About ten years ago, I attended a domestic violence/sexual assault workshop. It was a few days a week for an entire month. This was mandatory for all employees and volunteers. We had endless amounts of materials and speakers. To be honest, I just went through the motions as I knew a lot of the material. That was until one day we were handed a paper that really opened my eyes.
The paper (as you can see above) was a bright pink piece of paper. Right away, the color caught my attention. As I looked down, I saw that the title was, “Relationship Bill of Rights.” It listed twenty-five sentences that began with, “I have the right to.” As I looked at my rights, it hit me. I didn’t know that I deserved all of this, that I had the right to ask for these rights. Is this what healthy relationships look like? The instructor had us read the relationship bill of rights aloud. As I began to read them aloud, tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn’t stop them, and part of me didn’t want to stop them.
See, I never realized that I was in very controlling relationships of all kinds and I didn’t realize it. I became sad and angry at the same time that I didn’t get to experience this type of respect and love. I didn’t demand it for myself. No one taught me that this is what I deserved.
I remember wiping my tears and being so blown away by these one sheet of paper. The rest of the class I sat in a daze as I could only hear the muffling of the instructor continuing on with the class. The end of the class couldn’t come quick enough. I had a long drive back home, and I felt numb. I got home and I took out that piece of paper. I put an asterisk by the ones I thought I deserved and/or that I wasn’t getting (you can see in the picture). They seem so obvious to me now. But I wanted to share a few that I put an asterisk by.
“I have the right to be uniquely myself.” I didn’t think I had the right to be myself. I was a combination of what my friends, family, and society told me to be. I didn’t even realize I didn’t know me. There wasn’t anything unique about me. This is what I said to myself for the longest time. “I have the right to say no to anything when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe, or it violates my values.” I felt guilt for saying no. I put other peoples’ happiness in front of my own safety. I allowed experiences that were wrong, dangerous, and disrespectful to happen because I couldn’t say no. Even when I mustered up enough courage to say no, I took it back. I felt so terrible. I never put myself first. “I have the right to expect honesty from others.” I didn’t think most people were honest. I made excuses for their lies and their omissions. People lie, it happens. I didn’t know people should be open and honest with me.
As you can see in the picture, there are many statements. I want you to know that you deserve all of them in any of your relationships, every single one. I look at this paper with some of them not highlighted. I actually did not think that I had the right to have my needs and wants respected, to have my own personal space, to change my mind, to determine my own priorities, to be angry at someone I love, and to be playful. How could I go along in life and think that I didn’t deserve these? Well, I now know that I do! I will admit that I still have some issues relating to my rights and I am working on empowering myself everyday so that I fully understand and realize that I do deserve these no matter what anyone says or even what I say to myself from time to time.
Take a look at the sheet. Say each and every one aloud and ask yourself if you believe that you have that right. If you do, that is amazing. If you don’t and you were or are like me, highlight it and think about why you didn’t feel like you deserve the that right. Work through it. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, but that you believe it with all your heart and soul.