Finding Your Voice After Being Silenced By Abuse



Key ideas:

[00:00] – Introduction

[0:43] – How my parents suing me threatened to stifle my voice

[02:26] – The survival need for your voice and why it’s so painful to lose it

[02:49] – What is the process for your voice being silenced?

[04:44] – Losing your voice isn’t just about silence

[05:34] – The need that’s even more important than using your authentic voice

[06:28] – Why the inner voice is silenced at the same time the outer voice is

[07:05] – How sexual abuse and incest add an additional layer to the silence

[07:58] – Why confronting my dad for sexually abusing me was an important step in regaining my voice 

[09:53] – Why your voice is so much more than simply what you say

[10:59] – What are some major signs to know you’re disconnected from your authentic voice

[14:16] – First steps for regaining your inner voice

[15:17- Why it’s important to remind yourself that you’re not as vulnerable as you once were as a child, speaking up isn’t without consequences

[17:55] – How to deal with the fear of speaking up

[20:07] – The four questions you can as yourself when you’re working through the fear of using your voice

[24:46] – Practical steps to reclaiming your voice



Quotes + Episode Excerpts:

“She squishes herself and hides the things that other people may find unlikable or they wouldn’t approve of. And to keep a connection with other people, she has to disconnect from herself so she shuts down her inner voice because it’s safer that way.”

“And a lot of survivors hear that critical voice in their head and think that they hate themselves. And it can seem like hate. But that’s actually you protecting yourself from the criticism and rejection of others. And you protect what you love.”



Links mentioned:

Previous episode: How Abuse and Healing Impacted My Marriage


Be the first to know:

As an insider, you won’t miss any of my healing resources and latest updates.

Episode transcript: 

Welcome to the Overcoming Sexual Abuse podcast where you get the tools and inspiration to help you overcome childhood sexual abuse. I’m your host, Christina Enevoldsen, certified coach, author and incest survivor, and I’m here to help you heal and live your very best life!

Neglect and abuse make it a matter of survival to not only silence your speaking voice but your internal voice. I share the specific reasons it was survival to shut down your voice, the hidden effects of that now, and how to work through the fear of using your voice so you can regain your power.

I remember the most painful day of my healing and it was about six months into the lawsuit where my parents sued me for speaking out about the sexual abuse my dad perpetrated on me. The lawsuit itself was excruciating. I’d been healing and finding my voice and getting on with my life. I’d been estranged from my parents for several years and I was settling into this life without their control or without their judgment and I thought that they couldn’t touch me anymore or cause me any more harm. And with the lawsuit it felt like I was just pulled right back into the abuse.

They sued me for defamation of character and intentional infliction of emotional harm and if I didn’t respond to their assertions I could lose my right to speak out about the abuse. I had just recovered my voice and now they were threatening to take it away. I was angry and broken-hearted and scared. It didn’t feel like something I could live through.

And one of the things that was so painful was reading through the discovery that my mother submitted as evidence. It was full of twisted truth and even some outright lies. She was just desperate to shut me up and the tone felt so familiar. It was the same feeling I had as a child and that was just this understanding on a very deep level that she had always tried to shut me up. And under that truth I just collapsed.

And it makes sense that it’s so painful because when you’re a child, your voice is all you have. A baby cries to indicate she has a need and then someone’s supposed to meet that need. But when the voice isn’t met with that met need or you’re shamed for having a voice, then that’s a risk to your life. And when your voice is discounted and ignored and attacked, you learn to shut it down.

There was a big news story from 1990 about the orphanages in Romania. And after the communist dictator was assassinated and the Iron Curtain lifted, reporters went in and they found something like 170,000 children in orphanages and the babies and older children were left without connection in touch. Nobody comforted them or held them or spoke kindly to them. And the reporters said that the most haunting thing was that in this room full of children, it was silent. Even the babies had learned that their voice didn’t matter. Nobody was coming and so they stopped trying.

So what was happening in their nervous system? That cry for help means that the child is in distress, that fight or flight response. And what’s supposed to happen is that the parent comes and attends to the needs and then the child is calmed. And when nobody comes, the way the nervous system works is when fleeing doesn’t work, we go to fight. When fighting doesn’t work, we go to freeze. Well, actually before freeze,
there’s a fawn response. And that fawn is the please and appease. So those babies and children had gone to freeze. And that’s when all your options are exhausted and you’re just preparing to die.

And from a physiological standpoint, it’s giving up. And that freeze response dulls your physical and emotional pain so it doesn’t hurt so much to die.

