When Our Allies Shut Us Down

Posted on September 1, 2016

Over the past few weeks I’ve had some amazing conversations with brilliant, insightful women on the topic of finding our voices and speaking our truth.

For me, there were many revelations and epiphanies, not least among them this:

Sometimes the audience we fear, that closes us down and stops us using our voice, is not, as one might expect, the trolls and critics, but those whom we emulate and admire.

It turns out that we can be afraid to use our voices to speak out about our deepest concerns and heartfelt beliefs because we may be “incorrect”.

We fear that we’ll be regulated, not by those who disagree, but by those whose stand and ethos we aspire to.

We fear the perusal and judgment of our mentors, teachers and role models.

We fear that we’ll be assessed and judged and found wanting by them, so we stand back and allow them to pave the way, set the agenda, and do the talking.

This fear manifests in many ways, among them:

  • The feminist critique – are we politically correct enough? (I have seen people policed for using that term.)
  • The spirituality critique – do we have the right balance between “the Universe provides” and “unless you do your part the Universe can’t provide”?
  • The “negative emotion” critique – we must not acknowledge any feelings of pain, unhappiness, self-doubt or failure.
  • The methodology critique – “I wouldn’t have used THAT tool THERE” or “I would not have proceeded like THAT with that client”.

All of this is based upon (what I consider to be) the flawed assumption that there’s a right way to speak, think and behave.

And the question to ask ourselves is this – who is making that assumption? Is it internal, part of a critical inner dialogue, or is it external? (This, by the way, is a great question to ask about every thought and belief we have.)

If it’s the former, then obviously that is neither helpful or pleasant, but you can deal with it, with a program of radical kindness and compassion for yourself, or by using a tool like Byron Katie’s The Work.

Sometimes, though, the pressure to conform is real, and then we need to respond differently.

When only certain people get to tell their truth, those who feel left out, who feel silenced, who don’t see themselves in that narrative, can feel shame, isolation and distress.

We’re told that we’re together in the cause, or in community, but we’re really not because we’re being tone-policed and corrected and called in to respectability and seemliness, whether overtly or by implication.

It becomes hard, then, to acknowledge even the possibility of finding and using our voices freely.

So we don’t speak out because it will come out wrong, or someone won’t like what they hear.

We care deeply what people think of us.

And there is our amazing ability to internalize disapproval, imagined or real – we want external validation, to be approved of and liked.

When we’re not, then we feel not only the humiliation of not having that approval, but also the shame of wanting and needing it so badly.

What lies beneath this? Sometimes what we want is simply to belong; to have a sense of safety and trust; to be seen and heard, and to be supported and encouraged by our community as we seek to discover and own what is true for us.

When you use your voice, take a stand, and speak your truth, it doesn’t always come out the way you wanted it to. It’s not always right on the money and perfect.

And yet it’s a declaration of your courage; your willingness to be imperfect, to try and “fail”, when failure means not “You’re a loser”, but, rather, “That could have been better or different. Next time it will be.”

We are all doing our best.

I will say this – if you are part of any group that is not willing to hear your voice, honor your best intentions, and let you try and fall short, then I’d question the love, acceptance and agency that group is willing to bestow upon you.

If there’s an environment or group in which we’re being shut down or not supported in speaking our truth, we can decide what to do: to remain, and attempt to modulate our voices in accordance with what’s being asked of us (and that may be our best option – no judgment); to leave; or to speak anyway, and take the consequences.

Whichever path we choose, all of us – ALL of us – deserve support, encouragement, and to be seen and heard and accepted exactly as we are today, with the level of wisdom, insight and understanding we have today.

There are people who love you and approve of you.

Circle the wagons, dear heart. Call in your true allies; those who fully support you as you use YOUR voice to speak YOUR truth.

Do Not Do

Posted on August 21, 2016


Naughty Little Suck-a-Thumb

I cannot count the number of women who’ve said to me, on discovering I’m a coach, something like “Must be fun telling people what to do” or “I’d be good at that – I give great advice”.

Neither thing, dear hearts, is what I do.

Things I do not do:

Empower you. How can I? Your power is yours to notice and claim and step into.

Define you – that’s 100% your job.

Tell you what to do/ suggest a course of action/ advise you/ imply in ANY way that I know what’s best for you. No. Never. You, and only you, know what’s best for you.

Heal you or make you whole – because you already are healed and whole. You are NOT flawed or broken, in any way at all.

Railroad you into anything – belief systems; strings of ‘how-tos”; thinking, talking or being any particular way but that which is intrinsically you; paying for anything you don’t need or won’t benefit from, or working with me for one minute beyond what’s, well, working.

I mean, I’m not saying I don’t feel quite strongly about some things: for example – don’t use books as coasters. (Really, don’t, except possibly the books of V.S. Naipaul who, if you’re a woman, would gladly use anything you wrote as kindling.)

Don’t text while driving (and I am talking to you, young man on the I10 last night driving along TEXTING at 40 mph, who made a very rude gesture when I parped my horn and waved an admonishing finger).

Don’t amputate your cat’s toes – declawing, nope. I know we were brought up with brutality, some of us, but jeez….

That kind of thing.

But when it comes to your power, agency and sovereignty, they are yours and I step back in awe at the sheer wonder of you.

You are powerful and brilliant. You matter in this world. Your work matters in this world. Your dreams and desires matter. And your voice matters.


The Silencing of Our Voices

Posted on December 29, 2016

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The Little Chicken That Could: Multitudes And Limitations

Posted on August 6, 2016

The first time I engaged in any introspection whatsoever was at the age of 33, a few months after my marriage ended, mumblety-mumble (many) years ago. I became somewhat depressed, and a doctor recommended therapy, for which I’m deeply grateful. The therapist noticed, as a […]

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An Unconventional Approach to Forgiveness

Posted on July 30, 2016

Yesterday I decided, partly as a displacement activity to avoid writing this, partly because I felt a strange pull in that direction, to tidy a huge pile of old journals and notebooks, some personal, some related to work and projects.  Inevitably, as I sorted them, […]

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The Inevitability of Hazelnuts: How We Limit Our Choices

Posted on July 14, 2016

I recently made a trip to New Zealand, where I spent most of my life and where my family lives. On my last night in Christchurch, my mother took the family out for dinner at an Indian restaurant. We took off our coats, sat down […]

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The Cancellation of Thursday

Posted on June 14, 2016

Thursday’s cancelled this week. What? Isn’t (wasn’t…) that today…? Well, for you, in the USA, yes. But, for me, there is no Thursday this week. As this missive made its way to you, I was already in Friday. I left Los Angeles late Wednesday night, […]

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