“Always speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” ~Unknown
You may not want to admit this to others, but I know the truth about you.
You freeze, clam up, and shut down when tensions rise and your spidey-sense detects a hint of conflict in the air. You run for cover during the storm, and when it’s over, you judge yourself for not having delivered the perfect soliloquy in the heat of the moment to convey your point and get what you need and deserve.
And then you collapse into a hot mess of blame and shame.
I get it. I used to be an expert in hiding.
I vividly recall finding myself in tears in a colleague’s office after a particularly difficult meeting. My work was sidelined, and it was made abundantly clear that my contribution and presence weren’t valued.
I felt passed over, ignored, and worst of all, not seen.
I was too scared to say anything in the moment, and I didn’t even have the right words to express what was on my mind.
What I wanted to say was nothing out of the ordinary. But when you’re feeling intimidated, that really doesn’t matter. Even sharing something as benign as what you’ve been working on seems impossible, let alone requesting a teeny, tiny amount of air time to do so.
I left work that day unable to make sense of what had happened and how to move through the emotional state that I was left in.
Sadly, this wasn’t the only difficult interaction that I came across early on in my career. The other ones involved yelling, passive-aggressive remarks, dysfunctional team dynamics, and me, remaining silent, not knowing how to handle it all, while expertly judging myself for not doing better.
Yes, I was that person.
Perhaps you can relate?
Maybe you’re afraid to confront a loved one who has violated your boundaries because you don’t want to damage the relationship. Or perhaps you’re in an abusive situation and you’re worried that others won’t believe all of the awful things you’ve lived though. Or maybe you’ve been “hiding” in the workplace, not wanting to broach a difficult issue because you don’t want to create conflict or lose your job.
I get it. There are risks to rocking the boat. And sometimes those risks are worth taking because the cost of remaining silent is too high.
That cost is carrying the trauma of these negative interactions inside of us. It lingers there, eating away at us, waiting to be released while it leaks out in unhealthy ways. We might take our frustration out on ourselves by overeating or drinking, or we might let our feelings build until one day we explode on some innocent person who doesn’t deserve our rage.
And so, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about loving yourself into speaking up when you’re frozen in fear. My hope is that this will help you remember who you truly are in those difficult moments.
So here goes…
First and foremost—and I know that this is the very last thing that you want to do—stop thinking. Stop wondering. Stop second-guessing yourself and admit that you’re scared.
I know it’s hard, but accept it. Accept it all—the tension, the anger, the fear, the raised voices, the freezing… all of it. The only way through is to first accept the situation for exactly what it is, and it certainly doesn’t mean agreeing with what happened.
Then, and this is even scarier, I know, tell someone. Not anyone, but just one compassionate witness. Someone who will listen, not judge, and not tell you what to do next.
This is one of the best ways to begin your healing. What stays inside of you unacknowledged and unspoken festers and turns into shame and/or rage. When you let someone else in and receive their empathy and understanding, you’re better able to offer these beautiful gifts to yourself.
You’ll then be ready to understand (not with your head, but with your heart) that freezing is a brilliant response to feeling scared.
We’re biologically wired to use this survival technique to help us ward off predators. My cat freezes every time I take her to the vet, and it’s no better than fighting or fleeing as a response. So please stop judging yourself for doing what the universe innately programmed you to do.
And now, for the biggest leap of faith that you’ll be asked to take in this lifetime… To effect any real change, you’ll need to love yourself exactly as you are right now.
That means loving the frightened, insecure, self-judging little one inside of you who hates herself for not doing better.
Yes, her (or him).
Instead of telling her that she’s not good enough, speak to her in the way you’d talk to a child who froze in fear when confronted with a threatening situation. What might you say?
“It’s okay… you’re safe now, you’re loved. No one can hurt you. You are enough, just as you are. You don’t need to change a thing.”
Once that little one feels truly comforted, she’ll be ready to entertain the possibility of speaking up, and then find the courage to do so. Self-love creates strength, confidence, and resilience—and these are the things you need to give yourself a voice. You need strength to speak up, confidence to hold your ground regardless of how you’re received, and resilience to handle the response, whatever it may be.
This may take a while.
When she does find her voice, she’ll stumble.
Her words will come out all clunky at first. She’ll feel both embarrassment and exhilaration. Just let her be. Let her live through all of those wild and wonderful emotions, while telling her how incredibly proud you are of her.
Eventually, she’ll come to see the brilliant wisdom in the unique voice that she’s been holding back. And she’ll learn how to finally love herself, even when she was the one who did something wrong.
Please remember to celebrate her in that moment.
As that little one becomes wiser, she’ll also realize that “resolution” doesn’t necessarily mean working it out with the other person. She’ll find the courage to speak her truth and walk away with integrity when necessary, finding comfort in the fact that she did her best even when others didn’t agree with her decisions.
And now for the kicker… you’re seriously not going to believe this one, but trust me, it happens.
Once you figure out how to speak up while feeling love and compassion for the scared little one inside of you, you’ll almost magically help others move out of their own fight, flight, and freeze reactions.
And for the most part, you’ll happily discover that you can build bridges where you once saw impasses.
But deep down somewhere you already know all of this, don’t you?
My wish for you is that you allow yourself to live it a little sooner, so that life is a little less painful for you.
But I also know that it’s through this struggle that you become stronger, so as I write these words I hesitate to even suggest taking that journey away from you. Just know that you will get there.
Dedicated to CDM, the queen of love bubbles who had the infinite patience needed to teach me how to unfreeze.
About Nayla Mitha
Nayla Mitha helps people improve their leadership, communication, and conflict resolution skills so that they can work smarter, not harder. Download her difficult conversations cheat sheet and get actionable strategies to talk about awkward things without losing your nerve.