That orphanage is an extreme case of severe neglect. But it’s a picture of what happens to us when our voice doesn’t matter. When your voice is ignored and maybe you’re shamed for using your voice, you stop using it.

Another result is, remember that fawning response that please and appease? We can try to be as pleasant and low maintenance and easy. Maybe try to be helpful. It’s that statement, “I’ll be good, just please don’t leave me.” Or, “I’ll be good, just please don’t hurt me.”

My daughter had a baby recently and something that makes her really angry is people asking, “Is he a good baby?” And she wants to say, “What’s a bad baby?” It’s so common to think of easy babies or easy children as good. And sometimes when they’re quiet, it means all their needs are met. But sometimes their quietness means they’ve given up on having their needs met.

Gabor Maté talks about this a lot, that we have this need for authenticity. And that means being ourselves and being able to be the full expression of who we are. But we also have this need for attachment. And that’s that need to bond and connect and to be fully seen and heard and to have the feeling that we can count on someone. And our true selves can come in conflict with our caregivers. So when you’re ignored and shamed, those needs for being true to yourself and connected with someone are in conflict with one another.

And the child has to choose. And the only choice is to sacrifice authenticity in hopes of keeping that attachment because abandonment to a child is life threatening.

So, in sacrificing her authenticity, she squishes herself and hides the things that other people may find unlikable or they wouldn’t approve of. And to keep a connection with other people, she has to disconnect from herself so she shuts down her inner voice because it’s safer that way. If she’s too connected to what she thinks and feels, what she wants, then she might say it. So those things remain unspoken even to herself. So, you can see why expressing your voice would be dangerous and staying silent would be self-protection.

Added to that, with childhood sexual abuse, there’s the added layer of the secrets and the lies, especially with incest. It’s survival to stay silent. The shame the perpetrator forces you to wear then makes protecting the abuser, protecting the secret seem like you’re protecting yourself. You think you were to blame and to be found out is to feel more shame and more rejection.

And when you have that big secret, you learn to guard your thoughts and words. To share authentically in one area may inadvertently let the secret slip out. And so, there’s that wall that protects you and the secret and those walls then become a prison.

Before my parents sued me, I heard from my son that my dad wanted to talk to me. We’d been estranged for years and I had no idea what he might want to say to me. But I decided to talk to him because I actually had never confronted him with the abuse and I wanted to do that. I knew there wasn’t much chance of a change of heart on his part, but I wasn’t looking for his response to make me feel better. It had been a secret I was supposed to keep and talking to him, to me, that was the ultimate in disobeying that rule. And I know for some people, it’s speaking publicly, that is the ultimate in disobeying that rule, but I’d already been doing that and that wasn’t direct enough for me because there was something that was specifically about telling him. And so that was like saying, “I’m not going to live by your rules anymore.”

And so I also voiced that to him because all my life, I’d been protecting him and his feelings and I knew that talking to him about that, he would feel uncomfortable and I wasn’t looking for him to feel uncomfortable, but I was okay if that was a consequence of me speaking the truth. I wasn’t trying to protect him anymore, I wasn’t trying to be the so-called good child anymore, I wasn’t looking for approval or acceptance, I was making waves and I was stirring things up and that’s sometimes what the truth does and that feels good.

And so no matter if he heard what I said or not, it was really important for me to stand up for myself. It was a declaration that I matter and I didn’t give him the right to decide if I matter based on his response to me. I knew I matter and since I matter, I stood up for myself.

And this is an expression of what your voice actually is. A lot of people think of your voice as something you vocalize to others and the sound and the tone and the words and that’s one way of defining it. Another way is seeing it as the unique way you have of looking at something. In other words, to have a voice to speak authentically, you have to listen to yourself first and have something you want to say.

An example of that is something that used to bother me about my mom. Her policy was peace at any cost and she never spoke up about anything for most of her life. Toward the end of our relationship, she started speaking up about more things here and there and one of the things was parroting what her abusive church leaders were saying. I tried to have conversations with her about what she thought and what she believed but she just simply echoed what the church leaders said. She was more vocal but it wasn’t really her voice.

Some ways you know you’re disconnected from your voice is believing that low maintenance is a virtue. Do your relationships depend on how cooperative or compliant you are or how little you ask for? Are you constantly gauging and evaluating how much is too much, apologizing for being a bother or apologizing for bringing things up that bother you or not saying what bothers you or asking for fair treatment or not having an equal say in making plans saying I don’t know what do you want? Do you defer to other people’s choices? Do you readily agree with people?

