Your Voice – What it is and How It Is Silenced By the Narcissist
We hear the term “Share your voice”, “Find your voice”, etc. quite frequently in recovery. As a writer on the topic of recovery from narcissistic abuse, it’s one I use frequently without ever directly talking about what “your voice” actually means and the power it holds and why so many abusive people respond to it aggressively in an attempt to silence it.
First of all, your voice, isn’t just the audible sounds coming from your vocal chords. That’s just a vehicle that pierces the Silence. Your voice is actually more than that – It pierces the silent atmosphere that boundary violations, disrespect, marginalized treatment and abuse thrive in. It’s an audible right that you claim by speaking up, to say that what you have to say, and that the truth you have to speak as if it is worth BEING HEARD; even if YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS SO. Other names to describe “your voice” are: assertiveness, worthiness, truth, honesty, your reality, your side of the story, your feelings, your validation, your weigh in, your vote, your opinion.
While you share your voice in many situations, we are going to discuss situations where your rights and boundaries are being violated and where you make the decision to assert your “voice” in order to protect yourself, have your needs considered equitably and to be involved in matters of importance that concern you.
If you were raised in a dysfunctional / narcissistic household, you were taught at a very early age, many messages about your voice: “Kids should be seen; not heard”, “Your opinions don’t matter”, “Be Quiet! , “You don’t say that about mom, dad, aunt Sue, Uncle Charlie”…etc. Kids have such a keen ability to see the obvious negative and subtle messages about people and their true character. We often hear the term, “Out of the mouths of babes” , which illustrates the brute honesty that kids approach the world and the people in it. If you were an honest kid, who called things like you saw them, asking questions that made sense logically but were met with disdain, you were likely also branded the “scapegoat” in the family.
Scapegoats pick up this dysfunctional family moniker for being truthful and outspoken about realities that those living in a dysfunctional cycle do NOT want to see. In order to silence the harshness of the reality that you’re asking them to face, they will label YOU the troublemaker and do anything within their power, and as adults they have it, to SILENCE YOU.
How does it feel to be silenced? It’s Frustrating. Hurtful. It sends the message that you don’t matter. You wonder why others get to express their feelings and thoughts, even when you see that they aren’t honest, and yet you are shut down, forced to eat your words, shamed, told you are bad, inappropriate, starting problems, or ARE the problem. It’s isolating. You learn very early on that sharing your voice, your truth, your thoughts, your feelings are a bad thing and that you’re a “bad person” for doing so.
Overcoming scapegoat labels and the continual messages that your voice is caustic, is a terrible legacy. It sets you up as an adult to be the person who will be easily silenced when confronted with abuse. How else does abusive behavior continue but with a complicit, silent partner who has learned to excuse the unexcusable, to defend the undefendable and to agree to hide the secrets of a person whose life would be destroyed by the truth if only YOU were courageous enough to share it.
Narcissists purposefully choose those who are vulnerable to keeping secrets and not sharing their voices. They want to know they’ve chosen someone with whom their secret is safe. What’s their secret? WHO THEY REALLY ARE. A narcissist doesn’t dare risk showing their unmasked, bullying, abusive, lying, cheating, immoral, perverted, addicted, conning, conniving selves to someone who is confident to tell on them and who is carrying a bullhorn ready to blast it out to the world what happens behind closed doors. That’s too much a risk of exposure that would send their shanty house of cards crumbling to the table.
The narcissist is VERY AWARE when you are speaking in an assertive powerful way and will take that powerful speech as a threat to their abusive system. If you begin to assert your rights in conversation or “demand” in words or action that your needs matter as much as the narcissist’s do, you will begin to be seen and treated as a THREAT.
Narcissists will use any and all tactics available in their arsenal of abusive techniques to get you to stop speaking up:
1. Preventing You
Someone preventing you from speaking is in effect, shutting down your voice. No one can hear you when the narcissist is preventing you from speaking. Ignoring you when you’re talking, talking over you, changing the subject, bringing it back to themselves are all forms of preventing you from sharing your voice. Prevention can also include: Making fun of you in front of others so that you stop speaking, Isolating you entirely, and Legal abuse where a narcissist obtains gag orders or other injunctions against freely speaking. – all these verbally abusive statements send these messages: YOU DONT MATTER. What you have to say is of no importance to me or anyone, just be quiet. I have the power over you to silence you. Don’t share your voice.
Examples: “Shut up!”, “Who asked you?!” , “If I wanted your opinion I would ask for it”.
2. Shaming, Blaming, Projecting
Here, the narcissist doesn’t just attack superficial qualities about you, they go for the core of you. By “punishing” you with shame, blame and projection, they are brainwashing you to associate speaking up with a defect of your character at your core. Calling you names, bullying you with verbal abuse, Blaming you for “always” being wrong, or starting problems, assigning motivations to your actions that only you could know about, and projecting their flaws onto you are effective ways to get you to stop sharing information.
Examples: “You’re such an attention getter! You always start drama! Why can’t you just leave well enough alone. Youre so selfish to bring this up! Narcissistic even! You always just want to tell lies to get attention!”
Narcissists are very scary people when they aren’t getting their way or fear exposure.
When you’re in a relationship with them, they’ll threaten abandonment, physical abuse, breaking your things, sharing private secrets with others, leaving you or “pressing charges” /accusing you of things that you’ve never done. The list of threats go on and on, but basically they’ll use whatever they can about you, against you until you stop speaking up, speaking out or sharing your voice either with them directly or with others.
