Recently I wrote a guest blog post, Thriving Requires Letting Go of the Lies, for Sue’s Over Fifty and Thriving series. The idea for that post was inspired by the book, Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis (my review here). I have since decided to turn the subject into a new blog series: The Lies I’ve Believed.
In the original guest post, I introduced Delilah, my harsh inner critic who constantly reminds me I am not good enough, brave enough or smart enough. Her loud, commanding voice tells me I am better off alone than out in the world pursuing my dreams. She is quite convincing.
But I’m tired of living this way. I’m merely existing rather than embracing an abundant life. It is time to replace Delilah’s lies with the truth.
This week’s lie: Remaining silent avoids conflict.
Stoicism: a philosophy that teaches people should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submit without complaint to avoid unnecessity.
I grew up in a stoic household. Both my parents embodied this trait.
I don’t necessarily believe stoicism is all bad. After all, it taught me to persevere when the going gets tough. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps was a familiar refrain.
Stoicism taught me emotions are fleeting and cannot be trusted. Sometimes we have to do things whether we want to or not.
But stoicism also taught me that suppressed emotions are preferred to expressed ones. I was eight years old before I first heard my parents argue. And I can count on one hand the number of times I heard them argue in my lifetime. The silent treatment was the usual display of disagreement.
Mom suppressed her emotions to an extreme. I remember frequent episodes of lower back pain that would keep her in bed for days at a time. The bedroom door remained closed, indicating she was not to be disturbed. I look back now and wonder how much of that self-diagnosis was a form of depression. Rather than dealing with the problem, she chose to hide in silence.
Mom often boasted of never shedding a tear after my father died. After 55 years of marriage, two children, and an enviable retirement lifestyle, she could not allow herself to grieve. The pent-up emotion eventually caused a complete mental breakdown.
Because I married a full-blooded Italian, I’ve learned to communicate in a more expressive way. Italians are passionate about everything. They speak in raised voices with wild hand gestures. Emotions always run high. While I still shy away from conflict, I have learned to express my opinions at home.
However, outside those familiar walls, I clam up. I hug the walls at social gatherings. Nod-and-smile is my natural method of communication. I struggle with small-talk and much prefer to listen instead.
In professional settings, I take copious notes but never participate in discussions. In part because of my shy, reserved nature. But mostly, it is a fear of looking foolish. What if I ask a stupid question or offer an obvious suggestion? Perfectionism renders me mute.
I reasoned my silence did not distract me from learning. I knew it distracted no one else. But this logic fell apart in the summer of 2014.
I enrolled in a summer writing course at the University of Iowa. Prior to the weekend class, we had to write a “sense of place” essay (I harbored dreams of becoming a travel writer at the time) and submit to the professor. He, in turn, made copies of all essays for each of the twelve participating students. We had to read the essays in advance in order to provide crucial feedback in classroom discussions.
Being a diligent student, I wrote (and revised) my essay before sending in on time. I read every one of my classmates’ essays and provided detailed notes on each one. I attended every class session and listened attentively to the feedback. But I never uttered a word.
In the final minutes of the last day’s session, the teacher began to wrap things up. He thanked us all for coming and reminded us to complete the course evaluation form. At this point, a fellow classmate raised her hand and said, “I don’t think Molly had a chance to share.”
The teacher never noticed this oversight. My silence had rendered me invisible.
While I was grateful to my classmate for remembering me, I was appalled at myself.
My opinions do matter. Keeping them to myself is selfish. While my feedback was rarely unique, it did help corroborate what was already expressed. Writing is a group activity and I was not a team player.
I do want to learn and improve. But my silence came across as being aloof and indifferent. By not expressing myself, I left others no choice but to misunderstand me.
The truth: Remaining silent makes me invisible.
I have a voice. It is time I use it.