In Darlene Lancer’s book, How to Speak Your Mind: Become Assertive and Set Limits, she recommends that you create a personal bill of rights. In this bill of rights, you are to consider the situations in your life in which these rights apply, how you currently handle them, what you want to happen, and to write statements setting your boundaries. She suggests that you think about all the times you say “yes” when you want to say “no.” She asks what prevents you from asserting your rights, and how you feel about all of this.
This has become paramount to what I’m experiencing right now in my life, and in fact, is quite overdue. Under the belief that I was living a more spiritual life, I neglected my own rights, out of fear of rejection. Having grown up in a dysfunctional home, I learned that my opinions and feelings didn’t matter. While I believe my family did the best they knew how at the time, and I don’t believe anyone consciously tried to put me down, that was what I learned. I felt small, weak, and unimportant. I made myself invisible so that I wouldn’t bother anyone because they all had their own problems, and I believed I would be loved if I didn’t contribute to those problems. I felt that I didn’t have a voice, and that belief has followed me throughout my entire life.
Well, let me tell you something. I do have a voice. And the world is about to hear it, loud and clear. I am woman. Hear me roar! Here’s my personal bill of rights. Maybe you will recognize yourself in this post, or find some hope regarding your own situation.
- I will be treated with respect.
I am a smart, interesting, beautiful, capable, and competent woman. I can do anything I choose to do. Sex is not the only thing I am good for, nor do I deserve to be in a relationship in which my partner asks for sexual favors as their Christmas or birthday present, under the excuse that they’re only thinking of me and how I don’t have much money. I can afford to buy thoughtful gifts. I am good at money management, and I can save for a nice gift, should I choose. I’m also an artist, capable of creating beautiful paintings that make excellent gifts. I deserve to be appreciated for the thoughtful gifts I have to offer. I am worthy.
- I will be treated with love.
If I find myself in a relationship in which the other person is incapable of saying the words “I love you” in return, such as when we’re in conflict, that will be my red flag to get out of this relationship. I don’t have to invest my time, energy, and heart into someone who’s unwilling, unable, or incapable of expressing his love for me. Just because someone else may have a mental illness, alcoholism, or simply be unable or unwilling to show me love does not mean I have to accept it and stay in the relationship. If that person warns me in advance that they will be cold and distant in a particular situation does not require that I accept those particular actions. For someone to refuse their love to me is in fact punitive and abusive behavior, and I will not tolerate it.
- I will love myself.
I will stay in touch with my friends and those people in my support network, and I will do what I need to do to stay healthy, happy, and sane. I will go to the gym, church, meditation, support groups, or whatever outlets I need to take care of myself. I will not allow myself to focus only on one person, or spend all of my free time doing what I think they want me to do. I will find a partner who loves himself.
- I deserve to be given attention.
If conflict arises and my partner needs time and space to sort out his thoughts and feelings, that’s okay, but not at the expense of my well-being. I need to know he’s invested in the relationship, that he still loves me, that he’s willing to work through it. I do not deserve to be ignored and left hanging indefinitely, without knowing what’s going on with him. I do not deserve to be attacked for not doing what he wanted me to do, or saying something he didn’t like.
- I deserve to be listened to.
When someone tells me they don’t like a certain behavior, I don’t need to file that away in my memory bank of things never to say or do. Instead, I can ask that person to explore why they feel that way, and I can speak my mind about the issue. If the other person feels attacked when I express my feelings or opinions on a subject, I don’t have to take it personally. Whatever someone else feels is not my fault or problem; I do not force another person to have a certain feeling. I can be sad when my feelings get hurt, but I choose my feelings. If someone attacks me, purposely or not, I can remember that whatever they feel is about them, not me. Think about it this way: a person can make a statement that one person would find hurtful, while another person might take it an entirely different way. It’s the same statement, but two different reactions from two different people. I am allowed to disagree.
- My opinion matters.
If someone else doesn’t like my opinion, that’s okay. No one has to like what I have to say. I am not obligated to agree with everything another person says or does. I am allowed to voice my opinion. We can agree to disagree. If the other person doesn’t like it, they don’t have to be around me. I will no longer shrink to fit someone else’s ideal of me, nor will I be quiet out of fear of being unloved. I am allowed to change my mind. I am allowed to stand up for what I believe in, and to hold my ground. If someone doesn’t like me for my opinion, I can live with the rejection.
- My feelings matter.
My feelings are just as valid as anyone else’s. Just because my significant other may not always be capable of rationality or kindness does not mean I have to silence myself or allow my needs to go unmet.
- I agree to do what I feel comfortable with.
