How To Find Your Voice When You’re Scared To Speak For Yourself

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how to speak for yourself

Are you scared to speak for yourself? Right now, people all over the country are speaking out and protesting.

Maybe you wish you could be like them, but you can’t say what’s on your mind. Ever.

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How do you stop being scared and start speaking for yourself?

The question is: What or who has silenced you? This isn’t an uncommon problem. But 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, but 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.

You’re certain you’ll be put down, yelled at, humiliated, and 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?"

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.

So, where do you start? Here are 4 steps to find your voice and speak for yourself.

1. What silenced you?

Most often, you were silenced in childhood. Sometimes in obvious ways, and sometimes in more subtle ones. Maybe you were abused, criticized, or threatened.

Or, maybe you never felt important. Your feelings didn’t seem to matter and were written off with a "rational" explanation. You may not have been taken seriously and never felt listened to.

This makes you scared to speak out. These early experiences lead you to believe you must silence yourself, which can be very traumatic, whether it’s by those early forces from childhood or from forces within.

When you have to silence yourself, thinking no one will want to hear, you have to keep everything locked up inside — including all your feelings.

You have no voice for anger, sadness, or all of the things that hurt. And that can create anxiety or physical symptoms.

For a very long time, your feelings had nowhere to go. Sometimes, you feel like a pressure cooker. You can’t protest against things that hurt you now, so 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?

2. 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 some feelings you relate to? If so, try to take a risk and open up.

Test the waters. Share a little, and see how it goes. If it feels safe enough, see if you can share more.

If you can’t, psychotherapy is a good place to start. Listening is a therapist’s job, and some do it better than others. Find one who understands your struggles, makes you feel heard, encourages you, and allows all of your feelings.

Find a therapist who gives a voice to what silenced you — even before you can say it yourself — who hears the voice imprisoned inside you, the you that lives in shame.

When you have that ear, it will give you the courage to open up and not be scared to speak out. This will help you find a safe place for your feelings.

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3. Know your 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.

Some people fight off their own feelings — even if it doesn’t look that way.

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.

Maybe you even feel that your feelings are too much for you. 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. Then, you aren’t all alone with them, as you open up.

That means all of your feelings, including anger. Your anger needs to feel safe.

4. It’s OK to be angry.

You need to be angry. Otherwise, your anger will turn into self-criticism and self-hate. Anger is not wrong. 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 to make you scared to speak out.

Think of the protests all around the country, even in your own city or neighborhood. Anger fueled them. Anger at abuse and mistreatment. They needed a voice for it to say, "Enough!"

You can do it, too. Say, "Enough!" to thinking your anger could be damaging, to believing your ideas are wrong, and 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.

Find your voice.

The #MeToo Movement is about much more than sexual violation. It’s really about finding your voice, using it, and not being afraid to speak out against all the forces that try to shut you up.

Each of you has a different history. Your hurts and needs take different forms. But each of us has a scared little child self hidden inside who deserves to be heard.

One who’s been frightened to raise their head, hand, expose their anger, and 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 voices that shut you down.

Take back your voice. Feeling your rage and being angry is the path forward. It may be the only way to release your voice from its prison of silence.

Now is the time.

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Dr. Sandra Cohen is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. She specializes in the effects of childhood trauma, persistent depression, and anxiety. For more information, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Sandra E. Cohen, Ph.D's Moving Forward Blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.