Today’s question is “How do you go from elective mutism to public speaking?” and I’m in conversation with Caroline Harroe.
Caroline Harroe is a cofounder of Harmless and one of its Directors. Now working as the CEO she is also a qualified and accredited humanistic and CBT psychotherapist, delivering direct therapeutic help to people that self harm. Caroline overcame her own substantial experience of self harm and after many years of accessing mental health services, now dedicates her time to improving services for those that self harm. A passionate public speaker and independent accredited CPD trainer in the field of self harm and mental health Caroline speaks broadly about self harm in both an academic sector and user forum.
Please note, the transcript is auto generated.
Caroline Harroe: welcome
Pooky Knightsmith: to pukey ponders, the podcast where I explore big questions with brilliant people. I’m perky Knights Smith. And I’m your host today’s question is how do you go from elective mutism to public speaking? And I’m in conversation with Caroline Harrow.
Caroline Harroe: my name is Carla and I’m the CEO of homeless and to my projects. Um, I’m a mummify and I have battled with my own experiences of mental ill health and distress over the years, and, um, and worked through them.
Pooky Knightsmith: Brilliant. Thank you so much for making time to talk with me today. And the reason that we, um, decided to, to have a chat, I mean, I’ve obviously kept up with your work over many years and there’s loads of different things I’d like to talk to you about.
But in particular today, um, I was looking for someone who could talk to me about elective or selective mutism. Um, and you said that you’d be prepared to talk about that because it was something you knew a thing or two about. So I’m not very good at even knowing how I should be referring to it. So maybe we can.
Start that with which words feel. Okay. Um, and then maybe if you wouldn’t mind telling us just a little bit about your, your kind of thoughts on it, and we’ll see
Caroline Harroe: where we go. Absolutely. I think, um, I think that’s kind of that way enough of, uh, like to be, to them, selected me to them. And I think people relate to it in different ways.
So for me, um, I always use the term electively to them. Um, but I don’t know if that’s. Particularly thought on my part, to be honest. Um, but yeah, I know sometimes you think a question that terminology, but, um, but no, for me, I’ve always used the term, alerted me to them. Um, and my, my background in relation to verbalizing I guess, is, is quite, um,
But different. In many ways I was raised in a household with a younger sibling that, um, cannot speak. Um, and so it had a massive bearing on my development. Um, just this relationship to speaking and not speaking and signing and not signing and just communication in general really, and how important that communication was, but in different ways.
Um, so that’s kind of. Personal relationship to this particular area, um, which has then as I’ve, I’ve trained as a, as a therapist and I’ve done lots of work. There’s lots of people over the years. It’s just been something I’ve probably been more mindful of, um, in my work.
Pooky Knightsmith: So talk to me a little bit about how things were for you when you were younger than, so there were times when you did verbalize and times when you didn’t and you used other means what could you just explain a little bit about what that kind of was like sort of day to day?
Caroline Harroe: Yeah, absolutely. And to be honest, my periods of silence were much when I was much older, so, um, I wouldn’t call the, so I refer to it as periods of quiet. And silence my child childhood because it didn’t feel like it wasn’t speaking. It was just being in a different environment. So my sister, um, it’s a couple of years younger than may and she, um, she is autistic and she has, um, cerebral palsy, mild cerebral palsy, but that was undiagnosed for the largest part of her life.
Really. Wow. And she just couldn’t, she couldn’t speak. So she didn’t hit those normal milestones as she was developing. And we were kind of typical 2.4 family. And I grew up as the eldest sibling, uh, very much day to numb my sister and her care needs were quite high. Um, but it’s, it’s easy to say that with retrospect at the time, I think we were just a family that.
Didn’t really know what we were inheriting in terms of this, this, this will go, who, um, yeah, so the oldest, she got the that she was not going to kind of hit those milestones and she needed a different level of care. And by the time she was about eight, um, a placement had been sold at a specialist, speech and language, um, facility where she went residential, which was a.
