Any survivor of domestic or family violence will tell you about the eroding effect abuse has. The loss of self-worth and self-esteem is devastating. Survivors often speak of the constant bending to the perpetrators will for the sake of peace, which in the end results being left with a lost sense of identity and disconnection with you they are.
Getting out of abusive relationships is complex. There are many reasons why women stay. Most of the work I do with clients is after they’ve got out and are seeking ways to heal and recover from what they’ve been through. What can be tremendously helpful is to establish a personal ”bill of rights”, a personal official document that states how they will live the rest of their lives.
A document to outline freedom
Historically, the idea of a Bill of Rights was established for the first time in Great Britain in 1689. The American Bill of Rights was based on the British one written in 1791. On both sides of the Atlantic, the aim was to outline the limits of authority, highlight the rights of the individual to be treated fairly and justly before the law, recognition of the freedom the practice of personal choice of religion and free speech.
In Australia, no such document exists. Our Constitution is said to contain individual, or human rights, throughout it. There have been calls for one to be written.
What these documents serve to do are to hold powers to account, ensuring personal freedoms and punitive measures to given through a fair and balanced system of justice. Likewise within relationships, partners just like individual citizens, have the right to expect fair and respectful treatment that allows for dignity and self-determination.
The rights of a survivor
For many survivors, their rights have not been recognised nor even acknowledged. Freedom and the ease to make personal decisions are hampered by violence. Having a detailed document spelling out your own personal bill of rights can work as a blue print according to what is and what is not acceptable in your life anymore. It can underline the new way in which you want to live.
A personal bill of rights
Many survivors suffer from either mood or anxiety disorders, most commonly depression and complex trauma. Dr Edmund Bourne is his book ”The anxiety and phobia workbook” has included ”a personal bill of rights” which is especially helpful for rebuilding self-worth and self-value. They include the following:
- I have the right to ask for what I want in a respectful way.
- I have the right to say no to demands I can’t meet.
- I have the right to change my mind.
- I have the right to make mistakes and not be perfect.
- I have the right to follow my own values and standards.
- I have the right to express all of my feelings, both positive or negative, in a way that does not harm others.
- I have the right to say no to anything when I’m not ready, it is unsafe or it goes against my values.
- I have the right to determine my own priorities.
- I have the right not to be responsible for others behaviour, actions, feelings or problems.
- I have the right to expect honesty for others.
- I have the right to feel angry at someone I love and to express it in a reasonable manner.
- I have the right to be uniquely me.
- I have the right to feel fear and say that ”I’m afraid”.
- I have the right to say ”I don’t know”.
- I have the right to make decisions based on my feelings, beliefs and values.
- I have the right to my own reality.
- I have the right to my own needs for personal space and time.
- I have the right to be playful and frivolous.
- I have the right to be healthy.
- I have the right to be in a non-abusive environment.
Not just for survivors
In a patriarchal society where misogyny is rampant, these rights are just as applicable to your professional life. In fact, I think this a solid outline for any girl or woman in terms of having a code of conduct to live by and what to expect from others.
Make it your own
You might want to change some of these or add you own. You don’t even need to call it a ”bill of rights”, you can call it whatever is meaningful to you. A project can be made of it by decorating it, laminate it and put it in a place where you’ll see it all the time. Memorize it, know off by heart so when old patterns or intrusive thoughts invade your mind, you have a way to fight back.
I’d love to see what you produce. If you feel comfortable to share them with me I’d love to see your final pieces!
Wishing you freedom to be who you are so you can live boldly and freely.