the courage to speak up

How to find the courage to speak up. Especially if you have a tendency to keep quiet.

Have you ever said?

“It’s wrong! Someone should say something about it. Everyone can see it’s pure madness!”

And your friend turns to you and says, “Maybe you should – since you feel so strongly about it?”

And as strongly as you feel about the issue your first instinct is fear. Fear as powerful as if a wild animal had crossed your path. Then a voice from deep inside you says:

“Oh no not me! I couldn’t! Someone else can do it.  I don’t want to be their whipping boy!”

But no one else does say anything, and now everyone is grumbling including you. Why didn’t you say something? You really should have. It takes courage to speak up, and as you tell yourself – you just don’t have it.

But is that true? Is it a lack of courage why many people don’t speak up? Or is it something else?

the courage to speak up
This little bird knows it has to make a noise in order to survive. But as humans we know better – if we make too much noise we may be punished – and in some cases silenced for life”


This was Mark’s experience. How many times had management brought in some stupid policy that was complete madness and how many times had he bitten his tongue – but felt angry and resentful? No wonder he was looking for another job, because this resentment had built up and he couldn’t wait to leave.

Mark was a nice guy. He was liked by everyone. He had a friendly manner with bright, humourous eyes which made people feel at ease. No one would know that behind his mask of friendliness was a terrified boy who found socialising acutely difficult. And who broke out into a sweat at the thought of approaching a stranger.

This terror was getting in his way. It was holding him back in his career and made it impossible for him to speak up. It was as if he lived behind walls. Walls that he just couldn’t get through. And so how could he possibly speak up. He was the Invisible Man in spite of his apparent visibility. He was seen and yet not seen. (See my article The Curse of Being Invisible)

He’d done a lot of work to break down those walls and escape. He knew all the reasons why he was like this. In his teens, he had had a traumatic experience that had left him crippled for life. Well, it had crippled his life up to now.

the courage to speak up - Being Invisible
The Invisible Man seems to be there but isn’t.

Taking Action

Time was ticking by and Mark knew he had to do something. He found his way into one of my courses. He found it hard but he knew he had to push through this wall that was keeping him enchained. For many weeks he felt very stuck. But although he felt the immovability of the walls around him, it was easier experiencing this in a physical way than when it was in his head. It felt more real.

And gradually the stuckness began to release. He started to relax, found himself able to interact with other group members instead of feeling locked in his own world. He began to enjoy playing. This was something he would have thought impossible only a few weeks before

Success – The Courage to Speak Up

About halfway through the group, Mark had had a remarkable success story. Exactly the same situation had happened at work. Management had brought in another stupid new policy and instead of keeping quiet, Mark went straight to his line manager. He explained why he objected to it and the impact it would have on clients and his colleagues. All the time he feared that his line manager would laugh in his face and would tell him to shut his mouth.

But Mark felt too strongly about it. He knew he had to speak up. There was a spirit in him now that was unstoppable. And although it did come out a bit garbled – he was nervous. But that didn’t seem to matter. Much to his surprise, his line manager listened. Then he said:

“I see what you mean. I think you’ve got a point.”

Mark breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn’t been laughed at or ridiculed. He had spoken out – and he felt a huge sense of achievement. He was beaming all day. He didn’t like to admit it but he felt pride – pride in himself. And this grin just wouldn’t leave his face.

Going to the Top

A few days later his line manager took him aside. “Oh no, I’m for it now!” the little voice inside him said. But his line manager said he’d discussed it with his superiors, and they were taking it very seriously. It had gone to the CEO.

Mark was flabbergasted. The CEO was taking his objection seriously! How could that possibly be true? His opinion had gone right to the top. He was no longer invisible and never had been.

He had just been gagged, silenced. And now he no longer was – he was free to speak up. He didn’t need to shout and scream about it. He had the power within him to express what he felt, in a way that other people could hear it.

the courage to speak up
Could you speak out if you were gagged and bound?

Plenty of Courage

And that old experience that had kept him locked away – was no longer holding him back.

The truth was that he had plenty of courage. It had taken massive courage to survive this trauma. It was as if he had been taken hostage by terrorists. In fact, he experienced many of the things hostages do. When he was terrified of going out and facing the world. Iit was as if he had been locked in a tiny dark room somewhere in an oppressed country – bound, gagged with no hope of ever escaping.

He had literally lost his ability to speak.

If he had been an adult, he probably would have survived. But as a young teenager, he didn’t have the ability to express the complex emotions going on within him. If you’re familiar with most teenagers, one of the things you will often notice is their inarticulacy.

Getting to the Unconscious Root

The work he had done in the group, however, had got to the root of what had kept him silent all those years. This is the beauty of working with the type of stories we work with in the Sunflower Effect. They get to the unconscious root of the problem using the language that the unconscious understands – images, metaphors and archetypal stories.

That’s why we dream. In our dreams, we re-enact the stories that are locked in our unconscious.

In most trauma – there are parts locked in the head – and there are parts locked in the body. It is a little easier getting to the parts locked in the head because we have overdeveloped rational brains – and we love to figure things out. But much harder to reach the parts in the body.

Mark had no idea he was working on his problem when he was enacting the stories in the session. He found it hard just because he felt inhibited expressing himself in this way. But after a while he found, helped by the support of the other group members, he could actually do it. This gave him confidence, and with confidence, more of his natural courage came out.

How It Works

You see the unconscious doesn’t know the difference between real-life and make-believe. When you act something out in your make-believe world, the unconscious thinks it’s real. This is why the Sunflower Effect is so powerful. When you act it out dramatically – even if you are just play-acting, just pretending, the unconscious thinks it as real as if it was really happening.

And what’s more, if you do this using the language the unconscious understands, (metaphor, myth and fairy story) the more it feels seen and heard just like you do.

So when the unconscious saw Mark feeling stuck. It said “That’s it! That’s exactly how I feel!” It registers that’s the source of the trauma. It feels it and it feels real.

And then later when Mark started having more positive experiences – the unconscious said ” I like this! I want more of this! This is when the healing begins to happen. This is what unlocked Mark from his painful experiences in adolescence – and gave him back his voice.

the courage to speak up
His expression was coming from a powerful place within him.

It wasn’t a technique he had learned. His expression was coming from a powerful place within him. Even though he was also feeling nervous. This is why he sounded so authoritative and why his line manager took what he said so seriously.

You can have an absolutely brilliant idea. But if it isn’t expressed clearly and with authority, it can sound unconvincing. This is how politicians manage to pull the wool over our eyes. We believe what they say because they make it sound so impressive. (They abuse their position by not telling us the whole truth and using their persuasive powers to deceive us.)

How to Find the Courage to Speak up

This is is how and why Mark found the courage to speak up – and it is how you can. Your situation may not be the same as Mark’s but the principle is the same. It is not because you lack courage – even if it feels like that – it’s just a part of you is being held hostage.

You need to find a way to release this part from its prison. When you do, there is freedom, a powerful voice and self-respect.

Start in a small way. Instead of saying “yes” to something you don’t want to do – say “no”.  See how this feels.

Instead of saying “no” to something you’re frightened to say “yes” to, say “yes” – and see what happens!

© Claire Schrader

Want to find the courage to speak up?
Join one of my upcoming confidence courses to help you gently move through the barriers that are holding you back from speaking up or book an individual session either in person or online.

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