looked for a way to solve the problem, I gained. The times I slipped into yelling or arguing, I always lost. I might have gotten my way in that moment, but I lost because my reputation was hurt or I was excluded in the future.
Here are 8 tips to help you find your voice and advocate when you need to:
- Breathe – This may seem silly, but it really does help. Five or ten big, deep breaths help clear your mind and calm your emotions.
- Stand up – Stand as tall as you can in front of a mirror with your hands on your hips for three minutes before making that call, writing that email, or walking up to talk to someone. This helps raise our confidence for the tough conversation we are about to have.
- Practice – Rehearse what you will say and how you will keep yourself calm. This is especially important if your emotions are intense.
- Eye Contact – Super, super, super important to make unwavering eye contact. Remember you can blink, but don’t look away.
- The 3 F’s – I heard this somewhere, and it has become my guiding principle! Be fair, firm, and friendly. This one can move mountains!
- Accountability – Tell someone you are going to do this. When we say it out loud, “I have a problem, and I am going to contact someone to resolve it,” it causes us to feel good pressure to actually do it.
- Take Action – As soon as you realize there is a problem, give yourself 48 hours to take action.
- Celebrate – When you advocate and do not get drawn into a fight, reward yourself! My favorite reward is food. Find something that makes you feel good – a movie, book, long bath, etc. – and enjoy it!
I really want to encourage you to not just sit there when things happen in your life. Finding your voice is a powerful way to regain control of your life. When you have control, you can set the course for a much better future!
I am rooting for you!