In counseling, the concept of “finding your voice” may come up as a topic or issue. Usually it is because someone has had a hard time speaking up when appropriate, or has been silenced because of various reasons. It can be a pretty sensitive area when the person has been a victim of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
Especially in marriage it is good to have an equal voice and shared power (along with equal responsibility) and we encourage people to ask for what they need. If we continually sublimate our desires to someone else’s we will eventually build up toxic resentment and bitterness. Trying to keep the peace by not speaking up in a relationship is very risky. It is with both our words and actions that we set appropriate emotional and physical safety boundaries that declare “This is my property, stay off!”. Sometimes, however, when a person is learning to exercise their power in this new way they may overcompensate and create new problems.
As you can see on the above chart, the range of response is a continuum from very passive to very aggressive. I would suggest that the goal is right in the middle, communicating in a firm, but kind manner. That is assertiveness. From a spiritual perspective, we call this “speaking the truth in love”. It respects both us and them and creates an environment where closeness is possible. Both withdrawal and aggression creates distance within a relationship, but kind honesty is fertile soil for something positive to grow.
When a person has been a victim of something serious, regulating their emotions and behavior and finding a balance may be very challenging. Not wanting to risk becoming a victim again, they might overestimate what is required to remain safe (overpowering). This is when having a counselor or mentor to give feedback can be very helpful.
From a spiritual perspective, the Bible seems to have many more cautionary verses about anger and aggression. It is an area that is more likely to get away from us once we enter the territory. I also think we have a higher risk of practicing self-deception as we try to justify our over-reactive or sinful behavior in retrospect. On the other hand, measured responses have the potential to promote understanding and intimacy.
Proverbs 16:24(NLT) Kind words are like honey — sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.
James 1:19-20(ESV) Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
The Bible is very clear that we are to treat everyone with this same principle, not just those we love or like or are close to us, but extending even to our enemies (or those who we perceive are against us.)
Philippians 2:3 (NLT) Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.
Matthew 5:44 (NKJV) But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
Find your voice, but find the balance.