Are you scared to speak out? That’s not unusual if you live with “shoulds” or “should not’s” that are stopping you inside your mind. But, even so, it’s not impossible to find your voice. However, it does take some courage and understanding. So, here’s how.
Yes, people all over the country are speaking out and protesting. You wish you could be like them. But you can’t say what’s on your mind. Ever. How do you stop being scared?
The question is: what’s (or who’s) silenced you? Maybe you don’t know this, but it isn’t an uncommon problem. Nonetheless, it’s a very painful one when it’s yours. And, it can come up in many different situations.
You have things to say in a meeting or in class, but you hold back. Someone else says it first. You try to say how you feel and you’re told “you’re too sensitive” (or some other criticism.) You have an opinion, but you can’t voice it because you’re afraid it’s wrong.
Being afraid of being wrong, or “sounding stupid,” is at the heart of the problem.
Indeed. You’re certain you’ll be put down, yelled at, humiliated; made to feel very sorry for saying anything at all. In fact, if you try, a voice in your head often berates you: “You should’ve stayed quiet. You know better, don’t you? What were you thinking?”
No question, you need to be able to say what’s on your mind. Yet, it’s very important to feel safe expressing yourself. It’s terrible to feel you aren’t – and can’t. Everyone has the right to a voice. Everyone needs to be heard.
Where do you start? Let’s begin at the beginning.
What’s Silenced You?
Most often, you’re silenced in childhood. Sometimes in obvious ways, sometimes more subtle. Maybe you were abused, criticized; or threatened (so you had to keep a secret that hurt you.)
Or, maybe you never felt important. Your feelings didn’t seem to matter. They were written off with a “rational” explanation. Not taken seriously. And never listened to.
This makes you scared to speak out.
These early experiences lead you to believe you must silence yourself. Yet, being silenced is very traumatic. Whether it’s by those early forces from childhood, or from forces within.
When you have to silence yourself, thinking no one wants to hear, you have to keep everything locked up inside. All your feelings. Then, you have no voice for anger, sadness, or all of the things that have hurt. And, that creates anxiety or physical symptoms.
For a very long time, your feelings have had nowhere to go. Sometimes you feel like a pressure cooker. You can’t protest against things that hurt you now. You just take it.
The reality is, the most potent weapon against those silencing forces is being able to: Speak out. Or, Yell. Yet, you can’t. Now that you recognize the cause, what can you do?
Find People Who Listen
Do you have a sensitive friend? Someone you trust in many ways? Maybe that friend is able to tell you about feelings you relate to? But you’ve had a hard time doing the same. Try to take a risk – and open up.
Test the waters. Share a little. See how it goes. If it feels safe enough, then see if you can share more. If you can’t, psychotherapy is a good place to start.
Listening is a therapist’s job. Some do it better than others. Find one who understands your struggles, makes you feel heard, encourages you, and allows all of your feelings.
Most important is a therapist who gives a voice to what has been silenced in you, even before you can say it yourself. A therapist who hears the voice imprisoned inside you, that’s the one to look for. Who hears a “you” that lives in shame.
When you have that ear, it will give you the courage to open up. You won’t be so scared to speak out. And, you’ll find a safe place for your feelings.
Feelings Aren’t Too Much
Have you lived with worry or belief that your feelings are too much? It might feel that way because of the people in your childhood or in your life. You think it’s something about you. But some people fight off their feelings (even if it doesn’t look that way), and then want nothing to do with yours since they want no reminders of their own.
The reality is, feelings are feelings. They aren’t right or wrong. Feelings just are. There are people with emotional capacity, empathy, and interest in what you feel. You just haven’t found them yet. Or don’t trust anyone can. You don’t test it out. Try to.
Maybe you even feel that your feelings are too much for you, let alone those other people you’re so careful with. Maybe you think: better to ignore them or just keep them where they are? It can feel that way if you’ve ignored them for a long time, being too scared to speak out.
What’s important is to have a place (a friend or a therapist) where your feelings are wanted and “held.” We call it “contained” in my therapeutic world. Then you aren’t all alone with them, as you open up.
And, that means – all your feelings. Including anger. Your anger needs to feel safe.
It’s OK to Be Angry
It’s not only OK to be angry. You need to be angry. Truly, you must. Otherwise, your anger will turn inwards, into self-criticism and self-hate. Anger is not wrong. I’m sure you have good reason to be angry.
Your anger can help you speak up against those shaming voices in your own mind. You don’t deserve those voices any more than you deserved what happened to silence you; the same thing that made you scared to speak out.
Think of the protests all around the country. In your own city or neighborhood. Anger fueled them. Anger at abuse. Mistreatment. Needing a voice for it. Saying, “Enough.”
You can do it too. Say “enough” to thinking your anger could be damaging. “Enough” to believing your ideas are wrong. “Enough” to being quiet and “good.” It’s time to yell.
As psychoanalyst Paul Williams says, about his own extremely traumatic childhood, in his book The Sixth Principle: “Anger will keep me alive.”
Yes. Anger can set you free.
Finding Your Voice
The #Me Too Movement is about much more than sexual violation. It’s really about finding your voice. And, more than that, it’s about using it. Against all the forces that try to shut you up. Don’t be afraid to speak out.
Each of you has a different history. Your hurts and needs take different forms. But, each of you has a scared little child self, hidden inside, who deserves to be heard.
One who’s been frightened to raise her head, her hand, expose her anger; to be visible. Not in the shaming way you believe is your fate, but in the glory of all you truly are.
You don’t have to live in the trauma of silence any longer. Find a trusted friend or psychotherapist to help you stand up to the shaming voice (s) that shut you down.
Say #Me Too. Time’s up. No more. Take back your voice. Being angry (even feeling rage) is the path forward – maybe the only way to release your voice from its prison of silence.
Now is the time.
If you’d like to read more about finding the courage to speak out, click here for my piece on the film, THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7: How Not To Be Stopped From Speaking Out.
I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, Beverly Hills, and Los Angeles psychologist and psychoanalyst. I specialize in the effects of childhood trauma, persistent depression, and anxiety. Call and we can talk.