It’s never happened before. I’ve never lost my voice. The timing was terrible. My husband and I were on vacation with a group of friends. It was a hugely social event – and there I was unable to add my voice, unable to tell stories or add my laughter and comments to other’s stories. This was incredibly frustrating for super chatty me.
Without my voice, how could I participate in the group? At first I tried to write down what I wanted to say. That strategy failed miserably. Not only was it cumbersome to write – but then my friends had to search for reading glasses – creating additional obstacles to an already awkward way of communicating. I quickly realized it wasn’t worth all the effort unless I had something really important to say – which I didn’t. I resolved to keep quiet and just listen. What a challenge.
With my focus on listening I was freed from my social rules of needing to contribute. It made me realize how much energy I put into trying to contribute to the fun of a group. The second thing that fascinated me was my strong desire to jump in with an answer to any question that was thrown out to the group. In this case I held back and saw that someone else in the group always had an answer or an opinion. That was interesting. Have I ever held back before? Why do I usually jump to be the first to answer? Because I couldn’t answer, my habit was interrupted and it made me realize the value in letting others answer. Without me jumping in, space was allowed for quieter members of the group to say something.
At first this was all a fun experiment and allowed me to be in the role of the observer – mindful of my reactions as well as group dynamics. Gradually it became less fun as I noticed the group stopped making eye contact with me. What the heck? I couldn’t talk but I still wanted to be noticed. I wasn’t invisible. I still mattered, didn’t I? I didn’t like this at all. I started to feel lonely. It’s terrible to feel alone in the midst of good friends. My mind started traveling to bad places. I started to think, “So that’s it? If I can’t contribute to the group then I have no value in this group? Does it matter that I’m even here?” I knew that wasn’t true – but in the moment it sure felt true. Ugh.
Something about this line of thinking felt familiar. It touched a deeper wound. What was it? I tried to follow my line of thinking further. It went like this:
- What if I could never talk again?
- Would my relationships continue?
- Would others have motivation to include me?
- What could I add or contribute to justify my presence?
- Is being – just being – enough?
Bingo! There it was. That familiar wound once again. Am I enough? Heck YES!!! But that pernicious fear worms its way into all kinds of situations without me realizing it. Once I saw what menacing thought I was dealing with, the realizations opened up wide for me. Initially I thought my problem was that without my voice I couldn’t contribute to the group, and therefore I didn’t feel like part of the group. Upon deeper reflection I realized that underneath my desire to contribute was a strong desire for attention – a desire to be noticed. An unrealized but ingrained rule I’ve lived by is that attention equals value. As I hear myself say this rule, I realize the fallacy of the thinking. Perhaps this was a rule that formed because of being the youngest of 4 kids. It was likely a brilliant strategy for a little kid. But it’s a rule I need to discard now because it no longer serves me.
It was amazing to me how simply correcting my thinking changed my perspective. Once I was certain that I didn’t need attention to be of value, I felt so much freedom. There was nothing I had to do to be enough. Once I let go of needing attention there were many ways to enjoy being part of the group. As my voice started to recover, I enjoyed the group in a new way. I felt like I was striving less –observing more. I lost my voice but in the process found a more authentic voice. What a treasure!
Questions To Ponder:
- Have you ever lost your voice or been prevented from speaking? If so, what did it feel like? What adjustments did you have to make? What did you learn from the experience?
- Are you comfortable being in a group and not getting attention?
- What do you tell yourself if someone you’re with isn’t giving you the attention you desire?