“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.” ~ Barbara De Angelis
This may be you…
At some point in your life you made the decision that it was no longer safe to speak your truth. In your early years, speaking up led to a scolding from your parents, or worse. Their censure caused pain and engendered a belief in you that speaking up would create even more pain. This belief compelled you to withhold and question your voice from then on. Your parents, of course, did the best they could given their challenging upbringing; but whether they knew it or not, they were recreating their painful past—a past where they were to be seen but not heard, and forced to cope with their difficulties and feelings by keeping a tight lip. The cycle repeated itself in how they raised you, and in how they expected you to keep certain parts of yourself invisible. Even if your parents were generally kind and open to you, so long as they held onto their need to withdraw—their coping strategies—they would unintentionally invite you to withdraw as well; you would likely inherit their fears, beliefs and attitudes, like the innocent sponge and mimicker you were.
Withdrawing serves a purpose: to protect ourselves from being hurt. So long as we play by house rules, and not rock the boat with “endless” questions, “irrational” imaginations and “childish antics”, we are safe. But the need to withdraw in childhood perpetuates into our teen and adult years when we continue believing we need to protect ourselves. The childhood belief crystalizes into an attitude and behavioral patterns that engrain themselves into our psyche and lives; the belief is identified with, and we go from needing to withdraw as a child to being withdrawn as a teen and adult, afraid of our voice, and fearful of getting hurt.
Manifestations of a Hidden Voice
There are many ways that being withdrawn, or fearful of our voice, manifests into our decision-making and relationships. Here are a few common examples I see:
- Go-to-Person: You end up taking things on for others, even though you don’t have to. You may find yourself taking on many projects, for instance, and then suddenly being the lead for those projects, despite your reluctance and overwhelm.
- Can’t Say No: Saying “Yes” is easier for someone who was raised to fear saying “No”. Within in the word “No” lies fear, guilt and shame, and the belief that you are letting others down if you put yourself first.
- Good Girl/Boy: You learned to be a good girl/boy—to behave, please and do things by the book. But now being nice is not serving you. It causes you to be accommodating and accepting of things that do not deserve your tolerance.
- Fear of Conflict: It’s tough to step into the fire of conflict and be disagreeable while being nice. The edgy grittiness of the bad girl/boy may be useful if you are to stand in the heat of conflict with strength and integrity.
- De-Valuing Your Ideas and Opinions: It is natural to de-value your ideas and opinions if they are not heard and valued when you are young. You learned to question their worth, and now in adulthood you continue to question them and struggle to share them with others.
- Feeling Unsafe to Share: It can be hard for you to find the safety you need to express your ideas and opinions. You may need others to offer extra care in creating a safe and inviting space for you to share.
- Relentless Inner Critic: A voice trained to live in a dark cave has a strong inner critic to keep it there. You learned to judge yourself relentlessly, and to be cautious, and now your inner critic cautions you at every turn. It questions your natural inclinations, your spontaneity; and it ensures that you don’t stand out, and judges you when you do.
- Unnecessarily Apologetic: What others consider a perfectly reasonable comment from you, in your mind can easily be perceived as a mistake or “too much”. You feel the impulse to offer an apology when none is warranted.
- Self-Worth: When the inner critic dominates, self-worth is swept away. You don’t believe you deserve to be treated with love and respect, or that you are capable of doing or having what you want.
Power Handed Over
These beliefs, attitudes and behaviors are a product of power given away to others. As children it was not safe to be the powerful beings you were, so you allowed your parents to have control. They held fort, and you followed their lead. You held your voice captive for them. Now as an adult, you allow others to disrespect your time, energy and needs because you never felt safe and able to respect them yourself. It’s difficult to respect them if you have always struggled to give power to your voice, and voice to your truth. So long as power is given away to others, the voice remains quiet, boundaries are crossed, and the past perpetuates.
It is quite backwards and self-defeating—we continue to hurt ourselves in order to not get hurt; we disapprove of our inner truth to get approval, to please and fit in; and we learn not to love ourselves in order to get love. We have a world full of people afraid of their voice, their power. They push away their right to stand out and be strong, and they make their inner cave their home and the inner critic their master, all because they are afraid of their power, their voice, their right to shine.
Change Starts with Noticing Body Signals
Pain and discomfort are natural repercussions of a life lived in the shadows. As children we had to endure pain and discomfort; we had little choice. But as adults we are no longer at the whim of our parents, nor anyone else for that matter. We can choose how we want to be; we can assert ourselves and claim our worth in the world. It begins with noticing our body signals.
Pain and discomfort in the form of stress, overwhelm, anger and resentment are signals that you are living out of integrity. For instance, you may feel resentful for being the Go-to-Person again; for being the one who takes on the duties that others are quite capable of doing. Stress or overwhelm can be a sign that you are not saying “No”; that you are not asking for what you need, such as help with sharing responsibilities, or to leave work on time. Anger is often a sign that you are not listening to your intuition. You may agree to do something or take on someone else’s burden, but inside you feel a surge of anger that wants to scream “No!” Anger is simply your body’s response to you denying your truth.
Your body knows. Truth is found in feelings. Therefore listen when the body speaks. Instead of judging your somatic response as bad or wrong, simply see it as information serving your wellbeing; as guiding you away from staying late for work, chairing a board, or being there for your inconsolable friend…again!
5 Steps to Reclaiming Your Voice
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” ~ Anais Nin
- Notice Your Body Signals: Listen to your body wisdom—the clues mentioned above.
- Determine your Role: Determine what role you are playing in the situation. Are you allowing people to take advantage of you? Are you enabling others? Are you not asking for help? Explore your part in the situation knowing that you are not a victim. You are responsible for what is happening by allowing it to happen.
- Determine Your Learning: Learning is how we move from our reactive role and victimhood into conscious action, growth and personal responsibility. Perhaps your learning lies in listening to your intuition, creating boundaries around your time, saying, “I can’t do it for you”, valuing your ideas, or asserting yourself. That is where your learning lies, or where you need to grow as a person. It is your edge, and it is where courage is needed.
- Notice Your Inner Critic: The closer you get to speaking up, the louder the inner critic gets. It will give you all the “sound” reasons why you should keep your mouth shut and head down. Fear is simply doing its job. It is trying to protect you by keeping you safe in the cave, away from the unknown and further hurt. But you are an adult now, and you no longer need to be afraid of your power and voice. Don’t believe its favorite sayings such as: You’ll disappoint them; You’ll do it wrong; You’ll fail miserably; You’re not capable; They won’t listen; What if…; Know that these are voices of the past, not the present. They no longer serve you. Simply notice these persuasive thoughts—even thank your inner critic for its good intentions to protect you—and…
- Courageously Speak Your Truth: I have written extensively on different ways to express yourself. Instead of repeating myself here, I encourage you to peruse my Communications category on my Blog where you will find a number of tools to support you. Two specific articles that may help are: 15 Ways to Say No and 15 Ways to Express Needs and Desires.
“Love is a place we go when we no longer wish to hide.” ~ Anonymous
Every time you authentically and courageously speak up you love yourself a little bit more. You give yourself the love your family could not give you, and you reclaim your right to be heard, valued, and respected. Being seen and heard is your inherent birthright. You are not meant to live in the constraints of your mental cave; rather you are meant to be wild, free and expressive just as young children are. This free spirit, this child, still lives in you. It has never left. It wants to come out and play. Open the gate through the beauty and power of your voice, and let yourself be seen and heard once again.
* * *
Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults