What in the world do I mean by Voice?
In psychotherapy, I consistently work with people of all ages, races, socio-economic demographics, regardless, if they are 85 or 5 helping them discover and use their voice in meaningful ways.
For example, working with five year olds who are being seen for aggressive or moody behavior requires helping children find mastery with language. Even though play therapy may be the main modality, that play therapy translates to helping children use their words instead of their actions. It requires a great deal of patience on the therapists part with a lot of encouragement and modeling for the child. None the less, when children learn to say the words, “that hurt my feelings,” instead of hitting, then they are able to smile at their new ability to solve problems in healthy ways. Receiving natural positive re-enforcement enables continued mastery. Unfortunately many of us as children did not receive this sort of moldering and grew up not knowing how to use our voice.
While working with adults, especially in couple relationships, much of the therapy time is spent coaching each partner to breath and express how they feel when their feelings are hurt. I may say, “your partner just said she is feeling alone when you sit on the sofa and watch TV for hours rather than engaging with her. Can you respond to that?” Usually, the first response sounds something like, “She doesn’t understand. I have worked all day and dealt with difficult employees while trying to keep my boss happy. I just need to tune it all out and TV helps me do that.” Responding with my words, “I hear you. I hear how overwhelmed work is making you feel. I also hear how disconnected and unimportant your wife is feeling. Would you do me a favor and turn to your wife and ask her to tell you again how she feels and respond to her feelings. Then I will have her respond to yours. She took a risk to let you know how lonely she is and you risked how overwhelmed you feel. Let’s see if you can build a bridge to each other with your words.” That is a perfect example of the beginning to help couples build a communication bridge towards each other, empowering both parts of the couple to use their words rather their actions to re-connect after feeling disconnected from each other. Then, I take them further.
Moving from these examples into metaphors, we can travel back to lessons from the Wizard of Oz and notice the Tin Man. When he is found alone and immobilized by Dorothy and the Scarecrow, the Tin Man screeches through frozen lips, “Oil can.” His new friends discover the oil can sitting near by. The first place they use it is to loosen his lips. Once he is able to speak again, he tells them his sad story that made him into a Tin Man in the first place.
Using our Voice may sound simple, but in reality it is quite complicated. When we use our voice, it requires that we be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is emotionally scary. For instance, if the five year old risks saying,” my feelings are hurt,” and then gets bullied for being vulnerable then he/she may revert to hitting again. If the husband and wife cannot rebuild their emotional connection, then usually divorce follows. Using one’s Voice does not guarantee that things are going to get better, but it does guarantee that avenues that did not exist before are available.
Being vulnerable is emotionally scary. However, not being vulnerable it very risky behavior. Things do not get better on their own. In order for things to change we must engage with each other and speak our truth. That is risky in ways that open doors and create opportunities for change and personal growth. By staying silent about your feelings, thoughts, or needs eventually you will be like the Tin Man, immobilized and alone in a forest. Staying mobilized requires that we deal with our shame.
Three Tips on Using Your Voice:
1.) Keep a journal and write down your inner experiences and needs. Read it out loud to your self.
2.) The oil can of the Tin Man is a reminder to use self care when you begin to tense up.
3.) Build a community of three that you can share your inner experiences and practice using your voice.