“No,” is an acceptable answer, and if my partner doesn’t accept that as a valid response, I am not obligated to grovel or stay around because I didn’t take an action when they wanted me to, or in the exact way they wanted me to do it. I don’t have telepathy, and if I did, it wouldn’t matter, because I am not obligated to become someone else’s puppet. I am my own person, and I stand my ground.
- I am allowed to make mistakes.
I deserve to be forgiven when I apologize for the mistakes I’ve made. I do not deserve to be punished for my wrongdoings, nor do I deserve someone else’s refusal or inability to let go of a grudge. Scorekeeping has no place in a healthy relationship, and I refuse to allow myself to stay in an unhealthy situation. If a person is incapable of forgiving me, the relationship is not going to work. No relationship is without conflict, and no one is perfect. Each individual is allowed mistakes. Forgiveness is key; if one person cannot forgive the other for their mistakes, then it won’t work. Nothing I have done is unforgivable in my mind, but if he feels it is, then he’s allowed to believe that. I do not have to apologize repeatedly, especially for not being there emotionally for someone 100% in the way they wanted only three months after my mother died.
- I will speak without being interrupted.
When I have something to say, I will say it. I will not fear that it’s the wrong thing to say, or that whatever I say may be rejected or damaging beyond repair. If someone else interrupts me, I will say, “Please let me continue, and then you can have your turn.” If they refuse to hear me, I don’t have to be around them, and we can end the conversation right then and there.
- I am self-supporting.
I do not need someone else to validate me. I have been taking care of myself emotionally for my entire life, and am quite capable of continuing to do so—but now I know I have the help of God, which I did not know until six and a half years ago. I have been taking care of myself financially for my entire adult life, from the age of 18, without the help of anyone else, including my parents. I do not need a sugar daddy, nor do I want one. Everyone wants to feel supported, and sometimes that can lapse into unhealthy dependence. What that happens, you stand up and fight for your independence. You do not, as was suggested to me by my acupuncturist’s assistant, go to a fetish website and find a sugar daddy. That suggestion quite frankly pisses me off. I stand strong, on my own.
Interestingly, the thing about me feeling small, weak, and unimportant as a child and well into today is that, as a child, I felt that way because of the chaos around me, but then I reinforced my feelings of insecurity by making myself invisible. Throughout the years I’ve reinforced those feelings continually, so that my feelings have become reality, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The real eye-opener in relationship is how the couple handles conflict. If one person is unwilling to try to work through it, there’s no use in continuing. My belief was that each of us can get through anything in life as long as we’re willing, and even those with mental illness (depending on the illness and treatment), alcoholism, or whatever issue they may have, provided they’re taking steps to take care of their illness, can be in a healthy, loving relationship.
In Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, the authors (Julie Fast and John Preston) write that something like only 10% of relationships in which one partner has bipolar disorder work out. I thought my former partner and I would be part of that 10%. I thought if I just tried hard enough, if I just read enough books about it, if I just went to enough support group meetings, if I just apologized enough, if I just treated him with love no matter what, if I just let him do and say what he wanted whenever he wanted without voicing my opinions or feelings until the time was right (which turned out to be rarely), then it would work out. In hindsight, I can see now that nothing I could have done or not done would have caused this relationship to work (or not work). I cannot control someone else’s feelings or actions. I can only do my part, and I did the best I could with what I had.
When I explained the situation to my friends, family, therapist, and acupuncturist, they each said, “That’s abuse.” These were exactly the words I needed to hear. If you have a loved one in a similar situation, they may not know, as I didn’t know, that they’re in an abusive relationship. When someone withholds their love from you or refuses to talk to you, that is abuse. It became an unhealthy, codependent relationship.
I had no idea that I was allowing myself to be emotionally abused. I thought I was being a spiritual person. The thing is, I am not Mother Teresa—and I doubt even Mother Teresa would allow herself to be treated like this. I am learning a lot of hard lessons from this relationship, but I will come out stronger for it. I will not give up. I am resilient. I am a strong, smart, and beautiful woman, and I deserve to be treated with love and respect.
In these rights I have asserted for myself, I do not mean to imply that what I’ve done or haven’t done is anyone’s responsibility but my own. I choose my own actions, and I will not hold someone else responsible for what I do or say. That person may choose to hold me or others responsible, and if so, that’s their choice and not my problem. My responsibility is to myself, and I choose to learn and grow from this. Unfortunately, for me, growth has only come from pain. But that’s okay. I will survive. I am a survivor.
Speaking of being a survivor, here’s one of my new theme songs, “Survivor,” by Destiny’s Child: