Speaking up for yourself is essential for self-care but many of us learn in childhood that doing so can mean penalties, such as the loss of a friendship or being the object of teasing. Sometimes, making yourself heard is such a competition you decide not to compete. Either way it involves a decision at some level that your own needs are not a priority.
My current guest Elizabeth, grew up in a family where she wasn’t heard but thanks to therapy, learned early in her marriage how to speak up. It’s a skill that has proven useful in her dating. Here’s Elizabeth:
Early on in my current relationship we went into New York together. We were spending a lot of time together and he started bringing up pictures on his iPhone of his family and this is this one and this is that one and he was going on and on and not realizing the impact that was having on me.
I stopped him. I said, “You’re losing me.” And he immediately turned off the phone, looked me square in the eyes and said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “I just can’t take in any more.” And he adjusted, and we changed the conversation and that was really important because he noticed.
He noticed that I spoke up; first of all. He heard it, he accepted it and it shifted everything.
Then there was one time when I was staying at his place and I couldn’t find my boots. I said, “Where are my boots?” And he said, “How should I know?” in a harsh tone. And I felt like, “Wow.” I needed them to go outside to see something. I eventually found them and when we came back in I said, “You yelled at me.” I said it kind of like a child would, “You yelled at me!” and he said, “Sorry” and it has never happened again.
Really, only my piece in the relationship is vitally important and to immediately speak my truth, when I’m feeling something other than pleasure to give voice to it, if it feels important to me.
I can tell you that I started therapy at twenty-nine and I got married at twenty-four. I remember her saying, “Why don’t you just say to him, ‘Can I just finish my sentence?’” and I remember the first time I said it. I can physically remember where I was. He said, “Oh, I’m going to have to really watch what I say. I feel like I have to walk on eggshells.” But he did let me finish my sentence.
I realized that sticking up was important. And if there was fuss around it, there was fuss around it but I was able to finish sentences because he’d just cut me off which is exactly how it was in my family of origin. I would just be cut off. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I learned how to speak up for myself. That’s been a journey forever and now I have no trouble saying, “Excuse me, I’d like to finish my sentence.” or, “I was speaking.” But, I’m 64. It took me a long time.
This is a topic that hits home for me … there were issues I avoided discussing with my husband because they were so contentious. I thought by not discussing them they would be non-issues. I didn’t realize that what I was really doing was avoiding the conflict. I was making my marriage last but I wasn’t making it work.
As I realized this, I looked back over my work career and realized when faced with strong personalities, I had kept quiet there too.
So speaking my truth is one of the gifts from my divorce that I treasure and continue to nurture. I wish I’d learned it sooner but knowing it now knows gives me a sense of a “graceful mid-lifer” and you can be sure I’m committed to teaching my children NOT to be quiet.
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