Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships


A Sample Personal
Bill of Rights

One key to healthy relationships

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council


  The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/keys/rights.htm

Updated  01-31-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. These articles build on Lessons 1 - 3, and prepare you for Lesson 5 (evolve a nourishing family) and Lesson 6 (effective parenting).

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 3, and

  • these ideas on self-respect and self-love

   Why a Bill of Personal Rights?

      How's your self esteem and self confidence?    Low > Average > High > It depends on _____.      

      Typical kids fortunate enough to grow up in a high-nurturance environment enter adulthood with reasonably good senses of their and others' human dignity and self worth. Typical survivors of low-nurturance early years often start independent living with shaky, situational, or low senses of their own worth and integrity. Many can be called shame-based.

      Having low self-worth has many toxic effects. One is not being able to  maintain a genuine mutual-respect attitude about some or all other people. Another is having major difficulty in validating and asserting your own needs, opinions, and boundaries with other people effectively.

      Intentionally evolving a Bill of Personal Rights can help to minimize both these handicaps - if the person has made significant progress freeing her or his true Self to guide and harmonize their crew of personality subselves.  

  Compose and Use a Bill of Personal Rights to...

  • maintain inner-family (personality) harmony and boundaries (security), and to...

  • avoid being used, discounted, neglected, or attacked by other people.

Thoughtfully evolved by their resident true Self and wise advisors, a declaration of personal rights can clarify and remind any person (like you) of their legitimate values, opinions, and needs as unique, worthy persons.

       An explicit, authentic Personal Bill of Rights is one foundation for effective assertions, which are essential for successful interpersonal problem-solving. Kids of any age can have a Bill of Personal Rights too! Do you know anyone that doesn't merit a declaration of personal dignity respected by you?

       Use this sample Bill as "wet clay" from which to craft your own. For authenticity and effectiveness, your Bill of Personal Rights should come from within you ...

+ + +

      A Sample Bill of Personal Rights

      These statements will clarify and remind me of my rights as a worthy, dignified human being. I was not taught some of these beliefs as a child, and can strengthen my belief in them today. Affirming my personal rights repeatedly will help free me of old inhibitions and distorted beliefs, and empower me to be firmly assertive (vs. aggressive or submissive) with others in a clear, positive, respectful way.

      It's healthy for me to honor and respect my own rights and needs as much as I do those of every other adult and child. I can legitimately proclaim and act on these rights without shame, guilt, or fear in any way that doesn’t interfere with other adults’ and kids’ equal rights. I need no one's permission to adopt and live from these beliefs.

      No matter what my age, experience, or situation, I am a rare, unique, worthwhile human Being - as is every other person. I bring a blend of talents, knowledge, and motives to the world like no other living or dead person. I honor and respect my own uniqueness - and that of each other person in my life. I claim the right to be ME, without explanation, apology, or defense. I am responsible for being me at all times. I affirm others' equal right to be their own unique selves (plural).

  I Now Declare My Right to...

1)  Experience all my own emotions. They are a natural part of being human. They include fear, sadness, anger, shame, uncertainty, confusion, joy, lust, hope, pride, happiness, etc. - even "numbness." I am not bad, weak, or wrong for feeling, and there is no such thing as a "negative" emotion.

2)  Describe and/or express my feelings to others if and when I choose to, without feeling obligated, guilty, or ashamed. I am responsible for this choice but not for others' reactions.

3)  Say "Yes," "No," "I can't," and "I don't know," without undue guilt, shame, or anxiety - and to be responsible for the consequences.

4)  Choose if, when, and how to meet others’ expectations of me. if I choose not to meet them, I need not feel guilty unless I've clearly committed to do so. I am responsible for such choices and their consequences.

5)  Choose my own friends and acquaintances, and how and when to spend time with them. I may justify these choices to others, but I don’t have to.

6)  Make my own mistakes, and learn from them if I can.

7)  Choose if, when, and how to tell others clearly how their actions are affecting me - and to take responsibility for doing so.

8)  Earn and maintain my own self-respect and pride, rather than depending on other people’s opinions of me.

9)  Seek and accept or decline help without undue shame, anxiety, or guilt;

10)  Give others the responsibility for their own beliefs, decisions, feelings, and thoughts, without feeling guilty, anxious, or selfish. Feeling responsible for other able adults often burdens me, and blocks their growing self-confidence and self-respect.

And I declare my personal right to ...

11)  Seek situations, environments, and relationships that I feel are healthy, growthful, and nurturing for me. I may - but don't have to - explain or justify these decisions to other people.

12)  Be spontaneous, play, and have fun!

13)  Develop and grow at my own pace, and in the directions I feel are best for me. This does not mean I ignore other's similar rights or their well-meant counsel.

14)  Appreciate my own efforts and enjoy my achievements without guilt, anxiety, or shame. Normal (vs. excessive) pride is not a sin, and never was.

15)  Act to fill my own wants and needs rather than demand or expect others to do so for me;

16)  Periods of guilt-free rest, refreshment, reflection, and relaxation. these are as productive for me as times of work and action.

17)  Choose whom I will trust, when, how much, and with what;

18)  Take on only as much as I can handle at any given time, and to tell others if I feel overloaded, without shame, anxiety, or guilt;

19)  Nurture, love, and value myself as much as I do others who are special to me. Being "Self-ish" (attending my own needs and nurturance) is healthy and good - as long as I don't hinder, minimize, or disrespect other's rights to care for themselves.

20)  Choose the paths and goals I wish for my life, and to pursue them without guilt, shame, or the need to explain or justify them to others;

And I also claim my unarguable rights to...

