A Personal Bill of Rights

Photo by Mario Purisic on Unsplash

This Personal Bill of Rights is an idea that we all have certain rights as human beings in personal relationships with others. We should be free to exercise these rights in a relationship and allow others the same freedoms.

I’ve included this list in my blog because I have found it helpful to use as a reference in becoming aware of how I am, in relationships. Awareness is the first step in understanding and dealing with a situation. The Personal Bill of Rights gives us an idea of how things could be/should be for us and how we should respectfully treat others.

TRIGGER WARNING : It may be that when you read through the list, some readers may start to become aware of how they do not assert or accept some of these rights. For people who may have experienced childhood trauma or relational abuse, reading this list may trigger distressing emotions. If this sounds like you, consider seeking support. This can be from trusted loved ones or professional help. Counselling is a supportive process which can help work through relationship issues such as these.

Personal Bill of Rights

  1. I have the right to ask for what I want.
  2. I have the right to say no to requests or demands I can’t meet.
  3. I have the right to express all of my feelings, positive or negative.
  4. I have the right to change my mind.
  5. I have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.
  6. I have the right to follow my own values and standards.
  7. I have the right to say no to anything when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe, or it violates my values.
  8. I have the right to determine my own priorities.
  9. I have the right not to be responsible for others’ behaviour, actions, feelings, or problems.
  10. I have the right to expect honesty from others.
  11. I have the right to be angry at someone I love.
  12. I have the right to be uniquely myself.
  13. I have the right to feel scared and say “I’m scared.”
  14. I have the right to say “I don’t know.”
  15. I have the right not to give excuses or reasons for my behaviour.
  16. I have the right to make decisions based on my feelings.
  17. I have the right to my own needs for personal space and time.
  18. I have the right to be playful and frivolous.
  19. I have the right to be healthier than those around me.
  20. I have the right to be in a non abusive environment.
  21. I have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people.
  22. I have the right to change and grow.
  23. I have the right to have my needs and wants respected by others.
  24. I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
  25. I have the right to be happy.

Source: The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, by Edmund Bourne, Ph.D

family relationships
Photo by Luemen Rutkowski on Unsplash

How we learned about relationships

We first learned about how relationships work from our childhood upbringing, from our parents and carers and how they treated us. Our families taught us what was acceptable behaviour and what was unacceptable in our corner of the world.

Over the years, we may have forgotten some of the rights in the Bill of Rights which we were taught as we grew up. Or perhaps we were never permitted certain rights which should have been given to us. Our rights may have been squashed when we dared to try to exercise them.  As small children, we were relatively powerless to protest, so we had to adapt to stay safe. As adults, we have the chance to re-examine and reclaim our rights.

Suggestions on how to use the Personal Bill of Rights

One way to use this list would be to read through it and observe how you feel emotionally about each one. Surprised, dubious, calm, angry, tense, confused, embarrassed? See which ones you are OK with, (perhaps you have a favourite and why is that ?) and the ones you find more difficult to assert with certain people. You may chose to reflect on why there is particular difficulty. What might you want to do about it?

An example

A quick example; ‘ I have the right to be angry at someone I love ‘. To me this one can seem quite scary! I often feel concerned that expressing my anger towards a loved one could cause that person to reject me or become non-cooperative with certain tasks. So I feel I want to supress this anger because expressing it might risk causing upset in the relationship.

But what is the longer term consequence of supressing or denying the existence of all my angry feelings? It can cause resentments to build up in the relationship which could eventually become explosive and damaging. Or I may chose to numb out these feelings with substances which in time would impact my health. Withheld anger can seep out as passive aggressive behaviour, or cause depression. The consequences of squashing feelings are not good.

What might change look like ?

To stop this emotional burden from building up, I could find healthy ways to deal with my anger. Some example options; I could learn the value of self care and how to negotiate my needs for an honest relationship where feelings are allowed to be expressed. I could take up kick boxing to release tension. Or maybe I could learn that feeling anger can be a normal and justified reaction and needn’t be avoided at all costs, moderating how I chose to express it in any particular circumstance. Anger is sometimes covering up other emotions, so it might be useful to check out my feelings that could be going on underneath.

Where does Counselling fit in ?

The example I described above is very brief for illustrative purposes. In reality, it might take time for someone to fully appreciate what has been going on for them in their situation. Or what the next steps might be. This kind of in-depth exploration and reflection can be supported in counselling. Talking through things with another person who is putting your needs first and focusing on you can be a helpful way to process and come to a fresh perspective about your situation. Counselling can explore relationships and look at new ways of getting your needs met.

More ways to let yourself be curious

If you don’t feel able to exercise some of these rights you might be curious as to:

  • What might have happened in your upbringing as a child for you to respond that way?
  • What experiences may have occurred to you as an adult for you to respond that way?
  • What does it say about your relationship with a particular person?

Perhaps this Bill of Rights will help indicate to you how healthy or unhealthy a particular relationship is.

Maybe reflecting on the Bill of Rights will help indicate a more general way you usually act in relationships.

Perhaps these rights can be negotiated with some of the people in your life.

You can keep coming back to this list on a daily basis and in time you may be able to claim each one as your own, learning to incorporate and assert them in your daily life.

Would you like to add your own right to the list which is important to you?

How would you like things to be in your relationships ?

If you need support

This blog on the Personal Bill of Rights may have raised some questions to be curious about regarding your relationships. For some people, issues raised may be best approached with professional support in a caring, safe and confidential space. I am able to offer you that support to explore your relationships and see how you want to move forward. Please contact me if you would like to learn more about counselling with me.

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