What I Wish I'd Said, Part I - Kimberly Thompson

My undergraduate years now seem to me long ago and far away. I was in the midst of earning a bachelor’s degree in music, and thought that I would make my career as a musician and teacher. My actual destiny was far removed from that – but I learned many lessons in those days that I’ve been able to put to good use in my eventual profession as a psychologist. One of those lessons came when I allowed the objections of authority figures to silence my questions and inquiry.

In “Silencing the Self: Women and Depression,” Dana Crowley Jack introduces the phenomenon of female self-silencing. Women tend to develop what she calls the “over-eye” early in life – a part of consciousness that constantly monitors everything we say, do, think, and feel. The watchfulness of the over-eye leads to a split between who we feel we are on the inside and who we show to others on the outside. We don’t say what we really think, even in our most intimate relationships, and we come to believe that the real “us” can’t be accepted – that to express what we are really thinking, feeling, and experiencing would expose us to rejection. *

As a sophomore, our music literature class was studying early-twentieth-century composers. The opera Wozzeck by Alban Berg was part of the curriculum. A story of an ordinary foot soldier faced with the overwhelming forces swirling in the period leading up to World War I, I found Wozzeck to be depressing and disturbing. It seemed to me that the moral of the story was that the ordinary person is helpless in the face of forces too great to be comprehended. Berg’s musical style was atonality, or an absolute rejection of the use of a key – which up until this period of time was a fundamental part of western music. So, the musical style underscored the lack of foundation and power afforded to the individual. This ran counter to my understanding of my own place in the world, and that of others. I could not articulate my discomfort with these themes very well as a 19 year old, but I attempted to broach the subject of my many questions after class with my instructor. He apparently was shocked and appalled that I would question the “morality” of the opera, and went on to share my comments with other faculty members. This led to yet another instructor going on a rant during theory class about there being “no such thing as the morality of an eighth note.” Knowing that his rant was directed at me, I shrank back and said no more about it. But from that day, my interest in music was diminished, and I ended up being disinterested in a musical career. I would have been better off changing my major, but why I did not is another story entirely. I just limped along after that point.

I wish I had either transferred to a major where my questioning was respected, or that I had spoken my truth and let the chips fall where they may. Over the years I have considered what my truth might be, if I were given another chance to speak up. I don’t think that it would be anything about Wozzeck at all. I think it would be that the university could not have it both ways: Either students learn to think critically about everything important to them, or they don’t. You can’t teach critical thinking about everything except the curriculum. You can’t teach musical analysis but blind acceptance of the message of the music. You can’t say that “Beethoven seems ready to burst into words at any moment – and in fact does so in his Ninth Symphony” and at the same time say that he has nothing particular to say that can be subjected to analysis and critique. I would say that it is pitiful that the faculty of a prestigious school of music cannot handle students questioning what constitutes art and what that art means [as expressed in language].

In this particular case, I just shut up because of my excessive awe of authority. I’ll admit that it took me longer than most to feel like an adult with a right to say what was on my mind. Many times, however, women are not silenced by a fear of authority as much a fear of losing those they love the most. This is the most common type of self-silencing, and probably the most damaging. Eventually I found my own place in the professional world, where I knew my ideas and my voice would be heard. My relationship with my husband was a big part of my professional development and growth – he believed in me, respected my thoughts, and admired my accomplishments. If I had been unable to be real with him, I would not have been able to move forward into all the things I eventually accomplished.

The first step in overcoming the habit of self-silencing, and moving into relationships that are fully supportive, is to recognize that it’s happening. The next step is to practice speaking up for yourself, no matter how awkward or unskilled you are. You’ll get better with practice!

* Jack, D.C. (1991). Silencing the Self: Women and Depression. New York: Harper Press.

ABOUT ME

I’m Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a clinical psychologist with a maternal mental health practice in Lubbock, TX. From pre-conception to the empty nest, mothers can work with me in-person and online. Download my free e-book, The Busy Mom’s Self-Care Planner, and bring yourself into your circle of care. You can also find my book, Perfect Mothers Get Depressed, on Amazon and the Praeclarus Press website.

 

 

2 thoughts on “What I Wish I’d Said, Part I”

  1. Marybeth Porter says:

    Loved this! You are amazing! I’ve always thought I have said pretty much what is on my mind but looking back on my life I too did some self silencing.

    1. It’s amazing how that happens without us even knowing it!

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