An absolute tragedy for me as a doting sibling, but it meant that she got a specialist care. So that’s the kind of backdrop really that, um, well that taught me a very early age was a how to care for somebody if you needed those, that helping navigate in the world. Um, and be that communication didn’t always look like the rest of the world thought it looked.
Um, so not always needing to speak, to communicate as very developed, very sophisticated non-verbals I guess, because I needed them. Um, and then I became this natural translator, so I very easily slipped into this role of somewhat self subjugating, um, to help my sister navigate the world. So. My role to her was very much of when she was communicating and the world didn’t receive her, I would translate what she was trying to communicate.
So I was constantly in this like triangle, this triangle of, um, being a communicator. And, um, yeah. So my relationship with communication, verbal non-verbals was. Um, different as, as a very young child, I suppose, um, and had a bearing on my relationship to speech, um, because I hadn’t, no, I love words. Like I write, I write poetry, I love language and that’s very different to needing to speak.
Um, and I think that something that I think. Um, but this particular Avenue, it’s really important to understand the need to be the one to speak, the inability to speak. The control of speaking is also very different to communication. There’s still communication and. So, yeah, that’s the kind of backdrop I’ll probably waffle,
Pooky Knightsmith: not total.
It’s really interesting. I’ve got about a million different questions and trying to work out which way to
Caroline Harroe: go next. So what happened after your sister
Pooky Knightsmith: left then? Did yours communication and how you chose to communicate with wild or how you did communicate with the world, um, fall back into a slightly more normal pattern or did it become, did you become more quiet?
Caroline Harroe: Um, I think. I think one, I was psychologically that she was away a residential school Monday to Friday, and I felt, um, with hindsight, I can reflect on this even, even from a very young age, I felt like I was, um, roll folks, like when she went away, because I was so used to being that communicator for her, I was very good at communicating.
Um, it was just a quiet household, really because when she was there, her behavior was either very challenging or we had periods of quiet because she couldn’t speak. So we didn’t always need to speak. Um, and I just remember the times when she wasn’t there quiet. Now I went about my life as a regular child at that time, going to school and same routines, our friends, you know, so I.
I obviously communicated well enough to sustain all of those things. Um, but the way I remember it, um, is quiet. I don’t remember this need for dialogue. So my relationship to dialogue and communication I think was already. Um, and challenged by that time.
Pooky Knightsmith: And did those around you understand what you had to say?
Because it sounds like you, so you did a lot of translating for your sister. Um, but then you’d also learned different ways of understanding her and perhaps communicating with her and perhaps at home, did that translate at school as well? Did people, were you always have to get your point across?
Caroline Harroe: No, I know.
Quiet like a sense. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s not quiet. I felt like the command of words to other people was used well for my sister, but not for myself. So my relationship to communicate in it’s very much about, um, should, and rather than could, um, So, I guess, um, because my, my use of verbalizing this very much as a young child use to translate for my sister, um, I, I lost command a bit for myself.
Pooky Knightsmith: That makes, so that’s, uh, that’s quite complicated for quite a young child. You were what? 10 or 11?
Caroline Harroe: Yeah. Yeah.
Pooky Knightsmith: Did the adults around you try and encourage you to kind of verbalize more or anything like that, because I don’t know very much about elective mutism and I’m trying to learn, but one of the things I’m hearing a lot from people who are quiet is this idea that they feel that everyone else wants them to talk.
And perhaps they don’t always. Wants to need to, um, you know, it feels that there’s conflict there, perhaps.
Caroline Harroe: Yeah, I think, um, and still to this day, so I’m, I’m 41 now. And, um, you know, speaking as a natural part of my role, I don’t feel the need. To speak, um, a lot of the time. So I very happy to sit with rhetoric without, you know, needing to respond.
I just don’t need to say, um, and sometimes that needs explaining to people because they can think, okay, Caroline’s unresponsive. I don’t think I’m unresponsive. I’m just naturally comfortable with quiet. Like I’m not really comfortable listening to other people and not. Needing to speak myself. Um, and that’s still a very strong traits.
