I woke up this morning knowing I wanted to write a post and having no idea of what to say. I seemed tapped out – at least for the moment. Then I remembered my father saying, “you babble on and on,” when I was little and my mother said, “you opened your mouth and haven’t shut up since.”
There are many times I am sure there were times when someone said something derogatory or hurtful, or told me what or how I should do or act and were just plain wrong. How much of my inability to speak up comes from what I heard as a child – the message being Shut Up – what you have to say is not important, you are not important.
I certainly spoke up when I got to school and was punished for it. I was sent to the principal’s office. My mother had to come to school and she was not happy. When I got older I didn’t know why, but my voice disappeared. Words crossed my mind. Words I knew were right for that moment, but they were words I could not say, thought I knew the answer. I no longer raised my hand when the teacher asked for feedback or information. It was like something in me was turned off. I was afraid.
Would I appear stupid? My parents said I was when I was little so I believed it. Would my answer be ridiculous? Or would I get tongue tied and seem like a fool? I even practiced what to say in my head and still couldn’t do it. Even if I was determined to speak I would wait too long and someone else would answer before I could get up enough courage. Or worst of all, would I be ignored, a living ghost that is there and afraid to say anything?
When I was studying for my PhD I read many articles about this problem. Experiments were done that proved teachers called on males most often. Females were ignored leaving them feeling inadequate. Thankfully that has changed, at least that’s what I’m told.
There are other reasons people don’t speak up. Perhaps it’s thinking there is nothing else to be said on that topic. However, most people will finally admit it is fear. If it is business it can be fear of being fired. If we can be honest that is not the truth. It is fear of saying the wrong thing and getting punished in some way, even ostracized. Some believe that those who are in a ‘higher’ social position know better than you. Therefore it might be dangerous to speak against them. They went to a better school so they have to be smarter. A study was done that when analyzed showed that some people “become dumb” when in a group with those they think are smarter than they are. How can anyone put a relationship in jeopardy when it might mean losing the person or the job.
I remember being in kindergarten and first grade and hating it because we had to sit still and listen. The teacher spoke and we had to be good and wait to be called on. Between my parents and school I gave up. I was too little to fight them and didn’t want to go to the principal’s office again because my mother would be mad at me.
I got married and couldn’t speak up. I watched my parents closely as children do. In those days men were the ones who worked and brought home the money. Women stayed home and obeyed. Certainly that was more prevalent in my parent’s relationship but I had lived with it and it seeped into my being. I was petrified when I asked my husband if I could try out for a scholarship. I would never do that today, but I had learned well.
Our fears are based on the fear of rejection, of losing those we love or need. Studies have been done that show that the brain shows rejection in the same place as physical pain and rejection is the most feared thing that can happen to a human.
Not everyone is fearful. I think back to the boys who answered in school and others who spoke out. More people speak up now, especially women, who didn’t so many years ago.
As a singer I know how important voice is. Every turn of phrase, every nuance is heard and digested. A softer tone says something different from a loud one. Like here on these pages where we do not capitalize every letter because it means shouting. Your voice shows joy, passion, beliefs, opinions and more. It says who we are. Be as happy as this young girl.
Do you knowingly or unknowingly play the victim? Stay quiet when you should speak up. Even with parents, friends, or work colleagues? Or in retrospect years later when you want to kick yourself. How many times do we say “I wish I had—” said or done this or that.
The problem is that when you think of yourself as a victim, you become one. Why is that important? It leads to destructive self beliefs. Everyone is smarter than I am so I’d better let them make the decisions. I’ll do what they say – they know what I should do, they’re better than me. If I depend on them I can relax and not think about anything.
In other words you give up and allow others to take control of your life. It may seem like the best thing to do . You are off the hook for everything. But is it?
You shrink, get smaller instead of growing, preventing any chance for you to develop and recognize your own wants and needs. You allow other to choose. You – give – up.
If you remain a victim you will never take control of your fate or any success you might have because it all belongs to them. Like a child others are in charge of your life.
We are responsible for ourselves – no one else is.
Turn it around and choose to find happiness.
I introduced you to Star a while ago. If you missed it hop over to my site. She is a rescue dog from the Humane Society. My son was with me when we went to see her. She was overly excited to be with humans again and not on a leash. She jumped all over , kissed us, and jumped all over us again.It didn’t matter what she did. She was brought in on my birthday and I decided she was mine.
We filled out the paper work and put her in the back seat. She was quiet all the way home. I took her into the house and took off her leash. My grand kids were there. Star went to the back of the living room near the sliding back door to the patio. She would not sit. I went to get some water and I hear loud yelling. Look at what she did! Then they all laughed.
