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Strategies for Self-Advocacy

Sometimes trying to get other people to understand life with migraine feels like a losing proposition. The cry of exasperation, “No one understands if they don’t have migraine!” is all too common. Many feel powerless to create the kind of empathy that would make life with migraine so much easier. Bosses, co-workers, family, friends, and even doctors often fail to grasp even the basic realities of life with migraine.

Trying to advocate for yourself often feels like wasted effort. Yet we all need certain accommodations to succeed with migraine. Whether that’s time off, approval for FLMA, short or long-term disability, a little flexibility from loved ones, or a workable medical treatment, we all need to speak up for ourselves to get what we need.

The problem is power.

When you lack power, speaking up for yourself is risky. Staying silent is risky, too. Say too little and you risk being ignored. Say too much (or say it in the wrong way) and you risk being ridiculed or ostracized. However, there are a few tools that can increase your social power, giving you more latitude to say what needs to be said.  The trick isn’t what you say, but how you say it.

Some new tools

Advocating for others

When we speak up for others, our social power is increased and we’re given a lot more latitude to say what needs to be said. By practicing by advocating for other people, we can learn the skills and gain the power to eventually speak the same words about ourselves.

Taking another’s perspective

Nothing is more disarming than to acknowledge the other person’s perspective. Starting off by validating the concerns and needs of the other person “softens” them and makes them more willing to hear what you have to say.

Show flexibility by offering options

It’s all too easy to start the conversation with a list of needs, wants or demands. Sharing options or verbalizing your willingness to compromise can go a long way toward getting your own needs met. This flexibility tells others that you care about them, too.

Recruit allies

Invite someone with greater social power to tag along. The saying “strength in numbers” really is true. When you have something important to say, don’t forget to designate a wingman.

Ask for advice from those with more power

I’ve used this one on many doctors when given treatment options by asking, “If I were your wife/daughter/mother what would you suggest?” When the question is worded in such a personal way, the answer is often very different.

Display your expertise

We all have expertise in something. The lower your social power, the stronger and more accurate your evidence must be in order to be believed. I was amazed by the respect afforded me when I started reading medical journals. When I knew about new treatments and discoveries at the same time (or before) my doctor, they started paying attention to my treatment goals a lot more closely.  Saying, “The November issue of the New England Journal of Medicine featured the results of a study that found…” holds a lot more weight than “I read on the internet that…”  Both may contain the same information, but by leveraging the social power of a written source, I increased my credibility and my own social power.

Show your passion

Have you ever watched someone talk about their passion? Their eyes are wide and bright. They lean in, smile, and gesture with their hands. They may even have trouble sitting still! It’s easy to get excited with them. When talking about your passion, you have more social power.

Putting tools into practice

Leveraging increases in social power allow us to make bolder statements, ask for more (with the expectation of getting it, and reap the benefits of being taken seriously. By practicing these strategies in everyday life, we can gain the confidence needed to speak up for ourselves.  You will be surprised how accommodating people can be when you wield such power.

So think about how you can use one or more of these strategies to improve your ability to advocate for yourself as it relates to migraine. And never forget…

Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Galinsky, Adam (Sept. 2016). How to Speak Up for Yourself. TEDxNewYork. Retrieved online Nov. 30, 2016 at


  • Macbeck
    3 years ago

    I love your post, and want to add my 2 cents worth: several months a go a migraine blogger asked an ER doctor what would make him take a migraineur more seriously and help in his treatment decisions. He said bringing in a treatment protocol notebook showing information from the doctor managing the migraines including treatment suggestions. There weren’t a lot of other details about this notebook so, as a retired nurse, I went to work on my own notebook.

    The first rule is this book goes with me to EVERY doctor, even if that doc has nothing to do with my migraines. If I go out of town it travels with me as well!

    The pocket inside the front holds the appointment notes from my last neuro appointment and the last labs from my PCP. I also tuck notes in to ask the doc about.
    The first page is a summary of me, my scheduled daily migraine meds, then my PRN meds, and finally the cocktail that works for me, with my neuro’s signature underneath, then his printed name, clinic name, and phone number. The fact that my cocktail is non-narcotic usually gets their attention (gee, she’s not seeking narcotics!), and they tend to listen to me a little better.
    The next pages are reports of my PRN treatments so they can see when I last needed it and how often. (most recent on top)
    The pocket on the back cover contains a blank treatment page the doc or nurse can fill out (urgent cares love this!), that I can then place with my PRN treatments.

    My neuro checks this out every time I go in if I’ve needed any PRN treatment. I will add that he really liked the idea too.

    All of this to say this notebook gives me a tool when my brain doesn’t work. If my caretaker isn’t there with me I have at least one tool to speak up for me, and if he is, it gives him more legitimacy as an advocate.

  • Tammy Rome author
    3 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s a great strategy. I hope it helps many readers.

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