Is Silence Really Golden?
My oldest son turned 11 recently, and every year on his birthday I reflect on the day he was born. One memory that stays with me from that day is that I didn’t cry out during labor. Not a yell. Not a curse. Not a shriek. I held the pain inside in virtual silence.
I’ve always patted myself on the back for braving that experience quietly. I took it as a compliment when the delivery nurse pointed out that I had remained calm and level-headed. But when I reviewed that memory again this year, the self-congratulations for a job-quietly-done didn’t seem to fit anymore. For the first time in 11 years, I wondered, why hadn’t I screamed out loud?
I didn’t want to be seen as difficult.
The answer I got was surprising. I realized that I had stayed silent not because I was brave or impervious to pain, but rather so that I wouldn’t appear bothersome or needy, overly emotional or out-of-control. I kept my mouth shut so that other people would approve of me and how I behaved.
Why women stay quiet.
As women, we’ve been conditioned from childhood to stay quiet. We’re inundated with messages from our families, community, and culture about what a woman is supposed to be. “Silence is golden,” is a phrase many of us likely remember. “Be seen and not heard,” is another. How about, “don’t speak unless you’re spoken to?” Sound familiar? The underlying assumption is that we’re most valuable when we’re easy to be around, not causing a fuss, and not speaking our truth.
The cost of silence.
As a result, we end up silencing our voice and denying many of our personal thoughts, desires, and emotions. We say yes when we want to say no, accept less instead of asking for more, and smooth over difficult circumstances instead of speaking up. All of which leads us to disconnect with, and cover-up, who we really are.
Breaking the pattern.
Learning to break free from the silence isn’t easy; the underlying assumptions we’ve been raised with run deep. But when we dig down far enough, we can uncover those limiting beliefs and replace them with valid realizations about our worth, value, and capabilities. By doing so, we take a huge step forward towards being our authentic selves and finding our true voice.
Like many women, I know I’ll continue to face situations that make me feel like I should stay quiet. But when that happens, I’ll try to remember my silent labor and choose instead to make some noise.
Let me know what you think.
When have you stayed silent instead of using your voice? Add your thoughts in the comments below.