I ran back to find she pooped all over my rug. And I mean all over. The kids just sat there as I cleaned pile after pile and threw it in the toilet. When I finally sat down all I could think was what did I do? Did I make a big mistake?
I was to find out that she has a delicate stomach. The vet gave her two antibiotic shots and it never happened again. Did I just make a mistake by saying that? Okay, go ahead laugh.
Just to let you know she is the best – sweet, gentle, loving – and one of the best things that happened to me. If you were taken away from where you were, thrown in a strange car with strange people, then taken into a strange house you might need to poop too.
If you are not moving steadily in the direction of what you say you want, you can be certain that you are sabotaging yourself somewhere.
As we come to understand the mechanisms and patterns that underlie self-sabotage, we begin to free ourselves…we begin to allow ourselves to interact with ourselves and the world with greater success, joy, and fulfillment.
The process of breaking through denial, facing your fear, anger, and other difficult emotions, and making peace with your pain, leads to an ending of the internal war with yourself so that you can step fully into the greatest expression of yourself.
Finding the wisdom inside the wounds you’ve endured is one of the most important conversations you’ll ever have with yourself, because on the other side of it is the emotional freedom and depth of joy that you were born to have.
“I can’t believe it. I can’t find it anywhere.”
“Where did you put it?” my friend Georgia asked.
“That’s it, I can’t remember. I hid it so well when I went to Africa, I’ve no idea where.”
‘The it is a ring’, not an expensive one, but one that for some reason had meaning for me. It was purchased for me by a man I was dating. We were walking down a street in lower New York City when I spotted something I had never seen before.
“Look at that. That guy is selling something on the street and it’s not food. Let’s go take a look.”
“Do you want it?” Larry asked. Do I dare? I don’t know him that well. I have to.
A magnet pulled me into the gutter and across the street. A ring, one amongst many, attracted me to it. The only thing I could see was the mosaic it was made with. Not fine mosaic you might find in Italy, but rough. All blue and white, with a pink rose in the center, I fell in love with it.
When the vendor removed it from its place in the black velvet case for me to try on, I was puzzled by the large and ugly shank.
“Look at this,” I whispered, “it’s big enough for an elephant’s toe. It’s ugly.
“Don’t worry about that,” Larry said, “I’ll take care of it. “Do you like it?”
With a nod of my head, he bought it for me and had a gold wedding band soldered on by a jeweler. That was thirty-five years ago, I treasured the ring and wore it daily. It was different and brought many compliments throughout the years. Now I was without it and my finger felt strangely empty, missing its long-time companion.
Six months ago and three years after hiding it, I was rummaging around in a box of stuff in the garage. I come upon a plastic bag. I open the bag to find ornamental rocks I put in the garden to brighten it. Something made me rummage around in the bag and there it was, my ring. I slip it on the finger that has been waiting so long and my heart drops. It’s ruined. All of the center stones have disintegrated into the dust. I could taste my disappointment and removed it from my finger. It goes into a special place it in a drawer. Years later I still couldn’t make myself throw it out.
BUT I WILL TODAY. RIGHT NOW. DONE
I said something to my adult son. I didn’t mean it to be hurtful but he broke into tears. Was it my need to get back at him for something he did and I didn’t recognize it? I’ll probably never be sure one way or the other but I felt guilty for what I did.
Guilt happens when you believe you did something wrong. You hurt someone, whether you meant it or not. Or perhaps you stole something from a store, you didn’t make an important deadline or you recognize something about yourself you don’t like. Or you feel guilty about feeling guilty or being too happy.
You can feel frustrated, disappointed, sad. If you don’t pay attention to your emotions the feeling may live inside until you do something about it.
It is true that its the negative emotions that stay with you, are hard to let go of. We churn them over and over in our minds. One thing we can do is identify the feeling the made us feel guilty. Such as – I shouldn’t be frustrated, disappointed, angry—and so on.
The other possibility is forgiveness. Can you forgive yourself? We are human and humans make mistakes. That is how we learn to do better.
How many people have you offended?
Did this help you and if not what would you like me to write about?
Put the ‘me’ in memoir It seems like right now almost everybody has a story to tell. This is like the Age of Memoirs.
My theory is that post-Watergate we realized we can’t trust the government. Post-911 we feel like we can’t really trust the media to know (or tell us) what’s really going on either. So who can you trust? Only the personal testimony of credible individuals. To me that explains the rise of the written memoir.
So what about your memoir? If you’re interested, I’ve worked with a number of first-time writers to plan, write and re-write their stories and have developed a simple 5-step plan (which I also think would work for any book project). Here it is:
1 – BULLET POINTS: Start generating ideas (just nubbit of the story or character or rant). Notate these in shorthand phrases which might only be comprehensible to you (“green shoes”, “party pad”). Do not edit anything out. Go for quantity.