21)  Take all the time I need to evaluate and make important life-decisions. If this stresses others, they are responsible for asserting their needs and I'm responsible for balancing them with mine.

22)  Care for my body and Spirit lovingly and respectfully, in my own ways.

23)  Choose my own priorities and limits, and act on them as I see fit.

24)  Distinguish between who other people say I am (or was) and who I really am.

25)  Be heard and clearly understood. My thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, dreams, and dignity are as valid, worthy, and important as anyone else’s.

26)  Define excellence in any situation, and to choose if, when, and how to strive for this standard or not.

27)  Choose how to balance and spend my time, and take the short and long-term consequences;

28)  Tell others respectfully what I expect of them, realizing they legitimately may or may not choose to fulfill these expectations.

29)  Choose how and when to peacefully fill my spiritual needs, even if my choices conflict with others’ values or wishes. I do not have the right to force my spiritual or religious views, values, or practices on other people, nor do I grant others the right to force theirs on me.

And I further affirm my unarguable right to...

30)  Heal psychological wounds over time, and replace unhealthy inner beliefs I’ve lived by with more nurturing and productive ones.

31)  Listen to and heed my "inner voices" with interest and respect, and to sort out my true voices from others I hear.

32)  Have my physical, emotional, and spiritual privacy and boundaries respected by others. I accept my responsibility to respect theirs as well.

33)  Ask (vs. demand) others how they feel about me, what they think about me, and what they need from me. They may choose to comply or not.

34)  Decide if, when, and how to forgive (a) my mistakes and (b) any hurts received from others. I affirm that forgiveness promotes healing, health, growth, and peace.

35)  Work respectfully and peacefully to change laws, rules, or situations I feel are unjust or harmful to me and/or others.

36)  Evolve and use my Bill of Personal Rights, and learn how this affects me and others. I affirm others' equal right and opportunity to do the same or not.

37)  Decide if, how, and when I am to die. I do not grant well-intentioned others to decide these for me. My life is mine.




Rewrite parts or all of this sample to make it yours. Read each statement out loud, and reflect: "Do I really believe this (or something like it) now?" If the answer is "No" or "I'm not sure," get clear on what you do believe. Take your time. Your set of basic un/conscious attitudes and beliefs ("rules") shape your relationships and daily choices and achievements!

Acknowledge your childhood adults' responsibility to have taught you their versions of your Rights to get you started in life. Then accept your adult responsibility to decide if what they taught you fits you well, or if you need to adopt new standards. When is the right or best time to do this? What if you don't?

Reread this sample Bill and thoughtfully consider whether each of your key childhood caregivers would agree to each Right. Option: if they're available, give them a copy of this and discuss it with them.

Meditate on these inspirations for guidance and clarity after you finish this.

Note that changing basic beliefs is a core attitude change. The beliefs that shape your daily decisions and actions are held by the subselves which rule your personality. Forging and consistently acting on your personal rights and identity (your integrity) is most likely if your Self (capital "S") leads your other subselves.

      If you (your ruling subselves) don't genuinely believe rights like those above, an option is to identify which subself holds (or doubts) that belief, and learn what it would take for him or her to change it.

      More options...

Post your version of this Bill somewhere in plain view where you can refresh yourself daily on what it stands for.

Give a copy of this to each older child and adult in your home and/or encourage them to evolve their own Bill. Respect their right to do so or not.

If you participate in a support or other group (like a church congregation), consider showing this sample Bill to them and discussing it.

If you care about someone with "low self esteem" (excessive shame and guilt), weigh the pros and cons of giving them a copy of this. Caution - if they're ruled by a false self,  doing this may seem to be a put down ["You can't define your own rights, so I'll do it for you - ("I'm 1-up").] 

Consider if and how you adults wish to incorporate your family members' Bills of Rights in any family mission statement and job descriptions (responsibilities) you evolve and use.

Refer to this Bill any time you feel major internal and interpersonal conflicts to help clarify each person's basic rights as you work together for win-win resolutions.

      Pause and notice your thoughts and feelings. Are you motivated to act on some of these options?

  Special Perspective About Stepfamilies

       Typical multi-home stepfamilies are complex. They feel very different than intact one-home biofamilies. Bioparents and stepparents ("co-parents") and their kids are all confronted with a concurrent array of challenging personal and shared tasks which must be mastered over many years for personal and stepfamily stability and satisfying relationships. As co-parents work to evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily they can easily get overwhelmed by many concurrent and alien roles, relationships, and merger-tasks. 

       This risk of overwhelm, confusion, and self-doubt is specially true for novice stepmoms and stepdads, who probably have never had to "do" this complicated, alien family role before. It's also specially true for shame-based (wounded) co-parents. They are rarely used to being aware of and living consistently from their individual rights as a worthy, dignified person.

       The complex, alien challenge of evolving effective stepfamily child discipline forces co-parents and kids to confront their individual values and beliefs about authority, power, and personal rights. Frustrated co-parents can often lose sight of minor and grown kids' personal rights, as well as their own. And a normal part of being a dependent child is to minimize or ignore the rights of caregivers, in the daily struggle to overcome feeling incompetent, self-doubting, and powerless, and to gain the freedom to decide "things" for themselves.

       Stop and reflect - has each child in your life ever had an adult encourage them to start building a clear sense of their own core rights as unique, worthy persons? Did anyone do that for you as a child? If not, what has that meant to you?

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

      For more perspective, view this brief video on "Have You Promoted Yourself to Equal Yet?"

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