Voicelessness and Emotional Survival

Essays on Psychology and Life



"If I asked you what children need in order to be psychologically healthy, you would probably answer: love and attention.  Of course, you would be right--love and attention are essential for every child.  But, there is a third  psychological need critical to the emotional well-being of children: "voice."

What is "voice"?  It is the sense of agency that makes a child confident that he or she will be heard, and that he or she will positively impact his or her environment.  With this sense of agency comes the implicit belief that one's core has value.  Exceptional parents grant a child a voice equal to theirs the day that child is born. And they respect that voice as much as they respect their own.  How does a parent provide this gift?  By following three "rules:"

  1. Assume that what your child has to say about the world is just as important as what you have to say. 
  2. Assume that you can learn as much from them as they can from you. 
  3. Enter their world through play, activities, discussions: don't require them to enter yours in order to make contact."       (From Giving Your Child Voice)

Did you receive "voice" as a child?  Were the important people around you, your spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend, children, parents given this gift?  If not, you or those closest to you may be locked in a battle for emotional survival without knowing it.  Voicelessness takes many forms:  relationship problems, depression, anxiety, over and under-achieving, narcissism, addictions, etc.  All represent self-defeating or failed attempts to solve an unsolvable problem:  needing one's very essence to be seen, heard, and appreciated by people incapable of doing this.  

I have appreciated the many comments I have received. I look forward to hearing from you. 






      Giving Your Child "Voice"    (Earlier version reprinted at The Natural Child Project)    Fundamental to a child's self-esteem and emotional well being is their sense of "voice." How do you ensure your child receives this lifelong gift?

      The Dance  If you want to inoculate your child against depression and help build their self-esteem, you must learn how to dance.

      Do Parents Matter?  The debate has been contentious and highly publicized.  One critical issue has not been addressed.

      Voice Lessons: Littleton, Colorado    (Guest column reprinted from the Brookline Tab, May 13, 1999 and excerpted  in Massachusetts Psychologist, June, 1999)  What can be learned about parenting from the Columbine High School tragedy?

      What is a Wookah?   What does a child with "voice" sound like? 

      Voicelessness:  The Depressed Teenager  Alienation and despair have reached epidemic proportions in high schools.  How can you help your child?



      The Four Questions  Who am I?  Do I have any value?  Why doesn't anyone see or hear me?  Why should I live?

      Six Questions About "Voice" and "Voicelessness"   What is "voice?"  Why is it important?

      Voicelessness: Narcissism  Narcissism is a misnomer. At their core narcissists don't love themselves -- in fact their self barely exists, and what part does exist is deemed worthless. All energy is devoted to inflating the self...

      Voicelessness:  Holiday Blues   If you become depressed at holiday time, you are not alone. 

      Depression and the Subtext of Family Life  In the psychology of children and adults, hidden messages rule.

      Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents: Is Love Enough?  Important lessons about love and "voice" can be learned from the adult children of narcissistic parents... 

      Little Voices   Deprived of voice in childhood, some people shrink or twist themselves like a pretzel to fit others' worlds.  

      Voicelessness: Depression   Many chronically depressed people experienced childhood voicelessness.  How does voicelessness affect adult depression?
      Bill Clinton: A Case of Attention Deficit Disorder?  Unfortunately, Hillary did not get it quite right when she explained Bill's sexual escapades...






      Why Can't Some People Maintain Intimate Relationships?   Many people retreat from close emotional contact, frustrating spouses and partners.   Here's a look at the problem from the perspective of childhood "voicelessness."


      Why Do Some People Choose One Bad Relationship After Another?    Psychoanalysts, citing Freud's "pleasure principle", have suggested masochism as the answer. Why else would people suffer the same pain and humiliation over and over again?  Here's another explanation  based upon the need to repair the self.


      Relationships: Hidden Messages   Hidden messages from childhood secretly affect adult relationships.  Here's an example.

      Couples Counseling:  Is Better Communication Enough?  We've read it in all the popular magazines: better communication leads to a happier marriage. But is better communication enough?



       Psychotherapy and Humanism    Life experience has taught me that humanism plays a critical role in the healing process.  


       Psychotherapy:  Truth or Revisionist History?    Can a therapist uncover the truth about a client's past?  Here's a case example based upon a mother's diary.


        A Person Appears in My Office  What happens next?

       Psychotherapy in the Internet Age  To "e" or not to "e",  that is the question...


       So, You're Thinking About Becoming a Therapist?   Learning about subtext is critical.  Here's an exercise based upon Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening." 
       Therapy on the High Seas: A Search for Self  What happens when an adult child of a narcissistic family faces progressive heart failure? Consider this account of a man's struggle for physical and emotional survival.


       Dreams, Imagined Dreams--Failed Therapy  Therapists can not only heal, they can hurt.


       Depression: Why See a Therapist if You Can Just Take a Pill?  Sometimes medication is the easiest and most inexpensive answer for depression.  But there are good reasons to consider therapy, even if you are on anti-depressants.



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Voicelessness and Emotional Survival:  Suggested Reading

 Suggested Reading  Books and articles on Voicelessness and Emotional Survival themes.


About the Author:

Between 1980 and 1987, Dr. Richard Grossman taught and supervised in the internship and postdoctoral psychotherapy programs at Massachusetts General Hospital/ Harvard Medical School where he was on staff. Since 1985, he has maintained a private practice in Brookline, Massachusetts specializing in individual psychotherapy and couples counseling.



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