To have a voice – to bring something into expression

A few years ago I read a description in a book that really stuck with me. It was a small observation of a elderly man who had lost the connection to the words (-I think the condition is called aphasia). The man is out on the street trying to call for his dog, who is walking off, but the only thing that comes out is a range of random sounds “arhhh” “hmmff” “ushh”, which the dog doesn’t react to at all. The increasing frustration and desperation of the man touched something quite profondly in me. The idea of not being able to communicate, the feeling of being blocked, of being incapable of making yourself understood or at all listened to is something deeply scary… It is like loosing the connection to the world around. It is an experience I connect with learning a new language or being in a country where I don’t speak the language. I remember my first weeks in Berlin going through the whole complicated administrative process – opening a bank account, going to the registration office, speaking to the social insurance… how grateful I was when I met someone who had the patience to listen to my broken German and guide me in the right direction. And how destructively belittling it was being met with irritation, incomprehension, blanc expressions, or at times even simply being ignored… Maybe this is also connected to the old pain of being an infant and unable to communicate other than through sounds, screams, gestures and facial expressions… Being dependent on others taking the time to try to interpret what it is you need.

In this past year my explorations have been a lot about what it means to have a voice and to use it to express ourselves, to communicate and to make connections to others. I have realised that this is a large part of what my work is about on all different levels. Working with someone with a pain or other symptom the first step is for us to try to understand more what the pain is communicating: What is there? What is happening in the body? What is it trying to tell us? And on a deeper level I keep discovering again and again how essential it is, as part of the healing process, to allow something to be expressed – bringing it into words or movements or sounds that give expression to what is there. It is as if when we don’t allow ourselves to express what is there and what we feel, we need to make a tremendous effort to hold it in, that ends up bringing everything into a halt. Only when it is brought into expression things can flow and move and change and heal again.

Why would we hold back to express things that are important to us? Maybe exactly because we are afraid that we will not be understood or listened to. Because there were too many hurtful and frightening experiences in the past of being misunderstood, ignored or ridiculed. Expressing something now comes with the risk that it will happen again. But what I keep noticing in my own experience and in the work with others, is that bringing something into expression – formulating what we need, communicating what we want or wish for or how we feel, is almost always worth the risk, even if it doesn’t turn out the way we wanted and even if we don’t manage to make ourselves understood. The hurt of not being understood is still, despite all, much lesser than the damage we do to ourselves when giving up trying to communicate what moves us – when we pull back or hold back or quietly adapt.

I also think that we have learned to become too stuck on the idea of having to find the right words for what we want to express. Almost as if it is only when we use the ‘right’ forms that we are allowed to express ourselves. And also as if we are only justified in what we express if the others immediately understand and confirm what we say.

We have hundred thousand possible ways of expressing something. The process of trying to find a way to communicate something can be challenging, frustrating, painful, but also extremely beautiful – as part of the inner process of trying to make sense of what our experiences and feelings are actually about by finding the way to express it to others. In the end it is maybe less important exactly how we express something, but the greater importance is that we dare to attempt to give it an expression.