Learning to Speak up after being Abused

Writing is something I started to do because I never really felt like my voice was heard. If I could get a thought out onto the page and SHOW it to someone maybe then they would listen. I started doing this when I was a child, writing notes and letters to people who I felt had harmed me in some way and letting them know that I was hurt.

On the flip side I also wrote notes and letters to people that I felt loved me and were being caring and attentitive, I would “spread the love” in a moment when I felt the words were best on paper.

Later in life I journaled these things and stopped sharing them with others, mostly because the reactions I got tended to hold my words over my head. I learned early that sharing positive and loving feelings were the only ones anyone ever wanted to read. And when you had an opnion on a situation that was different from someone else they never wanted to read it in a letter, no matter how well worded.

Recently I started this blogging journey, but in my early 20’s I was in an abusive relationship that left me voiceless in my own life. For many reasons I stopped writing, I stopped reading even, the written word was no longer the joy in my life that I wanted it to be because of the results that happened when I would turn to it.

To make matters even worse I gave up singing, a long time passion of mine that brought much joy and celebration to my heart.

As time wore on I found myself getting sick in ways that hurt my voice box, I was so stressed and upset that the words felt like they were litterally getting stuck in my throat every day. I suffered more cases of strep throat then any other time in my life before and since.

The Catalyst

There came a time when I found that I could no longer sit in silence, pen set aside. I could no longer be quiet and submissive to the “requirements” of another. I had to be me, I had to write, I had to sing. So I started to journal again, I started to write those words that were deep in my heart, from my fears of failure and lack of love to the joy I found in a new friendship or job.

I wrote for me, for weeks or months at a time I would write for stollen minutes and carry the book with me to keep it safe from prying eyes. I found my old journals and read through them, storing them in a safe to keep them private. And I built the strength of who I am into my words.

Words have power, I know the old saying of “sticks and stones” implies that words will never hurt. But the reality is that they can. If you are told as a child that you are stupid every day or even just frequently enough you will likly belive it and act like it even if you are not.

And as much as the words others say to us have power, the words we say to ourselves have more. I have found over time that if I tell myself I am miserable about a situation (lets say a job I don’t like) then I will wake up hating that job and looking for ways to get out of doing it. But if I tell myself that this job is how I am able to pay for the things I love in life, and lets me spend time with the people I want to, now I’m not trying to escape it every day. I may not LOVE it all the time, but I’m not grumping and groaning about it either.

How we give away our voice

Many of us don’t knowlingly give away our voice, it’s something that happens over time, or we may even be trained as kids to give it up. I know my “training” to not have a voice started when I watched my Mom go through her own personal hell.

I won’t go into the details of her situation but she is a survivor of childhood abuse herself and her abusers are still alive. And when I was a child she started trying to heal from it and whent through a very personally painful process. All while trying to raise me, a curious, loving, and energetic young child.

Unfortunately or forunately as I look back now, I saw her healing process in all the nitty gritty of the DIY Self-Helper. And as much as I would like to beg anyone going through this stuff to PLEASE SEEK Professional help, I know it’s not viable for everyone. But the trauma I experienced because she could NOT keep her pain from me was imense. I often got conflicting messages and the words used were very strong and usually backed with either a loud voice that I found scarry or the quiet loving voice that I longed for.

As she processed her trauma much of it came out in the words used in our home. And since kids idolize their parents from birth (It is a self-protection method) I internalized all of it. Creating beliefs and words in my head which were very disempowering.

with a little diligence we can recognize and root out disempowering words and thoughts, and experience the uptick in quality of life that comes with doing so.

Jennifer Hamady on Psychology Today – We Are What We Speak

Dispite the buzzy aspect of this type of thinking I was still a rather positive girl who many people liked and wanted to spend time with. The problem was that I couldn’t hear the truth of who I was in the midst of all the mental buzz and the external demands I had from others who thought they knew who I was.

In the end I went along with the ideas and thoughts of many of the people around me and just tried to keep up. I gave away my voice by being a people pleaser.

Another way that people tend to give up their voice is by not knowing who they are.

