"I have always believed that when you have a voice, you have an obligation to use that voice to empower others." - diane von furstenberg
"Don't cause a scene."
"Don't speak too loud."
"You don't want to make her mad."
Many of us have been taught that speaking our opinion, using our voice, or sticking up for our beliefs and ourselves is something that is looked at as socially unacceptable in our world, especially for women. Some of us have been so afraid to share what we are thinking or stand for what we believe in that we have forgotten what our voices actually sound like.
It is common to feel nervous when speaking up for yourself or even thinking about having the hard conversations with people; however, it is completely acceptable and necessary when done in assertively and respectively, of course.
Four years ago a significant life event in my life happened that completely knocked me off my feet. In that, I felt like I had lost my voice completely in more ways than one. I didn't believe that my voice mattered. I didn't trust it. I didn't believe I was worthy of using it. Standing up for myself meant that I had to love myself more than the opinion of the person who was listening--which was something I couldn't do then.
It took time to heal, time to practice, therapy, and a great group of friends to push me to use my voice. The more I used it, the easier it became. I began telling the waiter that I ordered Pepsi, not Coke. I sent back food if it wasn't what I had asked for. I said "No" to activities that I didn't want to go to. I wore my favorite shirt even if someone else didn't like it. I didn't stay at events if I wasn't having fun. All of these things may sound like small victories, but it was in these victories that I was able to use my voice for the bigger things.
How to use your own voice
Take some time to think about ways that you can start using your voice. Is it sending back something you didn't ask for at a restaurant? Is it saying "No" to the multiple tasks your boss asks you to do that is not in your job description nor that you are getting paid for? Is it wearing your favorite shirt even if your boyfriend doesn't understand why you love wearing a shirt with avocados on it?
Using your voice with people of power
No matter what type of industry or profession you are in, you likely encounter at some poit someone who runs the company, is higher up on the totem poll, is completely unapproachable, or someone who doesn't give you the chance to get a word in.
The reasons why people of power stay in power is because they often feed off the control they have being in power. They have the choice to let you go, let you stay, increase your pay raise, etc. and that's why we often feel uncomfortable using our voice. Speaking our voice in the face of a bully can be unsafe, anxiety-provoking, and intimidating.
If you're in an environment where using your voice is unaccepted, put down, belittled, or brushed under the rug, evaluate if this is a place where you really want to be and an environment that you can really thrive in. Toxicity breeds toxic stress. If the answer is no, create an "escape plan". It may not be realistic to quit today or even next month, but planning how you're going to leave that environment if there is no way to make it better, can help give you the motivation, encouragement, and drive to look forward to something better.
In all situations, remember that your voice is your biggest strength. You have opinions, ideas, education, and experience that only you can offer. Be open to feedback but careful to what you let soak through your skin. Your voice matters. You matter.
If you struggle with finding your voice or using it, seeing a counselor or coach can help develop it, practice it, and empower you to believe it's worth using.
Robin Helget, LMSW, CPT