5 Signs of Being Denied a Voice
The impact of being silenced within relationships and how to overcome it.
Posted March 11, 2021 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
Why does a baby cry? In order to get her basic needs for comfort and care met.
Expressing ourselves vocally is children and adults' way of asking for what we need. Being denied a voice is the first experience many of us will have of being emotionally abused, and we might not even recognise it as abuse until many years after.
Most parents have times when they don’t fully listen to their child and might fail to realise the seriousness of what the child is telling them. We all mess up now and again and fail to offer our child the attention she needs because we’re so caught up in our “adult” stuff.
But some children are completely denied the right to express how they feel and what they believe. Often, the parents of these children are higher in narcissistic traits. They may be dominant or need to be right about everything. In their mind, their feelings matter far more than everyone else’s, including their own children.
If a child dares to disagree with their narcissistic parent, they’ll face the consequences—which can be anything from a telling-off to an unleashing of verbal or physical abuse. When a child attempts to explain how she feels and it doesn’t fit with the narcissistic parent’s view of the world, her feelings may be invalidated, ridiculed, or downplayed as the narcissistic parent draws on their gaslighting skills.
When you haven’t learned to express your feelings, opinions, and emotions safely as a child, you may become an adult who believes that she doesn’t have anything worthwhile to say, that she doesn’t have the right to say it, or that expressing herself is a dangerous thing to do. Doubt and fear are two very powerful opponents. Being unable to ask for what you need leads to a lifetime of frustration, resentment, and unfulfillment. An inability to stand up for yourself or your beliefs can force you to question the validity of those beliefs and can mean you resort to passive-aggressive means of communication, which seem less threatening to you than more direct confrontation.
How does this affect you and how can you overcome it? Look for these 5 behaviours—and work to employ these 5 solutions.
1. You put up with (really) bad behaviour.
One thing we can’t control in life is the behaviour of other people, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not affected by it. Whether it’s someone jumping a queue, unfairly criticising your work, or a romantic partner bullying you, it affects you adversely. If you don’t voice how you’ve been affected, nothing’s going to change—especially if it’s someone close to you and the behaviour is repeated.
Solution: Putting up with bad behaviour feels more comfortable and safer than speaking your mind, which might seem like the most terrifying thing in the world. Once you commit to using your voice—with help and support if you need it—it will become stronger.
2. You become passive-aggressive.
People who are passive-aggressive get bad press—and often deservedly so, as it’s horrible to be on the receiving end of passive-aggressiveness. But if speaking directly to someone makes you want to vomit, it's easy to see why you might act in a passive-aggressive manner. Before I found my voice, I could be quite passive-aggressive which was driven by my resentment and frustration combined with my utter fear of confrontation.
Solution: Perhaps you don’t know you’re being passive-aggressive (I personally had no idea until I entered therapy). If you find yourself finding ways to “get even” instead of having an open and honest discussion, acknowledge how difficult this is for other people. You may be afraid of hurting them, but your passive-aggressive behaviour is probably far more hurtful than some healthily driven confrontation.
3. Your body takes the toll.
Our minds and bodies are completely entwined and what we think is reflected in how we feel. When we are constantly angry, fearful, lost, and sad and we do nothing with these feelings except try and shut them down and suppress them, our bodies take the toll and become fatigued, hypersensitive, and can even suffer chronic illness. When you never express what is causing you trouble, you hold onto it.
Solution: Take some time to think about how you feel physically and perhaps recall how you felt the last time you were full of feelings that you felt unable to express. How can you begin to experiment with safely expressing yourself and giving your body a break?
4. You don’t know who you are or what you like.
When we don’t express our needs or opinions, it’s easy for those needs to remain unmet. We might know somewhere deep inside, or it might feel like a distant memory, that there are things we enjoy and care about. But if you’re not doing those things, talking about them, or sharing them with others, it’s so easy for that part of you to get lost.
Solution: Your expectation that others will find your interests and passions boring, irrelevant, or “wrong” is based only on your past experiences. Take some time to connect with things which you have enjoyed in the past, or experiment with something you like the look of. Set yourself a goal of talking about an opinion or interest in a safe environment.
5. You deny yourself a full relationship.
If, in the past, you expressed your vulnerabilities and they were shot down, you’ve learned that it’s a bad thing to be vulnerable. In fact, being vulnerable opens you up to the deepest level of healing and allows good people to see, love, and respect all of you. Voicing your vulnerabilities requires courage and it’s not easy to do, but it does open up the possibility of moving on from past trauma and moving forwards in a completely new way.
Solution: You need to remember that, far from being weak, being vulnerable shows that you have immense strength. Voicing your vulnerability comes from your needs to be heard and seen and finding that voice within has the capacity to transform your life. It’s OK to speak up, no matter how scary it feels.
Finding and using your voice is one of the toughest things you can do, particularly if you were silenced earlier in life. It’s also one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself—and it’s worth pushing through the fear that has kept you silenced for so long.