So I think that, um, I can definitely identify with the fact that, um, The greater the pressure, the harder it is. Um, but that pressure isn’t necessarily, so say if I was to do some public speaking and I would feel very anxious about that, but the pressure isn’t the same as if I was in a one-to-one conversation and somebody was expecting something differently from me, that kind of pressure, that interpersonal pressure is far greater.
I’m more likely to yield. I don’t know me to be quiet or, um, Best inarticulate. Wow.
Pooky Knightsmith: And so you don’t, so you said you, you kind of get anxious kind of worried about sort of standing up on stage, but your role naturally as a CEO and you, you do stand up and speak in front of people. And do you, do you ever find that that is challenging or is it just a different kind of communication and you, you, you treat,
Caroline Harroe: I asked her, I say it as having different facets, so, um, Can I do it from, uh, an articular, uh, comprehensive clinic set of communication.
Yes, I can do it. Um, and like I say, I think my relationship to language is quite a sophisticated one and verbalize it. I like to be clear. I like to be, um, authentic. Um, I, and I can do it. Do I like to do it? Um, no, I don’t. Um, so it, isn’t a very accepted part of my role. It’s something that people tell me I’m reasonably good at, but I do find it extremely challenging.
So, um, the fact that I can do it, I guess it’s, it’s awesome progress in so many ways. Um, given that, you know, I could go periods. My life without a word. Um, but yeah, I still say it’s an act of courage and it’s not something I find,
Pooky Knightsmith: sorry. I’m not sure if you can hear me, but my. Oh, that’d be good. So are you paused?
sorry. So, um, you were saying that, um, yeah, it’s it for you? Public speaking is, is quite an active of courage. E are you proud that you are able to do that? Or is it just one of those things you just. So we’ll get done in the way that we sometimes do.
Caroline Harroe: Yeah. I guess with a lot of what I do, I didn’t really stop to think about the progress.
Maybe I should, it’d be much more healthy for me, but I just kind of, I do kind of needs to be done mainly. Um, and I, I think about, so when I, when I speak, um, Even like this or publicly, or, you know, presenting at a conference or I’m attending a meeting. The thing that enables me to do it is the same thing that enabled me to do for my sister, because I’m thinking about my position and how my position can be used.
Well, to communicate on behalf of those people who are voiceless, um, Uh, paving. I used to be one so that how I approach it, I approach it like I’m, uh, also, um, almost, uh, a vehicle for communication, but people who have lost their voice. Three, whatever, whether that’s, you know, disadvantage or circumstances or distress.
Um, and so that’s how I approach it. And that’s what enables me to do it, I think. Yeah.
Pooky Knightsmith: Um, you have a kind of a purpose and a clear sort of function. Almost. Those are for the words to leave you. So does that mean that you still would an engaging kind of, sort of small talk and idle chat?
Caroline Harroe: No, no, I’m, I’m, I’m fine with that, I guess.
So if you think about different situations, um, there’s kind of one-to-one situations as group situations and we all fall in different worlds in those different circumstances. Don’t and I think that, um, uh, my communication style now lends itself very well to that. One-to-one um, Uh, I’d like to think I’m quite attentive in that because I don’t feel the need to speak.
So for some people that can feel a bit intense that I’m like, I’m like a sponge that sweaty, but other people have got say, cause I don’t necessarily feel the need to always talk. Um, but now I’m fine with kind of chit chat. I think I’m more likely to get lost in a group situation because I listen and, um, I’m not, I don’t fight to get my voice heard.
Um, and I get that kind of wave of adrenaline when I’m going to go and speak. So it’s still something that I experienced that sway the anxiety just before I kind of speak, if, um, if there’s been a pause or I’m in a group situation.
Pooky Knightsmith: Yeah, I can for completely different reasons. I can, I can quite empathize with that actually.
