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Why Self-Silencing?

Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

I fell in love with music at a very young age. My mom said I could repeat song lyrics when I was three. When I got older, I loved sneaking into her bedroom and playing her record albums. One of my favorites was and still is Simon and Garfunkel Live at Central Park. An iconic song from that album is The Sound of Silence, released in 2015 as a haunting cover by the band Disturbed.

Art Garfunkel said this classic and beautiful song is about "the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly intentionally, but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other." 

When we can't communicate what's important to us in a relationship of any kind, whether personal or professional, we create barriers between ourselves and others and negatively impact our confidence, self-esteem, and perception of ourselves. 


Why do we hold ourselves back from saying what we want and need to say? Why do we keep quiet about asking for what we need or sharing when we're sad, angry, or upset? Why do we fail to express the things that are important to us? 


Something from your past (abusive relationships, terrible break-up) makes you silence yourself. I didn't even realize it, but for many years I had a deep-seated fear that if I spoke up and made someone angry, upset or disappointed, they'd leave me. This came from my childhood experience and only when I recognized it, was I able to work on overcoming it.


This one seems counterintuitive but hear me out. When my brother and I were kids, we were repeatedly told, "Don't be ungrateful." Certainly, gratitude is a high vibration state we want to cultivate; however, gratitude without an abundance mindset often leaves us feeling that prosperity is a one-way street, and we never learn to ask for more. So rather than having an attitude of "I'm just grateful for these crumbs" the alternative is, "I'm grateful for all I have, AND I'd like more please." This is a mindset of abundance rather than lack.


We frequently silence ourselves when we think our opinion or request will be received poorly or isn't something the receiver wants to hear. If you know your conversation will contribute to a person's growth, yet you choose not to engage, you assume the receiver isn't capable of handling their feelings. 


You may hold yourself back from speaking your mind because you want to be liked more than you want to be heard. Paradoxically, we tend to like others who communicate honestly and are skilled at having difficult conversations.


If deep down you are afraid of abandonment by others, that often manifests in self-abandonment. Rather than risk being abandoned by someone else, we stay quiet, which is abandoning ourselves. We may believe we don't deserve to be heard or our concerns are not worth attending to.

Fear of Loss

If you self-silence because you're afraid to lose the relationship or the quality of the relationship will erode, consider that open, honest dialogue strengthens relationships. Without it, you can't progress the relationship forward, so self-silencing contributes to the very thing you seek to avoid. 


Self-silencing and suppressing your voice can show up in many ways. Here are just a few. If you resonate with several on this list, consider you may be self-silencing.

  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Anger 
  • Rage
  • Resentment
  • Frustration
  • Passive aggressiveness
  • Picking fights
  • Cryptic communication
  • Stress
  • Poor sleep
  • Gut issues
  • Disease
  • Body pain (headaches / back aches / neck aches / TMJ)
  • Nightmares or recurring dreams


1. Ask yourself, "If I speak up, what's the absolute worst thing that could happen, and what's the absolute best thing that could happen?"

2. Choose the appropriate time. If emotions are high, delay the conversation. Delaying takes awareness and self-control, but strong emotion can block your ability to clearly communicate what you need to say and hinder the receiver's ability to hear you.

3. Approach from a place of calm, respect, and kindness, and assume the best. Speaking your mind from a place of hurt, anger, assumption, or through the filter of feeling wronged can skew how you deliver the message and also how the receiver hears you. 

4. Release attachment to the outcome. Even when are calm, thoughtful, kind, and clear when advocating for yourself, you can't control how the other person will respond. Some people won't like it, while others will appreciate your candor and ability to have a frank discussion in service of a solution. Have courage, let go of how they'll their part of it, and stick to expressing your part.

5. Stack the deck in your favor by being in physical proximity. Body language and tone are both important, so having difficult conversations in person is ideal. If face-to-face isn't possible, the phone is a better option than text or email to enhance clarity.

6. Nobody likes to be told they're wrong, so use "I" statements instead of "You" statements. People tend to be more open to listening and respond better when you frame up the conversation in context to yourself rather than pointing out what they are (or aren't) doing. 

7. Listen. Your experience isn't the only one. Stating your case and your wants, needs, and requests calmly and assertively are fantastic, but remember to listen to the other person's point of view too. 

Confrontation doesn't equal aggression. It's the practice of being calmly assertive, expressing what you want, and what you need, and having a direct, tactful, thoughtful conversation that explores what's possible. The bottom line? If you can advocate for someone else, then with practice, you can learn to advocate for yourself too!