When I started writing my latest manuscript, I promised myself I was going to tell the truth. I was going to use my voice, speak up for myself, talk about the things I had kept secret for so long, and finally finally be free to say what was on my mind.
I was done hiding.
When I actually got into the writing of it—a very personal story that shares how I made it out of an abusive relationship, and talks about recovering from the real lasting emotional damage of control and manipulation—I realized that telling the “truth” wasn’t going to be as easy as I had once thought.
One of the major obstacles I came up against was that I couldn’t remember what it felt like to hear my own voice. To trust myself. To assume that my answer to a question—although not necessarily the only answer—was a perfectly valid and important answer. If you had asked me a question like what do you want for dinner? Or what do you think is the best approach to this dilemma? in those early days of recovery, I would have been frozen in my tracks.
I didn’t know.
I’ll never forget a friend having to remind me, when I was about to make a big purchase in a store one day, that I was allowed to change my mind if I wanted to. There I am, a 33-year-old woman, standing at the cash register frozen, and my friend could notice the shift in my energy even more astutely than I could.
I didn’t know how to give myself permission to want what I wanted, to feel what I felt, to know what I knew—let alone to say what I thought. What a disorienting thing to have your only reference point for information and affirmation be outside of you, to other people or institutions or sources—to the point where you aren’t even in touch with your own perspective.
When you check in with yourself, to see how you feel or what you think about a thing, you just… come up blank.
But it gets even more complicated than that.
Even as I did the work to reconnect with myself (through therapy, friendship, writing, yoga) and began recovering the sound of my voice, I realized there was a very external obstacle to using it.
There were forces at work which had a vested interest in keeping me quiet.
Power. Control. Manipulation.
Some of the “push-back” we get when we begin using our voices is healthy—an opportunity for us to see and experience the impact we have on others and hold space for someone else to have their (conflicting) truth, too. But a lot of it is toxic and unfair and and unthoughtful and biased and discriminatory and limiting. Driven by the same forces that drove my abusive relationship—the need for certain people to stay in control and stay in power.
To keep you quiet.
The ramifications many of us experience for using our voices play a powerful role in keeping us from doing it. I noticed in my own recovery process that watching another woman speak up and then get crushed by those who didn’t believe her or take her seriously, or even just didn’t share her opinion, would make me think to myself, “why would I ever put myself in that position?”
The control is working. Until we decide we’re ready to break the cycle.
It’s incredibly dangerous to not know the sound of your own voice—or to know your voice and not be using it.
The first and biggest danger, in my view, is what I alluded to above, which is that when we don’t know and trust ourselves, we become extra vulnerable to control, manipulation, and betrayal. Maybe you get this. You might feel like you have been in business or personal relationships over and over and over again where you are betrayed or lied to or used or silenced or trampled on.
It’s much easier for someone to control you if you don’t know the sound of your voice—because conveniently, when you don’t trust yourself, you have to look to them for guidance.
Religious communities can do this, spouses can do this, significant others can do this, family members can do this, bosses can do this…
And sure, there are plenty of totally benign churches and spouses and parents and bosses who are not taking advantage of those in their care who don’t know the sound of their own voice. But when you know yourself, when you know your voice, suddenly the onus of control for your life and your growth and your development and your happiness is back where it belongs—in your court.
Speaking of which, the second dangerous thing that happens when you don’t know how to navigate your internal world is that you become highly likely to place all of your focus outside of you for the circumstances of your life. This is one way people who feel powerless gain back a sense of power, without actually reclaiming their power.
They blame everyone else for their problems and wish everybody else would change so their experiences could change.
I noticed myself doing this in my recovery when I would start to get really uncomfortable with some of the big feelings I was having about my new life, post-relationship—all the grief, all of the confusion, all of the re-calibrating. Anytime I would speak up about my circumstances and someone would ask me, “how didn’t you see?” or “why did you ignore the warning signs?”
I would point the finger.
It’s a clever evasion move.
Well, he wouldn’t let me…
Sure, maybe there is truth in that statement. But the more important truth, the harder truth, the only truth over which I have any control and the only truth which can set me free is the truth of ME.
Why did I abandon myself?
Why did I ignore what I knew?
Why didn’t I listen to myself?
I’m not saying the external circumstances weren’t terrible or unfair or that they didn’t matter. They did. Of course they did and of course they made things complicated and scary and of course they were unjust and unfair. What I’m saying is that when I answered the HARDER question—“why did I abandon myself”—that’s where I gained back all of my power.
The price of using your voice.
The hard truth is there is a high price to speaking up. Criticism, judgement, rejection, abandonment.
We’re right, I think, to have a little fear of what it costs.
But the bigger question, I think, is “what is the cost of denying your voice?”
I was talking with a friend the other day who got wrapped up in a religious group where she was forced to abandon many of her family and relationship ties—not to mention all of her freedom to think her own thoughts and make her own choices. What she gained in return was access to the “inner circle,” which offered her an elevated social status and unthinkable resources.
After walking away, she said, “it was too expensive. It was just too expensive.”
From one woman who sold her soul for a period of time to anyone out there reading this who knows how it feels to be out of touch with yourself, I just want to say one thing.
It’s not worth it.
It’s too expensive.
It’s time to start using your voice.
It’s time to come home to yourself.