Sunday, July 19, 2020

Finding My Voice...and My Power

I've always been more of a listener than a talker. If attention is focused on me and I think my words are being judged negatively or even doubtfully as I speak them, the nervous adrenaline rush will cause my face to blush. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. As I watch the reaction in others as I feel my face get red, embarassment kicks in, which makes my blushing even worse. I often try to ignore their reaction and continue on with what I was saying, but it's not easy. My words become less focused, due to everyone, including me, being distracted by my red face. At a young age, I concluded it was easier to stay quiet than to try to use my voice.

For most of my life, if I found myself in a group setting,  I listened and observed. Handcrafts, such as knitting, were enjoyable, calming, and gave my hands something to do while everyone else talked. When I had an opinion that differed from most people, I would sometimes speak up briefly, but often kept it to myself. If I decided on a path that I knew others would judge, I frequently still moved forward with it, but did so quietly. 

Over the past year I've been doing a lot of internal work. Meditation has been a great tool to calm my mind and emotions. It helps me to see the heart of an issue more clearly. As I got the hang of meditation, I started addressing situations that triggered my emotions. I looked for the real cause, the true emotion that was triggered. Finding the correct emotional word is essential. With the wrong word, you're on the wrong part of the map. Like trying to find your way from LA to Monterey, but all you have is a map of Colorado. You won't get there without the correct map.

It was time for me to get to the heart of the trigger behind my blushing when someone seemed to disagree with what I was saying. This included the varying extremes of reactions in others, from doubt to disagreement to offense to anger. Even someone who was just unsure about what I said would trigger a reaction in me. So what was going on inside of me to make me feel triggered?

At first I attributed it to fear, insecurity, and/or lack of confidence. That kind of touched on it, but those emotions weren't at the core of my issue. So I kept looking. Then during a meditation session, it came to me. Guilt. That was it. But why would I feel guilty about my ideas and opinions?

I'll spare you the play-by-play of my emotional work. It turns out that somewhere along the way I'd gotten the impression that I was supposed to be perfect. To always know the right answer. To not be wrong. To always know the right thing to say. If someone doubted what I was saying, then maybe I was wrong. If someone got upset by what I was saying, then I had chosen the wrong words. If it turned out my statement was not correct or that I had said something upsetting to another person, then I had failed in my perceived expectation to be perfect...and I felt guilty about that failure. 

Where did I get the idea that I was supposed to be perfect? Well, school is a big one. Teachers judge us by our mistakes, rather than our successes. When you get a test back from a teacher, it typically shows how many questions you got wrong, in bold red ink, rather than the number you got right. Combine that with my Mom's belief that all four of us kids were geniuses, and this increases the pressure to get the right answers and say the right things.

I skipped a year in school, from first to second grade, was put in a gifted program in elementary school, and was expected to sign up for Advanced Placement classes in high school. Keeping up with all this was a struggle for me. I was often praised for being a "good" student, because I was cooperative and quiet. 

In my early teens, I had a brief conversation with my Mom that, in my mind, confirmed her expectation for me to be perfect. I came home from school one day and happily told her I got an A- on a test. Her response was, "Why didn't you get an A?" Now I know she was just trying to help me see where I could improve, but what I heard was that I wasn't good enough unless I was perfect. After some more emotional work, I've come to realize that I'm human...and perfection is not achievable as a human.

The other issue suppressing my voice was my feeling of unworthiness. This came out during a guided meditation that directed me to feel worthy. My emotional reaction said, "No, you're not worthy. Other people are more important than you." This surprised me. I had no idea this feeling ran so deep. 

I regularly put other people's preferences and needs ahead of mine. This seems to be the unspoken expectation of women and moms. If I did anything purely for myself, I often felt selfish. In my previous writing efforts, I found myself researching other people's findings and opinions that rang true with mine, to help justify my own conclusions. My own beliefs had no value, unless someone more worthy than I believed the same way. 

Now that I had identified the two issues that needed to be addressed, guilt and worthiness, I was able to start making some forward progress. I started this blog to give my voice some practice.

My progress was put to the test last week when two emails from my brother landed in my inbox. The topics were a couple of issues currently facing our country that I have pretty strong feelings about. His words were filled with such vitriol for any group or person that believed differently from him, which included me, that they hit me hard in the heart and left me deeply saddened. 

In the past, I would have deleted his emails and moved on, but these hurt too much. Silence felt like complicity. To not speak would show a disregard for my own voice. I had to respond. I expressed the hurt I felt from his words, and referenced examples where compassion and understanding were more successful at achieving resolution in the topic of his emails, rather than additional force. 

Family love had always seemed to be the foundation of our relationship, even when we disagreed. I thought I would at least get a response that showed concern for my feelings and perhaps a toned down effort on his part to communicate his point. Silly me. Boy was I wrong. His replies focused directly on me, saying I was either evil or an idiot, and pushed the verbal knife even deeper into my heart. I was blindsided.

It's been a rough ride the past few days. My wounds are still pretty fresh, but I'm making progress working through my emotions. My first response, of course, was to question whether or not I should have expressed my opinion at all, and to wonder if I had made a mistake by choosing the wrong words. Old habits die hard. I was able to rule out those concerns fairly promptly, with the help and support of my sisters and husband. 

My voice is absolutely valid and valuable. It has just as much right to be expressed as his does. I don't need to get into a full on debate with someone, but I have the right to say I disagree. With my silence, I've probably been giving the impression that I agree for far too long. It's time for that to stop.

Although this recent experience shook me up pretty harshly, it has strengthened my resolve. It confirmed the value of my voice and my right to express it. Through this blog, I plan to give that right some exercise. Thanks for listening.

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