Seen and not heard.

When I was little – maybe five years old – I remember being told “little girls should be seen and not heard.”

Five years old

I remember my dad saying it to me very sternly, and I remember he was talking to someone else at the time and I was trying to get his attention. Like five year olds do.

(I forgive him. He had no idea how great the impact of those words would be. He was a good dad. I miss him.)

Decades later, at the age of 32, when I was studying the basics of counselling, the words came out of my mouth. Each person in our small study group had to be counselled by the tutor in front of the rest. And everyone else had done their turn and shared part of their early lives with the group. Now it was my go.

I froze, terrified. The only thing I could bring myself to say to the counsellor was “little girls should be seen and not heard.” I remember feeling desperately sorry for her and the hard job I was giving her. Which in itself spoke volumes: in that moment, in which I was entirely permitted to feel and think about myself, I was thinking about how someone else was feeling.

She didn’t succeed. I couldn’t bring myself to share anything else. That handful of words had enduring power. I wasn’t allowed to speak.

However… this was a watershed moment for me. I could finally see the impact of these words on my life. 

So I allowed myself to feel the sadness within my five-year-old self as I was pushed away. I felt the shame and confusion of being told not just to be quiet, but of learning that silence was a part of my character. That it was expected of me and of everyone like me, not just by my dad, but by everyone.

I started being seen. And I started being heard

And over the coming years, I consciously started chipping away at those words.

I started sharing more of my difficult truths on social media: about times I’d experienced anxiety, impostor syndrome, depression. I had some lovely private messages in return, from friends who were grateful for what I was sharing and who expressed similar feelings.

I started reflecting on what I thought about all sorts of things, and trying to form and then share my own opinions.

I started speaking up more in conversation with others, and even finding ways to share disagreement. 

Essentially, I started being seen. And I started being heard. 

Which REALLY meant that I started being me.

These days, I’m a lot more expressive and I’m much more comfortable taking up space. But I still struggle, and have (what I’ve spoken about on Facebook with my friend Luke) little “shame hangovers” when I worry that I’ve over-shared or said something people won’t like.

But then I remember the Desiderata: “you are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”

What are the chances of being human and alive on this planet right now? I’m so lucky. I have a voice, a platform, and a right to stand on it and be seen and heard. 

That means we all do.

And that’s all I want for everyone, to be honest: to know, without a shred of doubt, that they have the right to take up space and to be seen for who they really are.

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