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Finding a Voice within an Authoritarian Social System

Finding a Voice within an Authoritarian Social SystemOf all the peculiarities that make me up, I could point to one peculiarity which has had persisting and devastating consequences in my 33 years of living: The inability to voice my feelings during stress.

I think back to school and how I hated the lunch my mother packed for me. Of how I was nauseous every time I finished my packed lunch. How I am still nauseous after a full meal of rice. Of the unwavering curd rice, stiff yellow dal rice and the soggy fried potatoes.

I took the same food to school for 10 years, every single school day. I gagged at every lunch, dumped the curd rice onto the plants as I was afraid to take the lunch box home unfinished.

The only saving grace was my best friend’s mum sent her delicious food that I could share. And when I think of my friend’s kindness now, I am overwhelmed. She saved me without her knowledge from a subtle and persistent abuse, that of the abandonment by my mother of all of my childhood needs except certain basic ones.

I do not recall ever complaining to my mother. When I told my mother a few months ago how I hated the food she sent me, she said that I never told her I didn’t like it. My bringing back the food uneaten was likely not a cue that she could pick up on. Instead I am guessing I got a round of scoldings, which led me to feeding the plants with rice.

Neither did my school environment encourage me to express myself. Talking at school was punished during school hours. We were to maintain silence except for the break which was for an hour and twenty minutes. I learned that speech was unusual, offensive and punishable.

Speechlessness. The voicebox that chokes on emotions every time. My mother uniquely complemented my speechlessness in childhood by being totally unable to pick on my feelings. So I never came out of the circle of silence.

As a child I was most definitely afraid, shy, angry at times, frustrated. These emotions all swirled around inside of me, never heard or acknowledged by me or by any of the adults around me.

Later, as I grew into my late teens, I had a little bit more control over the circumstances around me. So now when I was overwhelmed by emotions, I took to running away: from groups, from authority figures, from upsetting friends.

Sometimes I forced myself to stay, but I still could not convey in words what I felt to the person who triggered it. I could however, years later, recall the exact words by a specific person which had caused me pain.

I got caught in the swirl of Indian-style matchmaking in my mid-20s. I din’t know to speak to the prospective partners about my expectations or ask them about theirs. The unsuccessful outcomes forced us as a family to try harder.

These unspoken, unsupported tough times of rejection and cravings led me to depression. I felt that I was a machine that was failing and that there was no hope.

Did I unwind from this darkness and unhealthy silence? I don’t think fully yet. When I was 28, I discovered Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s technique of non-violent communication. This was a communication model that brought some hidden stories from me.

It also gave me a clue as to how to connect with other people. I notice that sometimes I feel emotionally numb and don’t know what to say when people talk. Now I express my emotions more and listen more.

I have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland being close to the voicebox in the neck region. It doesn’t surprise me. There are still a lot of unexpressed emotions stuck in my throat. I want to sing, release my voice. I sing sometimes when I am happy. I feel that I would know I am fully healed when I can sing without feeling terrified or judged.

Finding a Voice within an Authoritarian Social System

Archana Sankaran

Archana Sankaran is an artist and therapist who lives in south India. She writes on alternative health, psychology and gardening. Her blog is at

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APA Reference
Sankaran, A. (2018). Finding a Voice within an Authoritarian Social System. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 9 Jun 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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