With the advent of working from home during COVID, we have all seen and chuckled at the videos going around of people either not being on mute and wishing they were, or people being on mute and wondering why people were not listening to them. Now, there is the double mute, which can be rather frustrating.
For survivors of childhood trauma, being muted and not having a voice to share what happened to us is a pretty common experience. Overcoming years of silence is a challenge. The concept of voice and choice is critical in the recovery process. Why is it so difficult to find our voice? Below, we will explore how our voices are put on mute, how this shows up in the workplace, and how to find our voice.
Activating The Mute Button
When we experience trauma as children and are brave enough to speak up, our message is often either not received, not received well, not acted upon, or even punished. Children are wired to survive, and they learn rather quickly to NOT sound the alarm button because help is NOT coming, or sounding the alarm can bring punishment. As a result, we put ourselves on mute because what is the point of speaking?
We treat this part of ourselves as an outcast, but that part of us never stops trying to be heard. If we have exiled that part of ourselves to the dark dungeons of our souls, that desire to be heard may appear in other areas of our lives, like our work lives, for example. It may show up with an intensity that does not match the current situation because we have triggered this muted part of our soul that is dying to be heard.
The Quest To Be Heard At Work
For years, I muted myself because I learned as a child that no one wanted to hear what I had to say. However, professionally, this desire to be heard became quite an obsession. As a neurodiverse thinker, I often saw things that other people did not see, connecting dots that others did not connect, and seeing opportunities that others did not see. I worked hard to be heard, sound the alarm, prepare for what was coming, or create an opportunity that would give us a competitive advantage, only to be patted on the head and told to stay in my lane. I resented that, so I got louder and more “passionate,” even to the point of throwing people under the bus in front of large audiences (not a great career growth move, I don’t recommend it). In my mind, I was still fighting for my life.
Fifteen years into my career, I had a new job, a new manager and executive, and a new experience. Going into a new role, I started with the assumption that they wouldn’t listen to me, so I had to prove myself to them so that they would listen, but that was not the case with them. They listened to me right away, and they heard me. Just thinking about it, even now, brings tears to my eyes. I was finally heard. I quickly learned that I didn’t need to raise my voice, wave my arms or be so passionate to be heard. That felt sense of having to fight for my life settled down. I learned that people were listening to me and respecting what I had to say, for the most part. There are still times when I am not being heard, but now I can see them for what they are, lost opportunities for the hearer, which is not on me.
Learning To Find Our Voice
As we continue to move forward in our courageous healing journey, learning to find our voice is critical. For many of us, finding the words to articulate the horrors of our childhood experiences is challenging, yet it is necessary. I do not think we need to go into detail about our trauma; as a matter of fact, I discourage it because it can be retraumatizing. However, we have to allow the exiled younger parts of ourselves to have a voice, share their truth, and be heard and seen and validated. They need to hear the words “I see you,” “I hear you,” “You matter,” and “I care.”
There is a part in all of us that wants to be seen, heard, cared for, and acknowledged, but when those desires become thwarted, we have a choice to make: we can either give up and go on mute, or we can continue to sound the message with the hope that someone will eventually hear us and respond.
A word of caution, not everyone has earned the right to hear our truth. Brene Brown uses the analogy of a marble jar, where people earn the right to hear our stories by earning trust in the little things. If we share our truth with those who have not earned the right to hear it, we risk being retraumatized by putting our trust in someone who is not trustworthy.
When we get to this part of our journey, it is essential to remember that we are no longer powerless, voiceless children. We have the power and ability to come off of mute and to share our truth with those we deem worthy of hearing it. How do I know that? I know that because we own the mute button. We muted ourselves to survive as children, but we unmute ourselves to live as adults—your truth matters.
It took me a long time to take myself off of mute, and now that I have, there is so much truth I long to share. While I may choose to remain silent at times, I will never again put myself on mute. I will continue to speak my truth to those who have ears and hearts to hear it.
Believer. Leader. Learner. Advocate. Writer. Speaker. Coach. Mentor. Triathlete. Encourager. Survivor.
Most of all, I am a fellow traveler on the rocky road called, Trauma Recovery. My mission is to minimize the effects of trauma for survivors in the workplace.