You’re getting on the bus and the person behind you is talking loudly on their phone. It’s not just talk though. The language is foul, aggressive, abusive. You look round briefly. Inside there’s a conversation going on, do you say anything, do you keep quiet, do you look to others to intervene or just hope it will stop? Or maybe it doesn’t bother you at all.
Here’s another scene, less confrontational but perhaps just as challenging. Your with friends and someone makes a strong statement about something you really disagree with. Do you find yourself holding back, even though many fibres in you are straining, urging you to speak out?
It’s a tough call knowing when to speak out and when to hold your tongue. But if your default position is to always stay quiet, you may have learnt at some point in your life that it wasn’t safe to say what was on your mind. Perhaps you feel anxious about confrontation, or you avoid conflict. It’s common for to have anxiety when facing someone down for their behaviour, or to feel angry when you can’t.
When someone comes to counselling, and is not able to give a voice to what needs to be said, it’s often for one these four reasons:
1 Fear of confrontation: ‘Who do you think you are?’
This is perhaps one of the biggest things that holds you back from saying what feels important. The idea of speaking out and causing an argument, getting shouted at or worse. It’s a natural response to keeping safe, but are there times when staying silent comes at too high a price.
Maybe it’s with a parent or sibling that you always find yourself accommodating or steering clear of confrontation or a work boss or colleague.
Did you learn at some point that anger and confrontation weren’t ok?
2 Fear of judgment: ‘Don’t be so stupid’
Sometimes speaking your mind, might mean taking a stand and that can feel very scary. If you say what you’re really thinking, what would others think of you and say of you? It can feel safer to stay quiet than to risk disapproval.
Was there a time when you were made to feel ashamed of what you said or how you behaved? Maybe you experienced this at home or at school?
3 Fear of alienation: ‘You’re not part of my gang’
On a similar note, saying what your really think might lead you to be cut adrift from your group; you may feel that they wouldn’t approve or appreciate your view and might ostracise you for daring to be different.
Have you had an experience before, of being shut out for speaking your mind or seeing others excluded from a group?
4 Fear of offending: ‘You hurt me’
You may be worried that what you have to say may not be well received. Rather than leading to confrontation, the other person takes offence and retreats into themselves. In this scenario, you’re trying to protect them from hurt, as if what you have to say will be too much for them to hear.
Have you a response to speaking your mind where someone crumbled or seemed so overwhelmingly devastated by your remark that you vowed not to do it again?
The cost of staying silent
The trouble with never or rarely speaking your mind is that you end up putting a mask over what your true and authentic experience is.
I’m not advocating here that you turn off all the censoring and go for it, come what may, but to notice when and with whom you decide to say what you really feel. Is it for one of the reasons above, or another? What does it cost you to speak, or not to speak?
Often, the bottling up of your truths, can have all sorts of unintended consequences, including feelings of depression.
So next time you find yourself silencing that inner voice, ask what do you gain and lose from not speaking your mind? What would make you feel safer to say what you really feel?
This week’s Lifeline is all about that.
This week’s Lifeline
Think of a scenario in which you haven’t spoken your mind. Cast your mind back to that time and recreate the scene in as much detail as you can.
Now write the dialogue as if you were freely saying what you wanted and needed to say. Don’t pull any punches. Embrace the opportunity of replaying the scenario in full playing it out as you would want to see it happen.
Once you’ve written it, re-read it and digest for a moment or too. Then tune into your responses to that experience. Does it bring up elation, energy or anxiety and trepidation? List all your hopes and fears in playing out the conversation and really speaking your mind. And how did you feel in not playing it out this way? What was the impact and consequence?
Over to you
So what holds you back from speaking your mind and what helps you get through that? I’d love to hear from you, so why not add a comment below?
Struggling with speaking up for yourself?
Counselling offers a safe space to get things off your chest, and to try out new ways of expressing yourself. If you’d like to work through what’s holding you back from speaking your mind, why not get in touch to book a first counselling session?
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