One of the tools I used to fight my way clear from anxiety (now 20 years ago – doesn’t seem possible that so much time has passed) was a program called CHAANGE. I’ve mentioned this program before here in my blog – it is a series of notes and cassette tapes created by two women, Anne Seagrave and Faison Covington, with the assistance of their therapist at the time.

One of the useful pieces I took away from that work was two sheets of statements about our rights as human beings. It was, at least for me at the time, fairly radical (and new) thinking – these rights they were proposing as common to all of us.

I’ve wanted for a long time to take the best of those two lists and talk about them briefly here, primarily because I feel very strongly that they represent what I might call advanced self-care. Self-care, if you recall, is one of the four basic skills I advocate as essential in overcoming anxiety. It is in some respects the platform upon which we can build much, much healthier thinking.

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So here we go – let’s talk about some basic human rights we need to champion in our own lives.

We have the Right to say No

One of the things that struck me as I gained some distance from my long years of chronic anxiety was how willing I had been, during those years, to abandon something as fundamental as my control over my time and energy. More accurately I saw that in some ways I had NEVER LEARNED to check in with myself about whether or not I wanted to say yes or no to someone else’s demands on me…

I had a LOT of fear around saying no. (Sound familiar to you?) My justifications were many. Saying no was selfish. Saying no would hurt or upset other people. Saying no meant I didn’t care about other people. Saying no would stamp me as self-centered, mean, uncaring.

But 90% of that was me explaining away the truth that I was SCARED to say no. I had learned, from family and other sources, that I didn’t have the right to say no. Yeah, that sounds crazy – it is kinda crazy. And it is also one of the things that plagues way too many chronic anxiety fighters. Hell, it plagues lots of people that never slide into the struggle with chronic anxiety.

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I could spend a fair amount of time describing how and why I learned to say no, but if this is one of the things you’re afraid of then you already have your own histories that can explain to you how you got to this place. The point of this section is to argue that we have the RIGHT to say no.

That’s what I said – a right. Every living creature on the planet has a right to draw this basic boundary with the other living creatures around it. Our very mental health and sanity need it. We have to learn to first begin to make contact with what we want, what we think, what we’re willing to do (by itself a whole process that we have to learn – we get very good at hiding those desires and needs even from ourselves if we learn that saying no isn’t something we are free to do) –

And then we have to start practicing actually saying no. That’s going to fire up Flight or Fight. That’s going to sound VERY scary to some of my fellow anxiety fighters. Holy crap, what if we say no and SOMEONE GETS UPSET AT US? That may have been a fear we acquired early and hard in our lives.

Yeah, this self-care/self-respect thing also has the power to rock our worlds. But it is also a GREAT way to address our fears, and a great way to start really listening to ourselves – something too many anxiety fighters are lacking in skill.

And for most of us it will mean some pushback from the other people in our lives – especially the ones that have gotten very comfortable with our lack of ability to say no.

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Of course this doesn’t mean we turn into utter selfish blobs. It means we finally START at least addressing our own boundaries. It really isn’t a sin to say no, thanks, I don’t want to do that, or no, sorry, I don’t have the capacity or energy to do that for you right now.

And it’s amazing, seriously, what starts surfacing when we finally have permission in our own thinking to say yes or no depending on what WE want. It’s like we’ve been waiting our whole lives to listen, really listen to, OURSELVES – to treat ourselves at least as well as we’ve been treating other people, to start respecting ourselves at least as much as we respect other people.

Of course, this means that also have to start being OK with other people saying no as well. 🙂 That by itself is often a whole new gig for us people with no boundaries –we can expect other people to also not have boundaries.

It sounds odd to us, but good fences (i.e., the right to say no) do actually make good neighbors – and wives, and husbands, and sons, and friends, and co-workers…

We have the Right to ask for what we Want

In the last section I mentioned that, in order to be able to say no, we have to practice ourselves in the first place what the heck we want. In truth this is another right that too many of us don’t know we possess. We learn instead that we should ONLY want what other people want – and/or that we should be suspicious of anything we want as bad/selfish/wrong.

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Yikes. What a terrible thing to have a person believe. Why the hell CAN’T we want something? Probably for the same reason that we learned we couldn’t say no. It was risky in our family or situation to have an opinion, have a real desire that opposed or contradicted another’s desire – a parent, a sibling, a spouse, you name it.

But we’re not, I argue, fully healthy or even human if we can’t be straight with ourselves about what WE want.

This has a lot of potential to shake our foundations. We can and sometimes do build a story about ourselves as selfless, other-centered, not really caring about the small stuff. Some of that might be true. But some of it is decidedly NOT true. Nobody walking the planet is without opinion, desire or need, and healthy, in-their-skin adults need to be able to identify, if only for themselves, what they truly want and don’t want, need and don’t need, deeply desire and really don’t care about.

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And as I mentioned when it came to saying no, being honest about what we want and then actually asking for it can generate fierce anxious responses. It can also generate pushback from the people that are used to us always saying “it doesn’t matter – let’s do/eat/go to whatever you want.”

We’re best to start with baby steps. What do YOU really want for lunch? Is THIS the movie YOU wanted to see? Prefer to spend the afternoon cleaning the bathroom? It’s amazing what we find ourselves feeling and doing when we have the self-developed privilege of speaking up about on what want.

Let’s not forget that this right also comes with the truth that we need to allow other people to say what they want. Healthy living is largely a matter of negotiation. That doesn’t mean that if something deeply matters to us that we can’t wrestle for it and champion our cause! 🙂 It does mean that we need to get comfortable with other people wanting what they want, and sometimes living with the tension of the differences between you and them. That’s human – and healthy – too.

How’s THAT for a couple of Rights?

In case I haven’t made it clear so far in this post we have some very basic, human rights in our lives. We have the right to say no, and we have the right to ask for what we want. In case I haven’t made this clear either summoning the courage and the conviction to actually make these rights real in our lives is not always easy. Others may find it uncomfortable (and let you know loudly how terrible, selfish, inconsiderate it is of you to insist on those rights) –

And you yourself will probably kick up quite a fuss as you walk into this largely-unfamiliar territory that is self-care/self-respect.

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