When leaving them, they will literally do anything and stoop to lows you didn’t think people could stoop to. We’ve onlly seen or heard about them on one of those made for tv movies, where people are hired as hit men, or husbands are run over in their cars or poisoned by vengeful narcissistic ex partners or family members. These people are not just your normal, exit strategists. They go for the KILL. Sometimes, literally threatening the life of their former targets. Which shows the level of fear they have of exposure, the greater the threat, the more they feel they have to lose.
Examples: “If you tell x, Im going to _______” , “You Might not want to do that . . . ” , “If you do or don’t do ___, I will _____”
4. The Smear Campaign
This is that “special” little coupe de gras, “parting shot” of the narcissist that you’ve likely never encountered until your departure from a truly malignant /diagnosable narcissist.
Whole articles cover this particular “entity” that is part and parcel with your experiences with a narcissist. Let me address it with brevity. A smear campaign is the narcissist’s last and only chance to CONTROL YOU and the PR SURROUNDING THEMSELVES.
It’s things that companies deal with frequently when letting go, key employees who may walk away with a tale or two to tell about the “inner workings of the company”. They have a reputation to keep afterall with the community, so they frequently will ask employees to sign a “Non disclosure agreement” usually in return for a pittance of cash to buy your silence.
If narcissist’s had this tactic legally available to them, without tipping their hand that they are aware they’ve openly abused you, they’d hop on this. Instead, they take the dirty criminal, rat’s route in an attempt to win the same outcome as the one done by legal means.
Narcissists are aware that the first person to speak out and secure their position in the annuls of “public opinion” is the one who will appear to be the genuine “victim” and they know that the “Best defense is a good offense”. In the unraveling of an interpersonal relationship, the narcissist will begin paving the way, LONG before you realize that your “relationship” is on the decline. They’ll plant seeds of doubt about YOU in others’ minds to discredit YOU so that whenever you decide to start talking about them, you won’t be believed. Usually your own people first. They know that by destabilizing your support system against you, that it will destabilize you to find yourself lacking the support you need to fight, when they launch their second blow: the public tribunal.
Here, the narcissist enlists people you DONT KNOW by using sympathy about how you are so crazy, hard to handle, irrational, and how the poor narcissist just can’t deal with you alone anymore, or they might get them to provide “witness statements” about your “crazy behavior” to gang up with them, as their defenders and YOUR oppressor.
You come to discover that you have not only a fraudulent narcissist on your hands but a troop of accusers, blamers and crucifixionists ready to hang you on the cross for actions that aren’t true against you. You turn to your own supporters and find many of them switching ranks and joining forces with your abuser.
Targets end up fighting a smear campaign battle when we’re least ready to handle it. Exhausted from the battle and abuse of our relationships, we aren’t prepared to fight another battle so soon, just to share the truth. The smear campaign wages battle against your character, destroying your reputation, your relationships, your finances, and ultimately your health.
Here’s an example from my own story as an illustration of threatening and the smear campaign:
At my 3rd year with the narcissist, I had a life threatening event that caused me to take my needs more seriously. I was finding my voice, in response to coming face to face with my own mortality. I began asserting my need for follow through from the narcissist who had made me many promises regarding our relationship. When I began speaking up, we began having many “fights”. I was unknowingly challenging the narcissist’s need to have all the power in our relationship and his unfair need to not be asked to be responsible for his promises to me. As long as I was willing to idly sit by and passively accept what he gave me without complaint, then we would have continued to be in a relationship. When I began speaking up, I began “rocking the boat of our abusive, one sided relationship”.
The narcissist kept upping his ante and moved into a more strategic abuse mode to shut me up, because he realized that I was not as satisfied with lip service as I had been in the past. He began threatening to have me fired (no I did NOT work for him, he was interfering with my job to a private employer) he threatened to send private pictures of me to my employer to paint me as an “immoral” character so that I’d be fighting to keep my job instead of fighting him to make good on relational promises. At each step of this escalating abusive dance, I reacted with emotional upset over the things I found him capable of doing to harm me, whereas he, was coldly detached from me as a person; especially someone who he had proclaimed over and over to love deeply. It became apparent to me that, in his eyes, I was just an object who deserved to be destroyed. He became more and more psychopathic in his desire to silence me, ultimately threatening to have me killed.
When you finally find the courage and strength to sever the relationship with an abusive narcissist, you find that you’re no longer under the will of an oppressor. With your freedom, you decide that you no longer have to watch what you say, carefully construct your words, and you aren’t forced (punished) for sharing truths about the narcissist that they can’t admit and can’t stand hearing about themselves. The things you remember now, because you can without punishment, are how the narcissist WASN’T sensitive like they said they were, they WEREN’T honest, like they claim, they AREN’T faithful, kind, or a caring person. In fact, they’re just the opposite of who they say they are: They’re dishonest, immoral, scary, rude, selfish, unthoughtful, inhumane, jealous, possessive, shallow, insecure, immature, petty, problematic, chaotic, trouble making, and quarrelsome. You escape and you’re a built in enemy to a narcissist. You hold the power to ruin them in the eyes of everyone they’ve fooled, with the truth.
In the end, It’s up to each target to decide what truths they want to speak or where they want to share their voices. Being in touch with who you are, what your truth is, and who you want to share it with is a decision that only you can make. Whether or not to share the truth about the narcissist that abused you is also your personal choice. The timing, the details, the audience, are all factors to consider when telling the truth about your abuser. I caution you to give the decision some careful thought and consider the consequences.