Um, you mentioned before that you had, um, sort of, you know, you, you now do public speak confidently and well, I’ve seen you speaking and you, you do, you really command an audience, but you said that you had. You know, come from periods of quiet in your life. Were there times when you just didn’t speak at all?
Because the picture you painted so far is almost off that you would not speak much or without clear purpose, but were there times when you just were mute?
Caroline Harroe: Absolutely. So, um, by the time, so some of my difficulties were, um, I dunno, I guess my mental health. On around my early teens. Um, and it’s about 13 and, um, you know, those kinds of things rumbled on for a while.
Um, Which little intervention. And although, you know, we were in the nineties then, so, you know, it, wasn’t always a quick response to certain things. And I was high as I was a high achiever. So in many ways, a lot of my. Difficulties remained, um, convenient and unseen because of my choir I wasn’t causing. Uh, so, um, what that meant is, you know, I went to school, I got 10 GCSE, they got six grade levels.
So my, because I was doing those things and I went home to my family who were together and United and, um, There wasn’t really a reason to try and intervene because on the outside I was doing okay. But what that meant is that all of these things that I’ve just been talking about, the internalizing, the relationship to, um, well, my value and purpose, that self subjugation that choir, and they became more and more pronounced as I entered my adult years.
And by the time I was in my twenties, though, it’s quite well, um, And had a number of, um, psychiatric admissions. I self-harmed a lot, um, with multiple attempts on my life, my distress was just profound. Um, and aye, somebody that services didn’t know how to engage with, um, You know, the kind of, I was labeled an expected suicide.
I, um, I faced a lot of painful discrimination and, um, misunderstanding, really a lot of misunderstanding. So I ended up in a mental health system that before I’d even started, had given up on me, um, and my inability to communicate. Was often misinterpreted as, um, not engaging, um, manipulative, because when I was put in situations with mental health professionals, I fell silent.
Um, so it was seen as an act of avoidance or an act of defiance. That’s the bit that really. I think we really need to improve our understanding of it was seen as an act of defiance and that was the, um, leading negatively. And, um, actually it wasn’t an act of defiance. It was, it, it was maybe an immobilized.
It was a conveyance of complete immobility in my own life. Um, and a symptom of absolute distress.
Pooky Knightsmith: One,
Caroline Harroe: yeah. Those moments and those kind of, um, I dunno interaction too, with mental health professionals. Um, and then it became more pronounced. So the more unhappy I became for once in a better word, um, the more pronounced my silence and, um, there were periods of time where I wouldn’t. Speak at all. Um, you know, for a couple of months at a time, um, I remember a therapist to kind of stir connect on the line and said, I’m gonna gonna work with this girl.
Um, and it just sat there for eight weeks solid and never said a word. And that wasn’t just to her, that was in my life. I didn’t speak at all. So, um, She sat there in the silence with me, did that help? What it did was it opened up an opportunity. So instead of seeing the silence as a cage in which I was found, it was seen as an opportunity to open up a different form of communication.
And I think that’s something that was really, really important and something I try and do. My work is. That the only method we’ve got, the communication is not just verbal communication. You’ve got lots of other methods and whilst I, uh, you know, whatever, however we want to make sense of that was, was holding speech.
Uh, sometimes because. I was so overwhelmed by my own thoughts. I couldn’t amend speech and then it became this thing. I just couldn’t, I couldn’t do it. And I felt in control and out of control at the same time of whether or not I could speak. So it was kind of this vicious cycle. Um, so the last, the pressure was on.
To speak. The more able I was to sometimes, um, an agreeance or, and littering, I suppose. Um, and then eventually I kind of spoke in a whisper sometimes. Um, cause I just couldn’t commit to my own voice because if you’ve not heard your own voice for a very long time, it’s very alien. And it can get quite frightening.
