Have you ever wanted to share your creative ideas but stopped short of uttering the words? Maybe you have been in class or at a meeting and watched a mistake being made but said nothing. The worst can be when you know something isn’t right, but you hold yourself back from saying something. The reason you hold back is a deep sense of discomfort. What happens if I were to speak up? Will I be judged? Will these people think I am stupid? Maybe they won’t talk to me anymore or invite me out with them.

If you have ever had any of these experiences, which most of us have, then you might be wondering why they happen and what you can do about them. The first step is understanding the emotional mechanics; then, you can work on the change. It is important to realize that it is doubtful that you will ever feel peace or a sense of satisfaction if you don’t face these challenges. I hate to bear the bad news, but I hope it motivates you to take what follows to heart.

We don’t speak our minds because we are afraid that it will damage our self-worth. The result of this damage would be rejection, which is a terrifying proposition. Rejection can take many forms, including isolation, withdrawal of attention or affection, and judgments. To prevent this rejection, our minds trigger potent emotions that motivate us to keep quiet.

These emotions take the form of physical sensations and thoughts. They can be intense or subtle, and thoughts can vary. For some people, there is a tightness in their chest, maybe tingling or sweating. The thoughts can race, with ideas like “will everyone here think I am stupid?”, “will I get fired?”, “they aren’t going to talk to me” or “what happens if he gets angry with me?”. There are many different possibilities. At the heart of all these combinations are fear and anxiety, both of which stand as powerful motivations not to take the risk.

Sometimes, we are aware that these emotional responses don’t make sense. It is like we know that we shouldn’t feel the way we are feeling, yet we are. We can be frustrated with ourselves because we want to behave differently, but feel stuck, dominated by the intense emotional experience. If we know better, why do we lack clarity or get stuck?

Trauma is why we hold back. During our formative years, many people are traumatized by painful rejections. These can be less intense events like being bullied or made fun of by classmates. It can be more severe, perhaps being abandoned during a divorce or being physically abused. These painful experiences teach us that if we express ourselves, we may be punished by the world. Whether this is true or not isn’t relevant because what matters is how we learn and the associations we make.

These formative experiences impact our perceptions in later life and cause us to see danger where it doesn’t exist. Our minds are trying to protect us from emotional injuries. Our bodies experience emotional pain like physical pain. Additionally, rejection is dangerous because we are social creatures and need to be accepted to get by in our society.

Our memories of the past inform our perceptions of the present. When we perceive danger, our emotional responses are triggered, motivating us to do whatever we need to survive. Consequently, we don’t say what is on our minds because we don’t want to get hurt.

Knowing all of this won’t change your behavior overnight, and it might not give you the courage you need to be more vocal. That is okay, and nobody expects immediate change, except maybe you, which isn’t fair to yourself. Instead, by understanding the mechanics of our behavior, emotions, and why we behave the way we do, we take the first steps toward clarity and self-control.