This morning I woke feeling much better than I have for the last few weeks. I felt positive, balanced and centred ~ a state that my course leader calls ‘when your heart is open instead of closed down through fear.’ I was energised and ready to tackle the housework that’s been building up all week, a distraction I was welcoming with open arms as I’d decided to have a day of not thinking and not mentally and emotionally working as I’m utterly drained from it but it seems my psyche had other ideas. I put some music on and was tidying and cleaning, singing loudly and dancing around to the music without a care in the world until I heard my nephew moving around upstairs. I instantly felt the anxiety knot in my stomach. I lowered my voice, stopped dancing and started skipping the particularly cheesy songs which 2 minutes earlier I’d been loving. I then started feeling tired and weak and needed to sit down. I stopped to listen to what was underneath this layer of fear and found a fear of being judged.
I tried to ignore it as much as I could but I noticed that my voice that had been strong previously was now much weaker and I kept needing to clear my throat, a nervous reaction that I recalled doing all throughout my childhood. I then found myself having memories appearing of the many times in my life I’ve felt judged for my singing or my music:
1. The time Greg heard me singing and he innocently said, “I heard you singing.” He may not have judged but I took it as a judgement and made sure I never sang in front of him again.
2. The time I sang in front of Tom for the first time and he rolled his eyes at me and said, “Stop singing as though you think you’re good at it, it’s embarrassing.” The only time he heard me sing after that was when I got ridiculously drunk at a party and then afterwards he tried to take all the credit by announcing that I was his girl turning it into a chant of “My girl, my girl, my girl.” The next day I remember hearing one of his aunties commenting that it was typical of Tom to steal the limelight.
3. When I was about 8 I remember being made to stand up in assembly one morning because the teacher thought I was mouthing the words to the songs instead of singing them. There were a couple of others that were also made to stand up and we were told to stay standing and sing loudly. The teacher came close to my mouth to make sure the sound was coming out. I felt totally humiliated. I’ve never wanted the ground to open up and swallow me as much as I did at that moment.
4. Every time I sang when I was a teenager my Mum would walk in the room and tell me to shut up or keep the noise down. She never made a positive remark about my singing.
5. The time I sang a solo at a concert when I was 15. I remember standing by the piano singing Ave Maria in German. My Mum, Dad and Nan were in the front row. Nan was beaming with pride but Nan’s reaction was so insignificant compared with my Mum’s. (Dad’s reaction was one of pride but he often complimented me on my singing as he heard me at my lessons each week. Mum refused to ever take me to a single singing lesson. In fact, Dad was always the one that took me and all my sisters to any music lessons, finishing work early to make sure we didn’t miss a lesson. I don’t know what Mum did during that time.) At the concert, Mum didn’t even look at me, she was staring around the room, hands in her lap with nothing but anger on her face, pissed off that she even had to be there. As soon as I was done, I sat back down and Mum said, “Right, that’s that rubbish over, let’s go now.” (Strangely enough, when my Granddad died 5 years ago she asked me if I would sing at his funeral which struck me as very odd.)
6. When Millie and I were young we used to perform every Christmas for our guests. We’d spend weeks creating dance routines and learning the harmonies for various songs and then perform them all. Quite often we’d also write plays, incorporating the songs into the plays. The plays were hilariously funny and incredibly musical. We were ridiculously talented and if my kids were doing what we were achieving musically at that age (we were between 8 and 16 at the time) I’d be so proud of them and nurturing the natural talents they have. Instead Mum would complain constantly about the ‘racket’ we were making and when we performed she wouldn’t show any emotion on her face, she would literally be expressionless until we were finished then she’d huff and puff (such a passive aggressive sound) and say something like, “Thank God that’s finished.” and she’d walk off.
7. When I was in Rock Choir only about 4-5 years ago, Mum came to watch one of our performances at the King’s Theatre. She sat with Alice and Katie, they said after that she moaned the whole way through about it. When I saw her all she commented on was how bad one woman’s singing was how bad our dancing was. (Admittedly it was pretty shit!) She couldn’t hear me singing as I stayed within the choir choosing not to do a solo so her comments weren’t directed at me but I still felt judged by her.
8. On the last day of secondary school, I got awarded that year’s award for outstanding contribution to music for my singing and musical talents. I’d written songs, I’d performed in the school choirs, I’d sang solos, I’d performed in a band, I’d taught myself to play the piano and my teacher considered me to be musically gifted. At the assembly where I received my award, it was announced as I stood at the front to receive it that I would be singing for the audience of about 400 people. I didn’t know anything about it and was frozen to the spot with fear, however, as soon as the music started I went into my little zone that I always used to go into and I was fine. Afterwards, I received tons of applause (and was very embarrassed by it) and plenty of praise from Danny (who had been in on the secret of me singing with my music teacher) my other friends and all their parents who had been there but my fucking mother said nothing. Nothing at all. I think that was the last time I sang publicly and probably the last time I comfortably and soberly sang in front of anyone except my kids.
