It’s been several weeks since I’ve written a blog. And truth be told – I’ve been stuck.
This is, by far, the hardest blog I have ever written.
I have been afraid to speak up and be open and honest, especially with the many people who receive this blog and who have never met me and don’t know me.
To be vulnerable.
To risk condemnation, criticism, rejection.
Ironically, these fears and feelings aren’t new. I have experienced condemnation, criticism and rejection in the past. But now the context is new, and I feel cautious and apprehensive.
So here it goes:
The events of the past couple weeks with the Senate hearings and subsequent vote for Brett Kavanaugh’s placement on the U.S. Supreme Court have left me feeling raw, confused, sad, disheartened and hopeful… all at the same time.
And please note before you read this blog: the purpose of this blog is not about political opinions or preferences. It is about raising awareness, probing for inquiry and offering ideas for making a difference.
The testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was a lightning rod for many people. It sparked a raw nerve for people who have been victims of physical and sexual aggression, harassment and abuse. It raised the awareness that people who have been victims of the abuse of power, whether it’s physical or emotional, have suffered silently out of fear of retaliation, humiliation, embarrassment… or quite simply fear that they would not be believed.
Just ask the athletes from Michigan State who were subjected to Dr. Larry Nassar’s “treatments.” Or the victims of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State or the boys who have been scarred by pedophile priests for decades.
The fear is real.
The fear of not being heard or believed is gut-wrenching and undeniable.
While not a victim of sexual or physical abuse, I lived with a narcissist for over a decade but didn’t know it. There were no visible signs of physical abuse and no public displays of verbal abuse. Only the constant, private, discrediting of every thought, wish, desire or emotion. Or worse, being ignored – in silence, as if I didn’t exist.
Until recently, there was not public awareness or “language” to explain what I experienced. It’s called “gaslighting,” which is an insidious form of mental and emotional abuse. And 30 years ago, I knew that no one would have believed me. I could not and would not talk about it. Afterall, we were pillars of the community. We were a high-profile couple in our community and in our church groups, successful and accomplished in our work.
And – I’ll admit, I worked hard to maintain that image.
There was no way I could share my reality with anyone at the time. No one would have believed me. Especially since he was a candidate for the State Assembly.
Even now, 30 years later, some people don’t want to believe me because it doesn’t fit their image of what they wanted to see at the time. I learned that they wanted to believe that we were “the ideal couple.” Or I was the strong, independent woman who broke the glass ceiling. Although I desperately tried to create those images, I found that trying to live up to unrealistic expectations and keeping those fantasies or images alive – for other people – was exhausting and unbearable.
After years of tolerating a loveless and emotionally degrading marriage, I found the courage to leave… only to find that I could not speak my truth because, as I feared, no one believed me. It didn’t take long before I simply said there were “irreconcilable differences,” suppressing the anger, hurt and sadness.
So, I know what it feels like not to be heard. To have thoughts, feelings or opinions that are not acknowledged or even heard by the person I had pledged to “love, honor and obey, till death do us part” and again by the people who discredited or dismissed my experiences.
I now know what it feels like to speak up and have people who say I understand, #Metoo or worse…
You’re Mistaken or Confused
To hear legislators or people in “authority” say someone is “exaggerating” or “mistaken” adds fuel to the fire. Just listen to Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations when someone said she was “confused,”or Senator Orin Hatch telling women to “grow up.” These women are not confused or need to grow up. They need to be heard and respected.
Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, women’s reproductive rights, gender equality … pick one. People want to be heard. People want to be respected for who they are as human beings.
It’s About Power
When people use the power of their position or authority to suppress, manipulate, control or bully others, eventually, there is going to be push-back. Eventually people will say “Enough is enough. Don’t patronize us.”
I ask that you listen. And listen carefully.
Whether you are a friend or family member, and especially if you are a person who is in a position of authority, regardless of gender, I ask that you make sure you’re listening carefully to those with whom you interact and who risk sharing their experience of abuse or harassment.
While you may not have experienced the “silencing” to the degree that you’ve read or heard about, I ask that you step back for a minute to some everyday examples of not being heard. Most people have had some experience in their lifetime of being on the receiving end of someone who is abusing their power.
It happens in the workplace.
People have ideas, suggestions, recommendations on how to do things better, faster, more efficiently. And their supervisors ignore them.
There can be pressure to go-along-to-get-along. Pressure to go against their better judgment to be a “team player.” Look at Wells Fargo as an extreme example of corporate bullying. Peers may ridicule or bully them. Sometimes publicly, sometimes privately. But the impact is the same.
We All Want to Be Heard
Whether it’s a visceral, gut-wrenching feeling at the deepest level of being a human being or a feeling of lack of acknowledgement for wanting to be a contributor to a work group or team, we all want our voices to matter.
Is it that hard to put your ego aside and really listen to the person in front of you?
Please know that it’s not that hard. But it is about making a choice to respect others.
I believe, deep down, that we all want to be heard. I believe that we all want to love and be loved. I believe that we all want to be valued as individuals and to add value to our communities.
I believe most of us want to use our power in positive ways to create a better world. A world filled with equal rights for opportunities and to be treated with dignity, regardless of our differences. This is why I feel a sense of hope, even in divisive times like these.
Suggestions for Making a Difference
Listen, without judgment – try to really hear what people are saying.
Don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions.
Don’t refute their comments or try to correct them when they share their experience or the emotional impact that you don’t understand.
Remember – this is their experience or memory of their experience – not yours. Don’t project your opinion or own experiences on them.
Show respect and grace.
Suggestions for Making a Difference at Work
Be open to new ideas.
While some new ideas may not be feasible, don’t ignore or discount them or allow ridicule from co-workers.
When you see or hear “bullying” in the workplace, speak up. Bullying can take the form of asking you to do things that you feel are unethical or illegal. Talk to your HR department or manager. If your manager is the problem, document and be specific when talking to “higher-ups.”
Be prepared for people to criticize you for speaking up.
Hang out with like-minded people who want a positive work environment and won’t stand for vicious gossip, bullying or intimidation.
Get Out of B.E.D.
Remember – when you stand in the place of blame, excuses and denial, you will always be the victim.
It takes courage to speak up.
It takes courage to be true to yourself.
It takes courage to make a difference.
But when you look in the mirror, you’ll be glad you did.
I know I was.
Marty Stanley had a “hot-shot” career as a corporate executive and is 1 of fewer than 1000 people in the world who is a Certified Speaking Professional and internationally recognized as Silver Stevie Award winner for 2017 Coach of the Year. She walks the talk. She may have been afraid to speak up about her “past life,” but looked in the mirror and chose not to be the victim of her past. She now has the courage to share her experience and hopes it inspires you to be brave and speak up so you can be heard.