As a young child we are not expected to know and understand who we are, yet often we are expected to make life long choices and stay with them. How many times have we asked kids what they want to be when they grow up? Most of the time we don’t expect them to stick with the choices they make when they are 5 or even 6 years old. Yet at 15 or 16 they are expected to be working towards which ever post secondary school they want to get into so they can build this great big career….

At 16 I wanted to be a massage therapist… While I’ve been to college for it I have never actually held that job. Why? Becuase not everyone has this deep seated knowing that says “this is me” right from a young age. And growing up with an adult in the house who had no clue who she was let alone how to teach me HOW to figure out who I am did not lend it’s self to a deep understanding of who I was.

And it’s taken me until my late 30’s now to figure out that Yup, I’m a writer. Even if no one ever reads these words or finds any kind of value in them. I’m a writer, I comunicate via the written word and I LOVE it. But that is MY TRUTH, I blog because I love to write and I think what I blog about can help others. But I do it and keep coming back to it because I love it.

Many people won’t know who they are in this life time, they won’t know themselves deeply enough to really understand themselves. And I didn’t get it until I realized that you can’t know yourself until you stop withholding your deepest ideas, thoughts and opinions as well as emotions, feelings and requests from yourself.

Now I’m not saying that you have to tell everyone your truth (that still freaks me out). But to know yourself you need to get real and acknowledge your deepest parts of you that you are hiding from even yourself. You likely don’t even know your hiding these things any more even if you are. I know I didn’t until I met a man who wasn’t hiding anything.

He reminded me of my Grandpa, a man who stood with integrity and was so well respected that an entire farming comunity shut down in the middle of the best day to harvest that year and attend his funeral. To this day I just have to say I’m his grandkid in that area and people will tell me positive stories about him. He knew who he was.

And this new person did too, I couldn’t escape his truth, he knew who he was. And it changed my life because his knowing challenged me to know my truth, even when it conflicted with his.

Withholding your truth can become an illness, for me it strangled my voice, even before I got into an abusive romantic relationship I suppressed who I was from even myself. And I found myself getting sicker and sicker physically and mentally as well as emotionally. My head and heart were not working together either.

Which leads me to say, that when we do not connect with both our heads and hearts we give up our voice. Our head gives us the logic to connect to people who are good for us, it builds the logical reason that they should be around. But our hearts, that is where things like love, loyalty and integrity live. We give away our power when we disconnect the 2 and stop living in that balance.

We also can adopt someone else’s voice rather then using our own. Using our own voice takes courage, because we are exposing who we are to the situation. That can and often is very scary, especially if we don’t normally do that. So we use other people’s opinions and spew them out as our own. This means who we are isn’t at risk of attack, and if it is someone else’s idea and gets proven wrong then we can put the blame on someone else. Who we are doesn’t come under fire.

What you can do…

I don’t know about you, but I really want to live with a voice that is mine, I don’t want to give up the power of who I am to someone else. But what are we to do when we don’t have a voice any more?

Start with the basics – there are some people out there who know who they are, they likely freak you out a bit. Find one and observe them. See what they do not for the actions it’s self but for how it fits with the deffinition of who they are. Do they speak with integrity even though it could mean trouble for them? Do they help others who have no way to paying them back? If these types of actions happen watch how they do them, is it with joy on their face, does it seem genuine?

Start saying NO to things, even if it’s just the little ones. Don’t want to go for a movie, say NO. Or maybe you already had plans for a night in and a friend calls and asks you to go with them… say no. You can always work your way up the scale to saying No to bigger things just start getting used to it.

Ask yourself the hard questions, I’m not saying you have to go through all the questions but ask yourself:

What do I daydream about and want to explore?

Do I stand up for myself? Why/Why Not?

Do I fear disapointing others or loosing a realtionship if I stand up for myself?

Are there real life risks to my voicing who I am?

In general you should be curious about who you are inside, and focused on who you want to be as you grow and learn about yourself.

And realize that finding your voice may not have an “end point”, it may be ajourney that you continue through out the rest of your life. I know I started finding my voice almost 10 years ago and I still find myself looking for it from time to time. And that’s ok, cause voices change and grow with us.