As a counselor, I often find myself working with women who have a hard time “finding their voice.” By that I mean, they find it hard to identify their feelings, know their needs and assert their feelings and needs in a constructive way within a relationship.
When this problem becomes entrenched, you may feel as if you’ve lost your identity or sense of self. Typically, this occurs when a person has been in an abusive or controlling relationship for some prolonged period in his/her life, perhaps beginning in childhood or any time thereafter. And because of that, real feelings are often denied in an effort to appease the controller.
Living without a voice can feel like being trapped alive inside a sealed tomb. It’s a terrible place to be.
When I was younger, I had difficulty with this issue. I’ve spent a lot of years working hard to overcome this tendency and have, for the most part, succeeded. But I still have thoughts that run through my mind, “What you feel is wrong or doesn’t matter, so keep quiet!” I wonder if this is the voice of the Accuser.* Or if I’m simply hearing old tapes from my childhood that resurrect when I’m feeling insecure. But whatever the source …
I do know that finding my voice and helping others find theirs is so important to living with purpose and truly connecting positively with those we love.
Here’s what I’ve learned about “finding my voice:”
1. It’s important to become aware of your feelings.
This sounds like a no-brainer, “Of course, we know when we feel something!” But the fact is, even if we haven’t made a habit of suppressing our emotions, people often dismiss or ignore their feelings—especially when the feelings leave them feeling vulnerable.
2. Ask for help in recognizing and understanding your feelings.
The first person to ask is God. He can heighten your awareness of your feelings. He can also give you insight into why you feel the way you do. Asking a Christian counselor or trusted, Christian friend or mentor can also help you gain insight.
3. Write about your feelings.
It’s helpful to write down any insights you gain about your feelings. If you hate to write, then spend time talking about and processing through your feelings with God and your trusted confidantes. Both writing and speaking about your feelings will give you further insight into what and why you feel the way you do. I’ve seen it produce amazing results!
4. Practice expressing your feelings and needs to “safe” people.
Share your feelings with those who know you well and are supportive and accepting of you. As you gain a sense of mastery, you can begin to cautiously share with those in your life who are less accepting of your feelings and needs.
5. Practice setting boundaries with “safe’ people.
This basically involves telling others what you will and won’t accept. With boundaries, you assert your needs, your requests, and/or your limitations to others—especially to those you’ve had difficulty asserting your boundaries with in the past. So practicing boundaries with “safe” people can help you to improve, all the while building confidence in your new skill.
Finding your voice isn’t an easy task. But the incredible news is that Christ still “rolls stones away.” I know, because now I’m free to be me!
“They found the stone rolled away from the tomb…” Luke 24:2 (NIV)
*A term used to describe Satan, found in Revelation 12:9-11 (NIV)