Afraid to speak up for yourself? Me too. Here’s the secret to doing it anyway.
“When we speak, we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” - Audre Lorde
Have you ever felt utterly incapable of speaking your truth in a moment of confrontation or conflict? Have you ever felt as if the barrier were practically physical — that no force on earth could wrench those difficult words from your heart to mouth?
As a recovering people-pleaser, I know better than most the earth-shattering fear of speaking up. I have a distinct memory of being in my nightgown as a child, debating whether to go downstairs and risk disappointing my parents by telling them I couldn’t sleep. I tiptoed back and forth across my bedroom carpet in the dark, biting my tiny fingernails and debating my options.
As I got older, the fear of speaking up became a cage that kept me small. Unspoken truths piled up inside of me, voltage without an outlet, and my body responded accordingly. My legs grew restless. My anxiety worsened. I ground my teeth for hours each night and woke with blazing migraines.
Worse than my physical symptoms were my bitter frustrations. I wanted nothing more than to be a self-assured woman who advocated for herself as fearlessly as she advocated for others. My fear both baffled and enraged me.
Back then, I thought I was alone in my struggle to speak my truth — but I wasn’t. Back then, I felt like I was in a constant battle with my truth — but I wasn’t.
My truth was fighting to be spoken, and I — my truest, innermost self — was fighting to speak it. We were on the same team, fighting against my fear.
I’ve come to learn that speaking my truth is the simplest way of living in this complex world. Deceit, performances, lies, and half-truths do not occur naturally. They require great expenditures of energy to stay alive. Truth, on the other hand, requires no maintenance. It is already alive, electric, vibrant, right now.
My truth had been fighting to be spoken for years. One day, I decided I wasn’t going to stand in its way any longer. I’ve been practicing speaking difficult truths ever since — (keyword: practicing) — and every time, it goes something like this:
Preparing to speak my truth is as much a somatic experience as it is an emotional one. Prior to the conversation in question, I feel as if someone has released a horde of fireflies in my chest. It’s a distinctly unpleasant feeling. My heartbeat assumes the cadence and timbre of a harried timpani, and any inkling of an appetite I may have had vanishes.
My mind, which generally meanders across broad fields of thought, constricts to a single point. I have tunnel vision of this single truth, this single statement, despite any attempts I make to distract myself.
The scientific among us might call this a quintessential fear response. The way I see it, I am preparing to give birth to truth. I am in labor. The words inside of me are straining to be released from a body that is terrified to release them. Truth and I surge against the resistance of preconditioned fear.
The pressure builds to a nearly unbearable point. I am overflowing with adrenaline. And suddenly, the moment adopts a surreal glimmer as I realize I’ve reached the crest of the roller coaster, and I begin to free fall.
With great force, the words leave my lips, a stampede. I release a calvary upon a vast plane, and its energy is so fierce, so enormous, I am amazed I ever contained it at all.
And, just like that, it is over as quickly as it began. I’ve given birth to truth. I’ve shed a heavy weight.
Truth is energy; I am simply its conduit. In its wake, I can finally return to myself. Fluidity floods limbs that had been stiff as wooden planks. I take a deep breath from my abdomen — the first in God knows how long — and feel tingling in my hands and spine.
If I’ve withheld this truth for a time, this is the first instance in days — perhaps weeks, or months — that my inner monologue goes quiet. My mental landscape is the calm after a storm; tranquil, still, with the cool scent of rain.
Of course, there is still work to be done — a conversation to continue, rough edges to smooth — but the hardest work is over. I’ve released myself from the confines of silence, and from this place of freedom, much more is possible.
Here, I see my surroundings with new eyes. I realize I haven’t emptied the recycling since Tuesday; I realize I’d like to buy a new chair for my patio. My unspoken truth had been an energetic obstacle to observation, presence, and creativity.
The difference in me is so palpable, so immediate, that I can’t believe I ever entertained the notion of not speaking. My fears and anxiety feel far away, microscopic in comparison to this expansive freedom.
This Is Your Brain On Alignment
We are afraid to speak up because we’re afraid to alienate others. But when we don’t speak our truth, we alienate ourselves. Honesty is the ultimate homecoming.
Every time we share a difficult truth, we experience a potent hit of alignment: the sensation of being in complete harmony with our highest selves.
Alignment is an emotional, physical, and spiritual high. It is addictive. Once we experience it, we want more of it. Suddenly, a life of half-truths pales into comparison to this new way of being. We can’t go back because we know too much.
So begins our craving. We become willing to do more to attain the same sensation. We begin to speak harder truths and take bigger risks. We clean house. We take a hard look at our daily lives — “take a moral inventory,” say the 12-Steppers — and embrace opportunities to be honest at every turn.
And so, we end relationships that aren’t serving us.
We tell our family members when they’ve hurt us.
We say “I love you” for the first time.
We set boundaries where we’d never have dared set boundaries before.
We are like liberators, running through the zoo under cover of darkness, jimmying the locks on cages that hold the beautiful hidden parts of us.
As with any developing muscle, it gets easier with practice. Each time we speak our truth, we become more certain of the alignment that lives just beyond the fear.