2 – BASKETS: In the course of generating your bullet points you probably noticed the ideas clustering, either around chronology (“my summer in hell”, “5 minutes in heaven”, “my mis-spent youth”) or concept (“mom”, “food”, “fantasy”). We often default to chronology but stay open to themes and topics. Each basket gets it’s own file, then just toss the related bullet points in. The basket titles can change, combine or sub-divide. They are probably the chapters or sections of your book. It probably needs a serious edit, but that’s a rough outline.
3 – BENCHMARKS: You need deadlines to give you a sense of momentum, to see things adding up because otherwise you just won’t get anything done. It’s great to have a teacher, coach or writing buddy, writers group or class to answer to and to give you assignments if/when your momentum flags, but you can do it yourself.
Pick one bullet point that seems essential to the book and write a draft of it this week. If you find yourself avoiding it when the week deadline is up, at the last second pick a different bullet point that seems fun and easy and draft that. The point is to expand one bullet point into a written draft every week, no matter how crappy that draft is.
4 – BEAT YOUR HEAD AGAINST A BRICK WALL: Any brick wall will do. Your insecurity that you don’t know what you’re doing. Your fear of being judged a fool and incompetent. Your revulsion at how bad your writing really is and how far short it falls of the book you imagined. Your inability to say what you really mean.
5 – ABANDON SHIP: After a heroic struggle you finally give up in frustration, admit you can’t do it and abandon the project for today (or for good). Then, in the shower, on the treadmill or eating that lunch, you suddenly see it, now more clearly than ever. You remember the detail that unlocks the scene or realize the point of the whole book!
Apparently, this is a known dynamic of the creative process and each step is important. Maybe to wear down your conscious filters? You beat your head against the wall first, then get frustrated and give up. No wonder so many artists are alcoholic!
Now go back to Step 3 and write some more, or Step 1 and generate more bullet points, this time getting more specific, and repeat the cycle.
You’re probably pretty confident that you’d be able to recognize whether you or your child was being physically abused, but what about emotional abuse? Abuse is abuse no matter which form it takes. And according to experts, emotional abuse in the form of childhood emotional neglect can actually be one of the most harmful.
“Neglect is the most damaging of all,” says Dr. Diane Robert Stoller, also known as “Dr. Diane,” a Boston-based neuropsychologist. Neglect is not being seen.
As Dr. Rahil Briggs, PsyD, at Albert Einstein College of Medicine explains, there is no distinction between emotional and physical abuse. All types of abuse fall under the umbrella of trauma. And trauma encompasses everything from physical trauma, like a child being beaten or hurt, to emotional pain and neglect.
“Trauma is not just a house fire or a car accident or something very headline-worthy,” she adds. “It can be very traumatic to children to consistently, constantly, and in a predictable way have their emotional needs disregarded. Or even worse, be told that they shouldn’t have them as children, if they are just asking for basic care and comfort.”
The effects of emotional trauma: Unlike physical scars, the long-lasting effects of emotional trauma are harder to see. Emotional neglect can take place in the form of a family that provides all of a child’s material needs, but never takes the time to get to know them. Emotional trauma can be in the form of a parent battling the demons of addiction who is unable to be fully present. Emotional trauma can look like a parent who favors one child over another, or a parent who is too busy to attend any of his kid’s sporting events. Emotional trauma, is the repeated and consistent neglect of the emotional well-being of a child.
There is a lot of interesting research on how childhood emotional neglect affects both our mental and physical health. For example, one study found that childhood emotional neglect actually increases the reactivity of the brain’s amygdala, which controls how we interpret and respond to stressful stimuli. But all types of trauma can lead to a wide range of negative effects, both in childhood and later in life, including:
- Higher rates of negative behavioral activities, such as drug use
- More physical health diagnoses, like cancer and heart disease ADHD
- Mental health disorders
- According to Dr. Diane, childhood neglect is more likely to cause a child to grow up in fear, learning to either become very aggressive or withdrawn, and turn blame inwards. And because that consistent trauma triggers the autonomic nervous system, neglect also has long-lasting physical effects, as well. Dr. Briggs likens the physical toll that emotional trauma takes on the human body to a car being driven at top speeds 24/7 without a break. “The car would break down faster,” she explains.
What does emotional neglect look like? Ironically, as I am talking to Dr. Briggs, I essentially ignore my 3-year-old as she clamors for my attention. So, am I neglecting her? Am I ruining her forever?
Dr. Briggs assures me that ignoring your kid now and then when you’re on the phone is not a problem. A repeated pattern of neglect that causes damage.
