A few years ago, I was interviewed by a popular Catholic podcaster. I had prayed about the message I was going to share and I was excited about our conversation because of the many ways my faith had transformed my life. I had envisioned all the ways that my story, as an immigrant to the United States, could help others. I couldn’t wait for the interview to air – but to my disappointment, weeks passed without a word from the interviewer. The self-doubt began to creep in. “Was my message not good enough? Was my story unworthy of sharing?”
When I reached out a year later, the podcaster had actually forgotten who I was and that our interview had even taken place.
It can be discouraging to share yourself and your story, only to be forgotten. Instead of sitting around and waiting for things to change, I decided I was going to take greater ownership of telling my story and advocating for myself.
If you ever face a similar experience, here are some tips on how to find your voice.
Remember that you are worthy
As a woman of color who is also a trauma survivor, I’ve often felt defeated by attempts to speak up in the workplace or share my story. Experiences like the above confirmed my body’s urge to self-protect. My brain has often, in the past, offered me thoughts like, “Why should I speak up if previous attempts left me feeling ignored or pushed aside?”
It can be easy to give in to the temptation to hide your opinion or not speak up for fear of rejection, especially when society as a whole has a long way to go in truly seeing women of color as leaders.
Since my own body was still healing from traumatic experiences, I knew I also had ongoing internal work to do (and for God to help me through).
I remember at some point trying to say affirmations like “I am worthy,” and I realized that it was not working for me. Trauma is stored in the body, and so I needed more than simple cognitive practices to overcome deeper insecurities around honoring my voice and speaking up.
Surrounding myself with safe and secure people, licensed mental health professionals, and giving myself permission to rest instead of hustling to prove my worth were practices that helped me remember my worthiness. Over time, I unlearned the fear responses to being ignored or not being accepted that I held for so long.
We can remember we are worthy when we surround ourselves with people who remind us that we are made in the image and likeness of God and mirror this back to us, especially during moments when we can’t believe it ourselves.
Understand your story
What prevents us from speaking up is often a lack of understanding where this fear even comes from.
Is it fear of rejection? Fear of being misunderstood? Are you constantly feeling unwelcome or out of place in your work environment?
Whatever the case may be, pray for self-knowledge and so that you can give God permission to heal wherever it is you need healing.
This is a critical prerequisite to the next step. In order to speak up for ourselves from a self-honoring place instead of from a place of wounded-ness, we need to realize that we can honor ourselves and the other person at the same time.
Speaking up for ourselves takes courage because it can feel vulnerable. If you’re used to not speaking up for yourself, being assertive will take practice. You may want to practice speaking assertively to people you feel safe with or practice speaking up for yourself in writing.
Speaking assertively is possible when we use relational awareness: honoring ourselves, the other person, and the relationship all at the same time.
When we speak up, we take ourselves seriously and we take our audience seriously. Such a level of respect is a building block for positive relationships at work and beyond.
Author’s Note: Women of color are not a monolith and experiences will vary from person to person. This is my personal experience.