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Speaking Up: Finding your Voice in Conflict and Beyond

By rythea Lee
September 04, 2009

This article addresses the issue of speaking up in the face of conflict and encourages an in-depth investigation into past experiences around having a voice. Role-playing is introduced as a practice for interrupting old patterns of being silent or attempting to control the people in our lives.

Speaking Up:  Finding your Voice in Conflict and Beyond


By Rythea Lee


             Can you believe how hard it is for so many of us to speak up? Can you believe how literally life threatening it can feel to just say to someone, “it really doesn’t feel good to me when you do that.” Clearly, most of us were not allowed to say what we wanted, what we felt, what we needed, what was not ok, what was horribly wrong, when we were children. If it was invited and respected by our parents, we would not feel as if we were about to be beheaded when the desire to speak up arose. I can tell you that most, if not all of my clients and friends struggle with the issue of speaking up. Not only with people of authority like bosses, landlords, government officials, doctors, supervisors,and professors but with our closest of kin, husbands, wives, best friends, our children, our relatives. The fear of rejection, abandonment, judgment, and of course…death, gets in our way. When it comes to conflict, most of us resort to our wounded child within who got seriously hurt (ignored, attacked, belittled, humiliated, teased) when trying to speak up and we rehearse our old patterns of protection. These patterns express themselves in a myriad of forms such as withdrawing, avoiding, blaming the other person, blaming ourselves, cutting off, apologizing out of fear, explaining, analyzing, lashing out, and the list goes on and on.  In essence, we return to the moments of oppression from our childhood and react exactly the same way we did as children.

         As you must already know, this is not an effective way to deal with adult conflict.  Regression as a defense is re-traumatizing to yourself, and often calls on the other person's wounded child until you are both playing out the scary, out of control moments of your past. It is hell and yet we all do it. what?

            The first step in learning how to speak up as a loving adult is to understand your own patterns of protection. Do you tend to avoid conflict or do you attract conflict? Do you find yourself engaged in the same kind of conflict or disagreement over and over? Do you notice emotional patterns of anger, grief, fear, or sadness that comes up with conflict that feel familiar? A fearless investigation is needed to explore the old emotions that were created through childhood conflict, silencing, witnessing of pain, and the modeling of parental relationships. What were your very good reasons for choosing how to cope with your parents, teachers, siblings, and peers? Be willing to go back and discover the strategies you took on to protect your integrity and safety.

            Once you have a handle on your own patterns and memories, its time guessed it, role-play!!! Role-playing is a fabulous, break-through technique that helps change old patterns.  In order to play your part in a loving way, the imperative concept to understand is, YOU CAN'T SPEAK UP FOR YOURSELF IN A LOVING WAY IF YOU ARE TRYING TO CONTROL THE OTHER PERSON!!! This sounds so simple and yet, it gets everyone every time.   

            Find a friend to try out some role playing with, keeping your focus on yourself and what you need in the interaction, what you feel, what you notice in your body during the conflict. Pick a conflict that hooks you every time. Take turns playing each part, talking about how different loving strategies feel to each of you. Help each other to keep the focus on yourself during the conflict and not on trying to change the other person.



J. brings up an issue she has with her boyfriend when he gets angry. Here's how it usually goes...he raises his voice. She tells him to stop yelling at her. He gets louder. She asks him again. Then she yells back and they spin out of control, yelling at each other about who is wrong and who is right. 

J and friend brainstorm other ways to deal with this issue. What would it look like if J.kept her focus on herself? She might try saying to her boyfriend "Sweetie, when you raise your voice like that, it doesn't feel good to me. I feel scared when you do that." If he keeps yelling, she could try saying, "If you can't lower your voice and soften a bit, I am going to have to stop this conversation." If he doesn't stop, she can leave the room.

This is one example, let's try another.

R. has a Mom who constantly talks about herself and complains. This is how it usually goes...R. listens to her Mom and tries to make her feel better by saying things like "Well, you can always get another couch if you think the one you have is ugly" or "Mom, I'm sure your friend didn't mean to ignore you, she was probably having a bad day." Though R. may not look like she is engaged in an out and out conflict, she is not speaking up for herself and often avoids her Mother's calls and resents the talks they do have.

R and a friend could brainstorm other ways of dealing with the issue, playing each part back and forth. She could role play saying things like, "Mom, I notice when you don't ask me about myself when we talk, it feels very lonely to me" or "Mom, I notice when you complain, I find it draining and so I need to get off the phone."

           As you read the above examples, you may find your blood pressure heating up, anxiety building, or a desire to avoid the subject all together. That is very common because speaking up feels so threatening to so many people. Role playing is a safe way to try out new ways of taking care of yourself and seeing what feelings come up that need attending to. It is a great way to release your fears. You may find yourself laughing, crying, shaking, or sweating. This just means you are releasing old feelings and pushing past what gets in the way of having a voice. 

            I can assure you this. IT IS ABSOLUTELY SAFE FOR YOU TO SPEAK UP FOR YOURSELF NOW. You are no longer that dependent, powerless, unprotected child. You can take care of yourself and live through what other people might think about that. When you take care of yourself, you are truly serving the other person as well. You are giving them a gift. You are modeling what it looks like to be loving and clear at the same time. Most important, you are learning how to be loving to yourself during conflict, and that is good for everyone. Good luck!


Rythea Lee has had a private practice as an Inner Bonding therapist for the past 10 years. She specializes in working with survivors of trauma and those healing into their true purpose. She recently published a new book called Trauma into Truth: Gutsy Healing and Why It's Worth It which can be found at
To read more about Rythea Lee, her approach, and work, go to




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Truth, love, peace and joy are all words that describe - and are synonymous with - God. To be in love, peace and joy, we need to be in truth - accepting the reality of who we really are and what we can or can't control. Today, focus on opening to learning about Truth.



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