I don't know about anyone reading this, but when I was much younger, I was very secretive. I think it was a combination of factors that led to this. Part of it was cultural - I feel that in our culture (and perhaps in yours) people tend to be very private about many things - relationships, hardship, illness to name a few - and I suspect that a lot of this is down to pride and not wanting to appear vulnerable, or weak - something I definitely identify with. A part of it was that I didn't think that I would be understood, as I felt quite different among my family and friends. And I think a part of it was just our family - we each kept things to ourselves. I think one of the reasons that I am so introspective is that I took my own counsel, and mulled things over in my head rather than taking them to friends or family.
The upside for me on this was self reflection that occasionally led to self improvement (and much blog fodder). However in hindsight, I see now that it was a catch 22. I didn't think I would be understood, so I said nothing, and because I said nothing, I didn't realise that there were many people out there going through similar challenges who could probably understand me very well. Perhaps if I had taken the courage to share with those close to me, I would have realised we were not so different after all. As I got older, I went further inward. Sometimes I did not feel as if I could add anything meaningful to a discussion, sometimes I was avoiding conflict, and sometimes I was afraid of judgement of what I thought or believed. I envied those persons who could be open and honest, and in doing so could represent themselves, brush off criticism (or better yet embrace it) and who could generally speak their mind. And of course the huge downside was the longing to feel understood, even though I really wasn't giving anyone a chance to understand me. I think that many of us are prone to burying our voice, but especially women, who may not trust their own voice, or who may not feel that their contribution will be taken seriously.
So about a year ago, I made a conscious decision that I wanted to be able to speak openly. I wanted to be able to speak my mind, represent myself, and speak up about those things I felt passionately about, or about things that scared me. While I still had a real fear of judgement, and still didn't like conflict, I decided it was time. The fear wasn't going anywhere, so I would need to take it with me on my journey. I cannot express enough how much of a big deal it was for me, and in truth it is a process that I am still engaged in.
So how did I find my voice? Slowly and with some missteps. It is true what they say - it is hard to break the habit of a lifetime. It took practice, and I had to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Some days I agonized over the words I wanted to use, the feelings I wanted to convey, and chose carefully crafted statements, and some of them actually came out sounding half decent. Some even came out sounding how I wanted them to sound! Other days I just blurted stuff out like water from a burst mains sprouting as much gibberish as sense. Some days I had success and felt as if I had made progress. Other days I just felt embarrassed and exposed, especially if I didn't get the reaction that I was hoping for. Either way - it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Even when it didn't work out I felt empowered, I felt lighter, and I realized that there were people out there who wanted to understand me. It allowed me to achieve dreams and goals that I had for many years, including being a guest on a radio show - an experience I treasure. It even allowed me to write this blog. I was able to ask questions that I wanted the answers to for years! I am still working on this but I am pleased with my progress.
I am in a friendship group with a few other women, and we often speak of the importance expressing ourselves. We realized how much we had suffered in silence, sometimes thinking that we were going crazy, or afflicted with some rare illness! Once we shared in the group, we realized that we were all having similar experiences, and we could laugh, and support one another. There is nothing more isolating than feeling like you are the only person going through something, or feeling something.
And so I would like to encourage anyone who hasn't done so yet - find your voice. It may squeak at first, or be shaky - you may even stutter - but with practice and self compassion it will grow into a roar of confidence and authority. Find your voice! Speak up for injustice! Use your voice for those who do not have one! Proclaim your truth! Say YES and see what happens! Set your boundaries! Represent yourself - to your doctor, lawyer, mother or friend! Speak up in that meeting! Ask for the raise! Give compliments! Show love! Speak things into being! Sing! Soothe! Bare your soul! Find your voice! When you finally hear it, you will realise what a beautiful sound it is, and you will wonder where it has been all your life; why you waited so long to unleash it. You have something valuable to add to the conversation. You have family, and friends out there who deserve to know you better. Find your voice.
Big love from a small island
PS I listened to a great poem about this the other day called "Take Up Space" by Vanessa Kisuule. I would LOVE to write poetry like this. I am enclosing the link here.
Pps the above photo was taken on Robben Island - the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for many years. I had the privilege of visiting there a few years ago and this was one of my favourite views from it.