Um, so yeah, so taking the pressure off was really important, but not, not assuming that if we can’t talk, we can’t communicate. Um, and that, that was really important to me, but that was led by me. So I think there’s something about that being autonomous and trying to establish with the person that is quiet, you know, all day communicating.
Let’s have a look at how they’re interacting with me. Are they showing up the star? So, you know, that can be quite difficult with children because they’re often kind of made to show up for appointments, but are they engaging with the eyes? Like what’s their body language and can we build rapport and relationship without the reliance on speech?
And if we can do that, then that’s really important because. When you’re in a very silent world, you can feel very, um, different alienated, unable to say, or communicate your basic needs. So feeling connected in other ways can then help, um, reengage that, that connection verbally, if that’s necessary. So for me, that was really key, really key.
Pooky Knightsmith: So you were communicating through things like your kind of yeah. Your, your body language and your physical presence in the room. I think that’s a really important point that yeah, if you show up that actually sends a really strong message, doesn’t it? But did you also, at that time communicate through any other means?
So you said that you, you know, writing and drawing for example are really important for you. Did you use any of those methods for communication or were you quiet in those ways too?
Caroline Harroe: Well, I, um, I would often use basic sign, which if you don’t have any sign language, you wouldn’t know. So, and I still do it. I still sign, sorry.
Um, when I’m sorry, you know, know there’s, there’s some basic words I would naturally sign. Um, and so that, I guess that was a kind of almost invisible method of communication because. So our language requires two people to communicate and I would sometimes sign and I didn’t have a recipient because they didn’t speak sign and they wouldn’t necessarily recognize that I was signing.
So I guess there were some attempts that communication that weren’t verbal. Um, so that was something that we kind of learnt to get there at the time. Um, and I, I bet in LA I. I was looking for a lot of meaning in my life. Um, and I would write, but I guess it would require the kind of, uh, North, uh, to recognize that there are methods of communication that might be suited to this person, whoever that might be and say, for me, that was kind of a long journey of trying to.
Figure that out without the aid of speech. Um, so over time I would just, you know, I would be complementary or, um, you know, so I could communicate and I wish I can. Okay. And just not really speech. And then, um, we had this kind of moment of break three ready. So it’s really interesting. I’ve written a paper on that.
Um, was that. The therapist I was seeing, kind of had got to know me three payments of speech, and then periods of not speaking us soul and, um, uh, new me. And one day on a hundred, some piece of paper, a hundred me a poem. And, um, this is going to sound super cliche and really, but she handed me this poem and she, she had cognitive.
Just felt that it captured something about what I was. And even though I’d been in this long period of, um, mutism at that time, I felt like somebody had heard me and, um, And that poem on that piece of paper on that day showed me that there was another human that was willing to understand the way I communicated or made sense of the world and that it didn’t rely on speech.
We had a moment of connection and understanding that was demonstrated and received. That didn’t rely on me speaking. And after that point, I started to write and I wrote to communicate. So it didn’t rely on my voice and over time. I’m not Trinity started to learn, to use my voice again. Um, but it was, I needed to feel that I needed to feel that the pressure was off speech.
I needed to feel that somebody understood why I wasn’t speaking. And you know, all of those facets are really necessary for me. And so, yeah, that I still got that. Okay on that piece of paper,
Pooky Knightsmith: do you think that your therapist knew how important that moment would be? Or do you think it was one of many things they tried?
Caroline Harroe: Um, I don’t think I knew at the time. I think they know now. And so we’ve written a collaborative paper actually about this, about like how, you know, how we seek metaphor to translate. I’ve experiences or understand experiences. And, um, so I don’t think, I think it’s time. They were a bit like, Oh, I have this silent person, um, that I want to know when this is, this is how it feels.
I’m giving you this. There’s some thing that is to me, how I make sense of what you’re going through. Um, and, and it did precisely that. Sorry about the time they’ve realized how pivotal it would be. I think it was, um, an intervention that wouldn’t have been delivered outside of the silence. I think it was something that was learned because of the silence.
