What happens when you lose your voice? I’ve discovered that’s when you lose yourself . . .
The effects of trauma are pervasive, affecting our mind, body, and soul. Our nervous system is wired to protect us from harm, but may be thwarted from doing so by elements in the environment such as inconsistent caregiving or outright abuse. If babies are not helped to settle and soothe by attuned, responsive caregivers, they will not internalize a sense of safety and security from which to grow and explore and develop a healthy sense of self. Instead, they will remain in a state of hypo or hyper arousal, lacking the neural platforms and capacity to regulate even when the environment is relatively safe in the future. A false sense of regulation may be sought by the development of destructive and maladaptive coping mechanisms like eating disorders, addictions and self harm.
Facing unpredictable and inconsistent caregiving creates insecure attachment patterns based on eliciting as much care as possible from parents and other people in the family system. Social engagement systems such as complying and caretaking are two such strategies designed to avoid conflict and achieve some sense of connection, even if it requires denying one’s own needs and submerging one’s identity beneath layers of pleasing behaviors. The focus is on keeping others close by identifying and meeting their needs while negating the needs of self. This disconnect from the true self blocks authentic relationship and results in unsatisfying, lopsided relationships without avenues for honest partnership based on trust and mutuality.
For years my true self remained hidden beneath layers of these false and desperate attempts to ward off abandonment and rejection. Ironically, by seeking to avoid being abandoned and rejected by others, I ended up abandoning my own self.
When I first started learning about the Natural Lifemanship model of Trauma Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, I was immediately drawn to the relationship principles of mutual respect, trust, cooperation and partnership. I had never encountered the idea that you could not be genuinely connected to others if you were not genuinely connected to your own self (although it made perfect sense). While all of the information I was learning resonated deeply within me, I struggled to apply it in the round pen with the horses. I could not seem to connect with them no matter how hard I studied the principles and tried to apply them. It left me frustrated and secretly in despair that I was too broken and damaged to be able to do this powerful work. Slowly I began to see that all of the elaborate defenses I had constructed to protect my true self from ever being exposed as inadequate and unacceptable were preventing me from developing genuine connection with either humans or horses. I was fascinated by the utter unselfconsciousness the horses displayed. They did not care if they were the right size, shape or color and were not impressed by my task-focused, perfectionistic attempts to relate to them using the principles of the NL model. The more I let myself feel the confusion, fear and inadequacy this brought up for me, the more interested they became in connecting with me. They did not like my put together, professional self. They liked my messy personal self. The horses accepted my presence when I was honest, not when I was appeasing and pleasing.
Unlike horses, humans don’t always like it when you present your genuine self, especially when your opinion might differ from theirs or your needs might not be convenient for them. Starting to speak up and be more assertive about my wants and needs has caused conflict in some of my primary relationships.
A close friend, who is a Captain in the Army, was asked if she was offended when the co-captain of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, Megan Rapinoe, refused President Trump’s invitation to the White House. My friend responded that as a soldier, one of her jobs is to defend Rapinoe’s right to her freedom of speech. “In any of the countries I was deployed in, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, or South Sudan, a person would be executed for speaking out against the government.” Whether our truth is popular or not, it must be spoken.
I often think of the song “Brave” by Sarah Bareilles:
Don't run, stop holding your tongue Maybe there's a way out of the cage where you live Maybe one of these days you can let the light in Show me how big your brave is
Say what you want to say And let the words fall out Honestly I want to see you be brave
With what you want to say
Innocence, your history of silence Won't do you any good Did you think it would? Let your words be anything but empty Why don't you tell them the truth?
As a committed conflict avoider and peace keeper (albeit a false peace) it actually takes a lot of courage for me to finally speak up. And sometimes the words do “fall out” – awkwardly, stupidly, confusingly, not eloquently at all. And sometimes they are met with anger, or what can be even worse, silence. But once you start speaking your truth, you can’t go back to hiding and pretending. Your true self is awake and alive and persistent. There is a space in your soul that was just waiting to be seen, heard, felt and known. So even if your voice is shaking, and your heart is trembling, and the audience is not going to welcome your truth, just say it. Let the words fall out. Find your true self again.