When you’re not used to being heard, you might express your needs and wants as complaints or as passive aggressive sarcasm. An example of that is, “I wish I was one of your books then maybe you’d actually be interested in me”. Or “You never spend time with me. You’re always too busy for me.”

Another example is with your critical voice. You developed a critical voice so you’re not separated from other people. The idea is to correct your imperfections before someone notices and rejects you for it. And that’s adopting the voice of someone else instead of your authentic voice. The voice that tells you you’re unworthy is not your voice. The voice that yells at you and blames you and belittles you is not your voice. It’s something you heard from someone else. It’s someone else’s voice.

And a lot of survivors hear that critical voice in their head and think that they hate themselves. And it can seem like hate. But that’s actually you protecting yourself from the criticism and rejection of others. And you protect what you love.

And when you developed that self-criticism, that was one of the only tools you had the power to use. And so you use what you had. You protected yourself the best you could and that’s love. That’s not hate.

Carl Jung talked about the shadow side, the parts of ourselves that we reject. And those parts, when they’re rejected, they don’t just go away or cease to exist. They find an expression. And since you haven’t developed them and owned them because you’ve denied them, they have the potential to be destructive.

And so in this case, we’re talking about rejecting our voice so we don’t develop it. And then you don’t learn to ask for your needs directly. But we all need help. And so to get another person to help us, we manipulate. And I used to do this a lot. I did things for other people that I really wanted them to do for me. And I hoped they’d get this hidden message that I was giving them to help me too. Other times, I would just hint at what I wanted, but I didn’t actually ask. And people couldn’t read my mind. So when I didn’t get my needs met, then it just led to more of the feeling of feeling rejected.

So they really didn’t know what I wanted or needed. But many times, I didn’t know either. I just hoped that somebody else would know and fix it.

And so that’s a necessary step is to know what you want. What are you saying to yourself? And that’s definitely a process but to start with begin with needs you have the power to respond to. Don’t start with things you need from other people. Pay attention to when you’re asking for something to drink or eat or sleep those simple things. And then don’t just hear that need and ignore it or tell yourself to wait. Treat yourself like you’re important.

It can feel really scary to connect with the voice inside you and what you think and feel and know and want. And that’s important to acknowledge that fear and to validate it. And then to have compassion for yourself. Remember it came from very unjust experiences.

And one thing to bring in here is that there’s a lot of these dynamics from childhood. They just aren’t useful anymore because we don’t live in the same circumstances. We have power. We have other options than we did as a kid. We have other relationships that we can draw on than we did when it was just our dependence on our parents. And that’s important in developing courage and finding your voice.

But even in adulthood there’s the risk of rejection for saying what you really want or think or feel. And there have always been in any time in history, in any culture, it’s been a risk. But it’s especially true in places in the world under governments that don’t allow free information to flow. And even in the U .S. where we’re insured freedom of speech, there are voices that are silenced by the powers that be. And that’s a problem because if we don’t have a voice, we don’t have freedom. We live in a cancel culture where there’s a right and wrong way to think and feel, and you’d better guard your words. Yes, and I am all for civility, but all of this is going way too far. It reminds me so much of the abusive cultures that I’ve been a part of, starting with my abusive family and the abusive church that we went to,
the people with power, the people on high decide what’s right and moral and the true way to live and speak, and you’d better not go against that. And it’s set up, so if you violate that, they don’t need to dole out the consequences. Their loyal followers do that for them.

In episode 12, “How Abuse and Healing Impacted My Marriage,” my husband was my guest, and we shared how Don spoke out about the church abuse that we used to attend, and he was canceled and his whole business went under, and we have absolutely no regrets about any of that,
but my point is that there are real consequences to using your voice. We outgrew a lot of the threat of that in childhood, but not all of them.

I saw a meme that said, “There are always consequences for telling the truth, and tell it anyway.” And I love the freedom that this inspires in me, and I live by the spirit of this statement. I just don’t think it’s wise to make it all or nothing. There have been times I’ve had something I’ve wanted to say, but I didn’t have the energy to deal with any potential consequences,
and that’s okay.

And I know I’m speaking right now of being very vocal publicly, and you may still be just growing in your ability to use your voice in your close relationships, or with a restaurant who got your order wrong, or with your boss who gave you too much work to do. do. But the fear in all of that at any of the scale, the fear is all the same. The pressure and the fear that I felt to stay silent when I wanted to tell my friend that I didn’t have time to talk with her is the same pressure and fear I feel even today when I say something controversial in public.

I really love it when people agree with me and like what I say, but it’s more important to me that I like what I say because your voice is powerful.
If it weren’t, they wouldn’t try so hard to shut it down.

