I was 12 years old when my 16-year-old cousin got me alone in a room and started feeling me up. I remember being so shaken and scared. I didn’t know what to do.
When I came home, I told my mother. I shall never forget what she said to me: “Stop making up stories. Your cousin is a good boy. You know that. Why would you want to say bad things about him? What’s wrong with you?”
I froze. Could I have imagined the whole thing? Could it not have happened? Could it have been my fault? I ran up to my room and never mentioned the incident again.
But how alone I felt! How confused I felt! How awful it was that my experience was thrown out the window! I wanted to scream. But I couldn’t. All I knew was that I had better be quiet and not start trouble. I had better pretend that the whole thing didn’t happen.
And pretend I did. For many years. In truth, for many decades.
It wasn’t just that one incident. There were many incidents in which I was made to feel that what I thought, what I felt, what I experienced was nonsense. It didn’t count. I didn’t count.
Now that I look back on it, I realize that I (and my siblings) lived in my mother’s world. The rest of us were just passing through it. She was strong-willed. Self-centered. Focused on her own needs. And not the least bit empathetic to anyone else’s. If I said something she didn’t agree with, she’d silence me with a disdainful look and a “What do you know?” retort. Then she’d look away, like I wasn’t worth wasting her time on.
In those days, I didn’t trust my own thoughts. I would listen, obey and acquiesce. When told to jump, I would ask how high. It seems like it took me forever to develop my own voice. To trust that I had something worthwhile to say. To believe that someone would care what I thought.
If you have gone through a similar struggle and are still searching for your inner voice, here are a few ways to speed up the process:
- Create quiet time alone to think, meditate, pray.
- Ask yourself reflective questions, such as, “What do I think about the lead story online?” or “What would I do if I won the lottery?” Keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. It’s your opinion that counts.
- Keep a dated journal so that you can record, reread and contemplate your thoughts as they change over time.
- Tell your story to a nonjudgmental person who is willing and able to listen to you with understanding and compassion.
- As you tell your story, see if you can derive new meaning from it or new insights about how the event affected you.
- Let yourself feel whatever emotions you feel. You don’t need to evaluate your emotions, just let them be.
- Consider seeing a psychologist who can guide you through this painful process as you develop greater awareness and trust in yourself.
Your story is as unique as your fingerprints. It is precious. Even the painful part is precious, because it has made you who you are.
It’s liberating to acknowledge your experiences rather than sweeping them under the rug, pretending they didn’t happen. It’s healing to relate your story to a caring soul rather than hiding what was traumatic for you. As you tell your own story in your own words, you come to fully understand how earlier experiences affected you and still affect you today.
Expect the healing that comes from this process to be profound!