“Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do when they settle ‘neath your skin. Kept on the inside, with no sunlight, sometimes the shadow wins. But I wonder what would happen if you say what you wanna say and let the words fall out – honestly. I want to see you be brave!” Brave – Sara Bareilles (2013)
Depending on your perspective, I’m either the last or the first person on Earth who has any business offering this piece of advice. The “last” because anyone who knows me will readily (and quite accurately) attest that, with the exception of some poetry and letters, I spent much of the first 50+ years of my life ignoring this advice with impunity. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a fairly keen sense of who I was, what I believed in or how (often intensely) I felt about things (and others) from a very young age. To the contrary, I think I did. It’s just that, for whatever reason (e.g., mistrust, fear of rejection or, worse yet, abandonment, insecurity, immaturity, lack of (or poor) self-esteem, concern that my honesty might hurt others’ feelings, etc.) I consciously or, more likely, subconsciously chose not to express those feelings or to fully share “me” with others, even those who were the precipitating force behind or the object of those feelings. Instead, I swallowed them or kept them close and insisted that others “read my mind” or, as the case may be, my heart.
When, perhaps not surprisingly, they didn’t do that or refused to try, I became even more frustrated, hurt and deeply disillusioned – all of which leads me to believe that I also should be the “first” to explain just how critical seeking out, nurturing and finding healthy ways of expressing “your voice” is to living a happy, authentic and fulfilling life. That and my having had the privilege, over the past several years, of listening to countless young (and not-so-young) women share their own heartbreaking stories – many of which it seemed to me were tied, at least in part, to the fact that, somewhere along the way, they had lost or swallowed their own voices or had them taken away, trampled upon or drowned out by others. It’s impossible to precisely articulate how that feels (i.e., to experience life with such sensitivity and intensity and not be able (or feel you are not “permitted” to) express it).
Certain “behaviors” (e.g., tears, laughter, anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, etc.) are healthy and important ways of expressing that voice – and they are a good starting point. But they still require some “interpretation.” For that reason, I believe there is no substitute for the spoken or written word. Both are essential and well within all our reach. Like a singer’s, “your voice” will require some training and practice. You won’t always get it “right” – no one does. At times you will misspeak, your emotions will be misdirected, your feelings misunderstood. You will speak too loudly or softly to be “heard.” Eventually, you will find the sweet spot. In the meantime, the important thing is not that you get it “right,” but that you get it out! As for those of us on the receiving end – patience, empathy and validation are the order of the day. The bottom line: Life was meant to be lived out loud!