How many of us bite our tongues or look the other way when we see or hear something that we find wrong or offensive - whether it be from our boss, a parent or a partner? Have you ever wondered why so many times we opt to just “let it go” and to “keep the peace” rather than speaking up and possibly ruffling a few feathers- especially when it comes to men?
Sure from time to time, it is better to let things go - little things. Afterall, you gotta choose your battles wisely.
To an outsider, it’s easy to question why someone didn’t speak up when they got felt up during a massage, allowed a partner to treat them unkindly, or confront the manager who sent a biting and insulting email.
From a young age, women have largely been taught to keep the peace. Growing up we’re told to “mind our manners,” “act like a lady,” “don’t be a bitch” or God forbid, “act crazy.”
These phrases have taught women that their voice and opinions do not matter as much as our male counterparts. Our emotional intelligence isn’t to be valued and can be seen as threatening when our powerful intuition goes against “logic.” Because of this, many of us we were never taught to have challenging conversations, therefore we don’t. We avoid. We’re trained to feel powerless.
This seemingly powerless state bears an incredible emotional and mental weight. When we don’t speak up when things matter, we feel the shame from knowing we could have done more. We feel embarrassed when someone asks, “why didn’t you say something?!” We also tend to hold resentment or anger towards others for things we feel “they should just know.”
The emotional burden of “keeping the peace” with others often comes at the price of our own internal war. We find ourselves angry, confused, stressed out, shameful, anxious and even depressed. This burden has put millions in therapy and have resulted in hours of phone calls between friends that are filled with venting of frustrations. These attempts to lighten the weight of the burden or make sense of the numerous side effects that it has plagued us with, i.e. sudden emotional breakdowns, sleepless nights, insecurity, do not typically give us the long-term relief we are looking for.
Personally, I can say I have spent many sleepless nights tossing and turning in my bed replaying over and over a scenario where I did not speak up. I find myself going back and forth between anger and sadness, which typically carries over into the next day. It’s no good for anyone.
When we don’t speak up, we’re forced to live with the “what ifs.”
What if I had just said what was on my mind?
What if I had said how I feel?
What if I had just told the truth?
Would it have made a difference?
This lack of resolution can be maddening.
When we begin to think about speaking our truth in terms of our mental health, we become more compassionate to ourselves and the need to speak up takes on a different sense of urgency. We can ask ourselves questions such as, “What will it feel like afterwards if I don’t say anything?” “Is staying silent something that will cause me shame and anxiety?” “How will staying silent affect me, both in the short and long term?” Answering these questions can help us assess the necessity of utilizing our voice when it really matters. It becomes more than the situation at hand, it becomes about our health.
So how does one begin to suddenly speak up after years of being conditioned to be silent? You practice. Our voice is like any muscle in our body. You get better and stronger the more you use it. Practice voicing your honest opinion about smaller issues so you can build up to larger ones. No one goes from zero to 60 overnight. If you want to be a runner, you practice running. If you want to be known for being fiercely vocal, you practice being vocal and at the very least, you support others who are vocal, even when you feel you cannot.
Speaking up can be an incredibly healing because when one is heard, there is a great sense of power. Hope cannot live in a place of powerlessness, only turmoil.
Utilizing my voice in difficult conversations is something I am still practicing and will be practicing my whole life. It’s something I help my clients with as well - being honest with others and ourselves. There is great emotional freedom in communicating. Life's too short for “could’a - should’a - would’a.”