And I think that some things between us, um, when you, when you realized that there were other opportunities presented by mutism, aren’t reliant on speech. Then it gives you the freedom to explore them. Um, but we must each kind of like challenge ourselves with that because we not only want to talk and, you know, get some feedback about things from people.
Um, so it kind of means that you need to kind of not abandon speech at all, but, you know, explore the opportunities that are there without it. And if you do that, I think you can find ways to communicate if that is the ultimate aim.
Pooky Knightsmith: Wow. And was that, um, so after that, then you began to communicate using the written word more.
Is that something that you had personally kind of engaged with prior to this relationship? Or was that new for you using, using
Caroline Harroe: your, your written word? No, I think I’d always written from being quite young. So a lot of my quiet was filled with words. It just wasn’t filled with. Um, verbal words, if that makes sense.
So I think I’d always written, I’d always drawn and I think they became just more, more utilized methods for communication. It’s always been very much for myself before, um, when, as I started to use those tools to communicate to one of them. Um, and I think that. Sometimes there’s a lot of emphasis placed on words.
And obviously because we use them to communicate that sometimes they just don’t feel enough. Sometimes, sometimes our human experience, we try and reduce it to the spoken language, but actually it’s very difficult sometimes to translate the human experience into words. And, um, I recognize that some of my.
You know, my periods of mutism, um, were probably dominated by those, those kinds of things. When actually language felt inadequate. Um, a lot of my experiences were sense to me or festival and, you know, it’s like when we say we’re anxious, It’s a physiological response. Isn’t that anxiety, all of our emotions are actual physiological States and we just translate them into a word which we then use to communicate.
Um, and I sometimes find that word inadequate for the actual experience. So I think that, um, a lot, my autism was about not being able to find adequate language for my experiences. And, um, feeling that it was redundant. Um, and there was no point speaking in many ways that would actually, you know, I didn’t attain how to anymore.
I kind of lost the command of it because I consistently felt so in my eyes, Wow
Pooky Knightsmith: intrigued that you went on to work alongside your therapist to kind of pick this apart and think about what you could learn from it. I love that. And, and I, yeah, I think that’s an incredible thing to do. Did you. Have to, you know, was it a long time later?
And how did you go about like, looking at that and did you find so many questions? Did you find them and your therapist, if you want, it were the same or different, or?
Caroline Harroe: Um, I think, uh, just, I mean, I’m, I’m sure she’d have a lot to say about, but I think at first you just have no idea. I think, I think it was like fighting blind, like, Hey, was this.
Go in front of her that had kind of given up on life and wouldn’t speak and wouldn’t communicate. And there was all these facets of our life that nobody knew anything about, but then knew there was something, but they couldn’t get to that something because nobody would like, I wouldn’t speak. So I think the shared view was one that I was suffering and, and that’s, um, Communication would be important, but the understanding both of my background, just because of my sister doesn’t speak, but really embracing that and exploring that enabled me to develop an identity that could be communicated and I could communicate, I just didn’t speak.
And the willingness to do that and not see it as. Something that needed to be addressed maybe. Um, but not battled with not something that needed to be taken away or resolved or fixed. It was actually a part of where I was at that time in my life. And it was happening for a reason. I think that was the shared bet.
I think how to do that was probably a bit like, not really sure. Um, but once the communication channels outside of. Um, the, the language or opened up the pressure with doll. And actually, I, I naturally did start to, like I said, whisper at first, not check my hat, never even constantly to manners and communicate in other ways and often kind of through eye contact or, um, yeah, I wanted to engage.
I communicated. They wanted to engage. I just couldn’t, I couldn’t speak.
Pooky Knightsmith: And what did you, when you worked together on that paper, um, what did you kind of conclude if you like, what was it that you offered out to other people in terms of learning from the experts?
Caroline Harroe: I guess that, um, fundamentally relationships are absolutely key, um, and that they can be communicated and developed in a variety of way.