Your voice is a sound and sound is vibration and you vibrate at a frequency that is unique to you and that means that you could say something and someone else could say the same thing. But because of the vibration, it would sound and feel and mean something different. So your voice is powerful.

So when I face the fear of expressing myself, I like to think that I’m above people’s opinions, but that’s not always the case. And it’s important for me to accept that fact instead of being ashamed of it or denying it. And so I acknowledge my fear of rejection or whatever consequences might come from that. And I have compassion for myself. And then I remind myself that I’m an adult now, so being rejected isn’t so life threatening. And I have options and I also have the power to figure out a way to meet my needs in spite of any consequences that might happen.

So often in the past, silence was only this subconscious decision that came from the old patterns that I learned in childhood. So keeping it in my subconscious meant that I was stuck with those automatic responses with the disempowering outcomes that I had in childhood. So letting my more objective and capable part weigh in is vital to breaking the pattern of silence and that shut down. And that allowed me to then discern what’s best for me.

So I’ve had to acknowledge the dilemma, because when I’m not clear on a dilemma, it seems like this big unmanageable blob, and that keeps me stuck. And so really getting clear on the specific things coming up for me is helpful because then I can deal with it when I can see it.

And so I asked myself four questions about this. What do I have to gain from speaking up, from using my voice? And when I ask these questions, it’s not just these external gains. What emotional gains would I have? How would I feel better? So it might be I can protect myself or someone else by speaking up. Or it might give me a sense of fulfillment or satisfaction. The second question I ask is what do I have to gain from staying silent? I can keep the peace. I don’t have to risk rejection. I can stay being accepted or maybe approved of. And then what do I have to lose from speaking up?
It might be rejection on a small scale or a big scale. And I’m really specific about this because identifying identifying that specifically can often take away the fear.

An example of that in my life is during the lawsuit with my parents, like I said, I was in a lot of pain, but I was also terrified. And one day I asked myself, “What is the worst that can happen?” Like, I really wanted to know. I really wanted an answer for that. And in my mind, the answer that I came up with was that they win the lawsuit. I could no longer legally speak about them. I had already decided that I would do it anyway. And then I imagined being arrested. And I don’t know if that’s what really would have happened, but just clarifying the what if was so helpful for me because I thought, if I’m arrested, if I go to jail for speaking the truth, I can live with that. And so that took away my fear and actually made me bolder. And the last question I ask is, what do I have to lose from staying silent? And it’s a feeling of feeling confined or stifled or squished or walked on. It might be different in any of those scenarios. So I don’t use that as really a pros and cons list, but just this way to explore and connect with what I really feel and with my authentic self.

For years, I felt like I had something to say and I couldn’t get it out. I didn’t know, I didn’t have words, but I just had this deep sense that something needed to come out. And I could feel it like this pressure in my belly and my jaw felt frozen. And I had to deal with the fear of using my voice before I could actually find the words that I wanted to say. As I dealt with the fear, I started to be able to hear what I actually wanted to say. say. This wasn’t all at once. It was deal with a little fear, get a few more words.

And every time I speak up and don’t die, that’s a win. And I acknowledge that. And if I do die, well, there’s some things worth dying for. And, you know, I lived for so long set on survival that, you know, just get through the day. But that’s not true living and that’s, I just want far more for my life.

And so if your voice has been stifled, you can start by just acknowledging you have words inside of you and you can acknowledge the loss of that, how you had to silence yourself and appreciate how that helped you survive.

And then to have compassion on how hard that was and how hard it is now, both to live without your full voice and then to have to work on getting it back and then to validate how scary it is and the risks that it requires.

And then listen to your inner voice and what would you say if there were no consequences? And you can take this through those four questions that I shared and decide if you want to share anything because you don’t have to share everything. You can share a part of it. You can share everything or you can share nothing. And you might start with asking for something that you don’t really want. There’s something about that that just takes the pressure off.

And with every step you take, it’s normal to feel a variety of emotions from relief to victorious to depressed and exhausted. So really take care of yourself.

Now that I found my voice, it doesn’t mean that I share every emotion or opinion I have. It means that I hear my voice and I validate what I have to say. And from that place of feeling heard by me, then I can decide what to share with others and what to keep to myself. Listening and being attentive to my own needs and wants and fears, it creates the safe space for expression. I used to believe that I wasn’t worth listening to. And now I know that even if other people don’t accept me or accept my voice,
I do.

Well thanks for joining me today. I’m bringing you more on healing and boundaries and self -care and family dysfunction, so be sure to subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of it.

Finding Your Voice After Being Silenced By Abuse

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.