If only I could just say something – exploring selective mutism

For the month of February I will be exploring Selective Mutism. Yesterday I looked into what I wished I could have said when I couldn’t talk. I spoke about the way I never felt like I was truly ‘Quiet’ despite the difficulties I had in expressing myself – and what I actually wanted to be able to say to people when they had that belief about me. Today I will be talking about talking for the wrong reasons – a method I used to fit in to life, and avoid the discomfort of selective mutism.

We all need role models

Is there anyone in life you particularly admire? Someone you aspire to be more like in one or many ways?

Most people notice personality traits in other people that they admire. When we do, we might try to emulate that person a little – so that maybe we can become a little more like the person we’d rather be, instead of being the person we’re not completely happy with.

Taking on the personality traits of other people we admire can be fun – and it can help us to grow more fully into the person we’re wanting to be. But only if we’re doing it for the right reasons.

If only I could just say something

12825293_sWhen I was six, I remember sitting down at school, and two of the more popular girls fighting over who was going to sit next to me. I remember feeling quite surprised – a little bit special – but mostly confused about why they were both so keen to sit beside me. I didn’t talk to them. In school, I’d never said a word to either of them – and here they were, fighting over who would sit next to me.

Slowly it dawned on me the reason why they wanted to sit by me. I realised that because of my differences; because I was ‘the girl who doesn’t talk’ they perceived me as being special. 

I felt anything but special in that moment. I wanted to go sit by myself where no-one would notice me. I didn’t like being noticed – and I certainly didn’t like being noticed for something I couldn’t control, and that attracted so much misunderstanding into my life. I wanted to ask them both to go and sit somewhere else – but instead I just sat there, dealing with the realisation that I was different to the other kids and I didn’t like it.

I think this experience moved me in a new direction. There had always been pressure from other people for me to speak – even if it was well-meaning pressure. Once I began to realise that my selective mutism was actually drawing extra unwanted attention toward me, I began to experience pressure from within myself to talk too.

Before this moment, I had been patient, and I was happy to wait until my words emerged naturally. After this realisation, things were never the same. I felt uncomfortable with who I was. I didn’t like that I couldn’t talk when I wanted to. I didn’t like that I was being noticed by others because of it. I made a decision to change – but it wasn’t an empowered decision. It was a decision I made so that I would fit in and feel more like everybody else. I just wanted to be able to say something.

My motivations for speaking as a child

Following this moment, and for the rest of my childhood, I was driven by the motivation to fit in. I imagine it happens to most of us at some point in our lives – and on some level. At school, few people want to stand out as being ‘different’. It’s not the kind of attention we crave – and so we find our place and fit into that instead.

I simply wanted to be able to say something – so that I could be seen as being ‘just like everybody else‘.

This is why I started talking. I didn’t speak the words I wanted to say. I spoke the words I thought would help me to fit in and be more like other people. I noticed the ways that other people behaved and reacted to stimuli – and I used them like a smorgasbord to decide how I could behave to draw the least amount of attention to myself.

When coping behaviours become a habit

Through emulating other people, I had found a way to cope with life – and to keep myself safe from the unwanted attention I didn’t like. I had found a way to talk – and to satisfy the deep concerns of the adults in my life.

I had not found a way to overcome selective mutism. 

I was not talking – I was pretending to talk. I was not reacting – I was pretending to react. This was okay for a while, but over time it became my identity. I didn’t know how to be myself, because I was so used to being other people. I don’t know if this is something that happens to other people too, but this is how it happened for me. When I made the decision to fit in as a six year old child, I was unknowingly creating years of internal struggle and turmoil for myself.

Today I can understand the decision that I made. I can see how it affected me as I grew. I still occasionally see the pattern in my life today – from time-to-time. I will talk more about how I was able to begin changing this habit over the coming month. If you would like to stay updated with my posts, please sign up to my newsletter when you post a comment – or on the pop up box in the corner. I’d love to hear if you can relate to my experience!
Have You Seen My Tail?

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  • Lovely post – my daughter was selective mute when young, and painfully shy for years following that.
    I had to fight hard for her not to be stamped with a label, and dragged into the need to be like all the others.
    At 14 she has only really just started to find ‘her’ voice, and she often doesn’t shut up!
    Look forward to more of your posts x

    • Kat

      Thank you for your comment Lottie – and well done to you and your daughter! xx

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