And we began to develop that relationship through shared understanding, which is the kind of purpose of therapeutic engagement. Isn’t it it’s to be met, to be understood, to develop a shared understanding of someone’s. Presentation needs difficulties to move forwards together on something. And that foundation was born out of the show in of metaphor because it couldn’t happen through direct communication.
And that, um, in that instance, um, poetry metaphor, the sharing of the written word was fundamental to the building of a relationship, a therapeutic relationship. Um, and that, that could happen in the absence of verbal communication, verbal communication, but that the relationship, the therapeutic relationship was born out of something else.
Um, and I think that’s a message of hope really that we can build connections. We can build connections if we are open to the idea that it’s not always going to happen the way that we traditionally think it might, you know, and then in my case, that was. Uh, fundamental for my survival. Really? I don’t think I’d be here with right.
Pooky Knightsmith: And do you think that your experience is, um, sort of typical, although are there ways in which your, your quiet, your mute periods differ from other people when you’ve spoken to others, who’ve gone through, you know, what maybe looks from the outside similar? I think, I imagine a bit, like we always teach people about self-harm you might see similar looking injuries, but what underlie them might be very, very different kinds of forms of distress.
And I, I wonder if. Quiet and mutism, is this similar or different from that?
Caroline Harroe: Yeah, I think I’ve spoken to porosity of people often, um, younger people that have had periods during childhood. Um, so when I. When I reflect on my childhood, I describe it as quiet, but I think that they had, I had a better understanding.
I probably might have been able to label periods of mutism, um, Dan as well. So I can, I can describe to you a day when I just got into know what would be. The first year of primary primary school and something had distressed me and I, um, I was unable to communicate that at all. And the teacher had me on her knee trying to communicate, and I just couldn’t, I couldn’t speak, I didn’t speak.
Um, I didn’t speak the whole day. And I remember it really, really visually. I remember everything about it and I was very small. So I think that, you know, had I had a better language to describe my experiences of me to them. I probably would have identified them earlier. Um, and I think so I’m going to answer this in two parts, if that’s all right.
I’m sorry. I’m talking so much.
Um, I run it. Um, so I think there are periods of quiet and to them in my own life, that baby, so it’s not one thing all the time. So I think that’s important to understand as well, just as we say again, What self-harm is one day. It might not be the next day. And it’s really important to check out the meaning related to the experience on a day to day, moment to moment basis.
And I think that we should do the same with me to them because there are times when I felt that withholding my voice is my control. Yeah, you can’t make me say something. I have control of the only thing I have control over in my life. I am not going to speak and you cannot make me. Um, and then there are times where I am completely immobilized by shame anticipation that the anxiety keeps the mutism and then I’m stuck.
So they’re two polar points and there’s probably every shade of gray in between, between the taking of control and the losing control. Um, so, um, yeah, for me, if there’s that much variety in my own experiences, I can then assume the same of other people, which means that at any one pay we did meet, it might not be what it’s been before.
Um, and I think that’s really important that somehow we make sense of the meters in that current set of circumstances at that time and point in life. And to not assume that it is the same as it was before it may be. Because we fall into patterns as humans, but it may not be for me as an adult experience in periods of me to them, it was almost like I was expected to not have that because something you give up when you do when you’re a child.
Um, but it didn’t feel like I was doing it. It felt like it was school I had. And once that it was very difficult to get out. So I think there’s something about, you know, just being mindful that. It’s it, and it might be different things from one day to the next. And, you know, to understand both those facets, that actually it can be a taking of control and then losing the control, you know, and anybody may be at various points on that, on that spectrum.
So then enable us to pitch our intervention or our relationship or communication. And cause if you start with somebody who wants to communicate and con. How we met. It’s very different doing that with someone who absolutely does not want to use that voice. Yeah.
Pooky Knightsmith: So can’t unwind being very different. It’s fascinating hearing you talking about it as it being a taking of control or losing of control because, um, for me, and I’m sure you’ll have drawn this parallel in your own experience as well.