“It can be quite overwhelming to parents; there are 24 hours in a day and if you think to yourself, ‘Well, I have to be emotionally responsive to my child all 24 of those hours’, that’s a benchmark that no one can, nor should, meet,” she explains.
She suggests starting with something as simple as talking with your kid at the end of the day and remembering that some positive stress for kids is necessary for children to learn and grow. Dr. Diane also points out that children require different emotional “watering,” just like plants.
“That parent is supposed to be able to see … when to water it and when not to,” she explains. “Certain plants you need to water every day; other ones you need to water every week.”
I was relieved to discover that I wasn’t a horrible parent after all, but not so relieved to discover that my daughter had adorned her entire body in green marker while I was on the phone.
How to identify emotional neglect in yourself: One issue adults may encounter is coming face-to-face with their own childhood trauma once they become parents. Because so many people have yet to recognize their own emotional trauma and the subsequent impact it had on their lives, it can take an event, like becoming a parent, for that trauma to come flooding back.
If you notice yourself having “abnormally intense” reactions to your child’s crying, or if you are unable to parent the way you want to, you may have some repressed childhood trauma that needs to be dealt with. She even adds that parents who have had trauma in the past tend to struggle intensely with sleep training, simply because they can’t handle the thought of their baby crying.
You might even recognize the effects of emotional abuse in yourself in something as simple as how you react to acts of kindness-compliments or a hug. Ask yourself:
Do you immediately stiffen up when someone reaches for you in a hug?
Do you have a hard time getting close to people?
Do you think someone is lying if they complement you?
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, a history of childhood emotional neglect may help explain why. “If you’ve been neglected, someone being nice to you feels uncomfortable,” Dr. Diane says. Other symptoms include excessive independence (because you learned quickly that you couldn’t count on anyone for your own needs. All of these things can lead to the creation of an emotional wall that prevents you from allowing people to get close to you.
If you suspect that you may be a victim of childhood emotional neglect, there is hope. Parenting effectively starts with assessing your own mental health with a mental health provider.
Does any of this sound like you? Please leave a comment
EAST COKER By T.S. Eliot:
I said to my soul, be still,
and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing;
wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing;
there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope
are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought;
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness
LOVE AFTER LOVE by Derek Walcott, 1996 Nobel Prize winner for literature
The time will come, when,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door,
in your own mirror.
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, “Sit here, Eat. Relax.”
You will love again this stranger who is your Self.
Give wine. Give bread.
Give back your heart,
to this stranger who has loved you
all your life,
whom you ignored for another,
but who knows you by heart.
KNOW THYSELF By Paul Murray
There is a world within you
no one has ever seen,
a voice no one has ever heard—
not even you,
as yet unknown,
you are your own inner seer,
your own interpreter.
And so without eyes and ears grown sharp
for voice or sign,
not to these words
but to that inward voice,
that impulse beating in your heart like a wave.
Turn to that source and you will find
what no one has ever found,
a ground within you no one has ever seen,
a world beyond limits of your dreams’ horizons.
Please note: the words for this poem were taken from an audio tape and so the exact format of the poem is not correct.
I’m pacing. I’m jumpy, unable to settle down. I want to do something and don’t know what. I would like to write but my head is empty. The guy is coming to fix my bathroom but that is not for another 45 minutes. What do I do in the meantime? This is how my days go, little or no direction, unless I make one up.
Today feels a little different and I’m not sure why. I force myself to sit down at the computer hoping can allow something, anything, to come into my head. “Just write,” I tell myself, “it doesn’t matter what.” The two words that come to me are startling. Nothing and enough.
It’s not like I’ve done nothing with my life, it just feels that way. I have three grown children, and two divorces. But it never seems to be enough. I had a modest career as an opera singer and I did get to sing in major opera houses and with almost all of the prestigious names in the business. I sang major roles with all of the smaller opera companies in New York. I loved the singing and even liked doing the smaller roles but wished they were bigger. Yes, I know ego, ego and more ego.
Then I established an office as an agent for opera singers and relevant personnel. I had a lovely group of talented young singers but grew to hate the business because also was not satisfying. I turned it over to a woman I knew who was interested.
I moved on to the next career which was singing and acting as ship’s hostess on cruise ships. At least I was back doing something I loved.That lasted for a few years. I relished the glamour; the gowns every night, the caviar and turtle soup, free use of the beauty shop, and free drinks. Who could ask for more? But life there was like a fantasy. I missed my family and walked away from it. I grew to realize that I needed to have my feet on the ground.
TUNE IN NEXT WEEK FOR MORE
Have you ever felt that way? At odds with yourself not knowing what you wanted to do or who you wanted to be?
ANXIOUS FRUSTRATED I’M NEVER ENOUGH OPERA WRITING