When I was a child there were strict rules around when to speak and when not to speak. Expressing opinion was not encouraged and how I felt was not considered relevant. I remember when company would visit I had no involvement in conversations unless asked to do so.
The intention was to teach discipline and respect which I’m sure at the time seemed liked a good idea but was that all there was to the message? It should be pointed out that this silence was imposed by my mother and she followed the teachings of her father.
I’ve spoken to many women over the years, professionally and personally, who confess they didn’t have a voice in their own home. I have yet to meet a man who would say the same. Lately this topic surfaced again and that made me think, What are the consequences of such silence?
Whether we see it as a simple proverb, a gender specific directive, a culturally accepted request or whatever, to be seen and not heard is not healthy.
I wouldn’t doubt that growing up without an appreciation of your voice, opinion or presence is why so many people find it difficult in the workplace to confidently advocated for themselves or verbally contribute in a way that would demonstrate their skills.
Within group settings I have had participants who experienced a visible or invisible reaction to the mere sound of their own voice. Later they shared with me why that it is so difficult to contribute to topics even though they want to and so many times its attributed to learned silence.
This also doesn’t bode well for intimate relationships. People who have been conditioned to be seen and not heard often can be prey for abusive or highly dominant partners. That lack of voice as a child may create unsafe situations in adulthood.
There is hope and resources.
As a former “to been seen and not heard kid”, I look back on what helped me develop my communication skills and confidence.
- Mentors and good friends – people demonstrated to me the value of self-expression and how to develop MY voice.
- I reluctantly put myself in situations that had me use my voice and I reaped the benefits of learning.
- I forgave my mother for her role in passing along this opinion by recognizing her father and societies imprint was strongly influential.
- I protect my voice from those that seem to want to silence or overpower it and encourage others to do the same. You Are To Be Seen AND Heard
- I found an outlet for my voice in singing and writing. Creative expression might help you to find your voice.
Resource: Toastmasters Club is an international organization that can be very helpful in building confidence and your voice. Check them out.