There were a lot more popping into my head but I was unable to ‘catch’ them quickly enough. I then remembered how I’ve never seen my mum dance and never once heard her sing and I wondered if Mum was projecting her anger at herself for not being able to let go enough to do it, on to me. It never made sense to me that she didn’t sing and I can’t believe that she can’t do it because my Nan was an amazing singer and my Great Granddad almost became famous for his singing abilities. Millie and I have good voices as do all of my kids, as well as her children so it obviously runs strongly in the family so why has she never sang? (Funnily enough, I’ve never heard Millie sing since we were teenagers and her son says that she never does it, whereas at least when I’m home I can let go in front of the kids.)
I wonder if Mum too was judged for her singing at some point and so she clammed up the way I have?
The one thing I do know though is that around the same time that I stopped singing freely was the time that I became ill with an underactive thyroid which is located in the throat. It’s also the same time I stopped speaking up for myself. I’ve heard it said that the thyroid is linked to communication so it would make sense that mine is underactive. I don’t communicate my truth enough and I don’t sing the way I think I was destined to do and now my fear of being judged for my singing is so great that when I do sing and I think I can be heard, my voice becomes weak as I fear it’s out of tune even though most of the time it’s not.
There were so many other moments throughout my childhood, particularly in my teens, when I was judged for one thing or another by mostly Mum but sometimes Dad. I don’t recall ever receiving any positive conditioning apart from being called mad (funny) and pretty but really I only got called that when there was someone around for Mum to tell it to.
Basically, the entire time I was being judged for one thing or another what Mum, in particular, was saying to me was, “I don’t accept you.” I learnt that being me, the person I really was and the person that I still want to be now, does not get loved and accepted so I have spent my entire adult life being someone else, hiding my light and never showing my true gifts through fear of being judged negatively.
I have asked myself how this is connected to relationships and I can see how growing up with judgement has given me the fear that everyone judges my every decision. It doesn’t matter what I do in life, I feel as though I am going to be judged negatively for it. Even now Mum will make comments about my relationship history and say, ‘You really know how to pick them, don’t you?’ Implying that it was my judgement alone that caused the men in my life to treat me badly.
I can see now that my fear of being judged and of getting things wrong, because ultimately that’s what a judgement is, it’s saying that what you’ve done or what you’ve said or decided was the wrong choice, is part of what’s creating these problems in my life. I often worried that accepting Phil into my life fully was another mistake because my judgement has always been so flawed. I have got it wrong so many times before. When we judge our children negatively we teach them that their choices are wrong and we teach them that they cannot trust themselves to make a good choice, the right choice.
As I sat quietly this afternoon contemplating all of this I remembered some advice I gave Katie last week when she couldn’t make a decision. I told her there was no such thing as a wrong decision and that whatever she decided was fine. If she found it wasn’t right for her afterwards she could change her mind. As I said it to her, I saw her tense shoulders breathe a sigh of relief; they visibly relaxed and she went on to quickly make a decision.
I realised I need to take my own advice and remember that there are no wrong decisions. Whatever choices I make in life, if they’re not right, I can make a new decision. Committing to Phil wasn’t the wrong decision, but my fear of getting it wrong and being judged for it, held me in a place of fear and prevented me from doing anything but run and when I think about it, I was being judged by some about my decision to be with Phil. For example, Karen’s ridiculous notions about me being back with Tom one day were a constant judgement that I was making the wrong decision to be with Phil. Karen, who reminds me of my Mum so much of the time, judged me the way Mum has done in the past and made me doubt and fear when I shouldn’t have done.
As I contemplated further I realised that the only way I’m going to heal this is for me to heal 8-year-old me, 10-year-old me, 12, 14, 15, 16-year-old me. As I sat with Annie on my lap, cuddling her as she was feeling ill, I did what I always do when I comfort my kids. I pull them tightly into my arms, I bury my face in their hair and I sing gently in their ear. It’s something I’ve done with all of them right from when they were all babies. With Josh, I always used to sing Stars by Simply Red. With Alice and Katie I used to sing Carnival Town by Norah Jones and with Annie, I used to sing Make you feel my love by Adele.
I wondered what song I would sing to my younger self if I could hold her in my arms and decided it had to be By Your Side by Sade. The words are exactly what a hurt, abandoned, judged, unaccepted little girl needs to hear from a grown up, healing, loving, caring me that loves her immensely so as I held Annie tightly in my arms I closed my eyes, sang it quietly into her hair and nestled myself into all the old painful memories and soothed the hurt, damaged little girl within, imagining it was her I was holding in my arms instead. As I did so I found my arms involuntarily squeezing a little tighter around Annie’s body.
I lost my ability to sing openly because of my Mum’s judgements but ironically I think it’s going to be singing words of deep love to that hurt little girl and holding her in a place of love and acceptance, that’s going to give me the strength to heal her and learn to sing again. I need to heal young me the way I heal my own children. I need to become my own loving parent and sing love songs to her every time she hurts. I need to promise her that I will be by her side each and every time she needs me.