Perhaps it sounds a lot like my experience with food and periods of anorexia, where sometimes absolutely. That was. Like you spoke about speaking. It was the one thing that I could control, but other times where it was nothing at all to do with a conscious choice whatsoever. This was something that was entirely, uh, controlling me.
And so, again, it’s that outward playing of something that might look the same to the outside, but completely different Genesis from within, depending on whether I’m six or 16 or 26 or,
Caroline Harroe: and also that idea that something that at the start helps you to take control. But quickly becomes something else that the same, um, period of time might transition from one to the other within that, within that instance as well. You know, so again, using that analogy of anorexia, you know, the starting state control consume become out of control very quickly, you know, in the matter of days, weeks.
Um, so I think there’s that as well. And I think. It’s really, it’s really interesting because I think about how I use my voice and how it’s still all the time. And you know, like, um, you know, and you’ve been, you’ve been to bed at night and you’ve sat and you get up, but you don’t actually have anybody to interact with.
Um, so you don’t use your voice. You don’t necessarily speak. And then the phone rings and you answer the phone and you come on to voice and you realize that. You, you might sound a bit Cokie because you’ve not spoken. You know, it can feel a bit jolting sometimes. And I think that when you’ve not used your voice for a long time, um, there’s more to it than just speaking does actually, you know, A lot of anxiety, a lot of kind of voice command stuff.
How does it sound, how does it feel to speak now that aren’t really related to just the communication, just inverts comments that actually the physicality it’s speaking. Can I feel like it’s something to overcome?
Pooky Knightsmith: And did expectations of other people ever, uh, influence on whether you might speak or not.
So, again, I’m thinking about experiences with food, but wondering if you had experienced a similar thing where almost, if you’d got into a pattern of not speaking, that it would make it harder to speak, because you knew that that was what happened then and what people were expecting, or was that not your experience?
Caroline Harroe: Yeah, I think so. I think, um, I think that’s why it’s important to recognize that communication and relationships develop outside of just the verbal communication, because otherwise you can be a bit railroaded and to not being able to change, it feels too big. Um, so for me, once speaking had been taken off the agenda, I, I almost.
Found it easier to then start to its words. I mean, it wasn’t like an overnight switch or anything like that. I just, um, yeah, I think it became a possibility though. Yeah. Because was staying as a whole person and speaking with one part of me, it wasn’t the only thing I needed to be able to be in that room with that person.
So I could be in that room with that person or in those relationships without speech, which then meant that if I had it or I didn’t have it. I was still made. Um, so it wasn’t a losing of a different identity by speaking, I guess. Um, but yeah, it, it, it’s fascinating nowadays because obviously people do my role.
People see me in a particular way. Um, you know, we all construct our, you know, our versions of ourselves for the public arena, but, um, because baking is such an important part of my role, whether that’s, uh, you know, A board meeting or, um, you know, a poetry reading or, uh, you know, conference presentation, people find it really surprising.
Uh, I had such significant periods of natures in Amman.
Pooky Knightsmith: And do you, I found it surprising when you told me when you, when you, you were so kind to say that you’d be happy to talk about it. I was, yeah. Yeah, very surprised. But then I guess what, how, how, how would I know the times when I see you are by the very nature of the relationship that we’ve had professionally, um, the times when you would be speaking, um, do you have to work hard to make sure that you can kind of continue to speak almost like, do you, do you, yeah.
Is it something you have to practice to know if I’ve explained to my,
Caroline Harroe: so I think that I don’t feel. I don’t feel under that returning to, um, bold, big periods of machism. I don’t, I do feel that my, I have a natural propensity to silence. Um, and sometimes what that can feel like is that I feel like I have communicated something.
I haven’t. So I can often feel like my thoughts are so strong that even though I haven’t verbalized them, I’ve communicated them. Yeah. And, um, and that now in a variety of different ways, so I have to be very, I have to work very hard to make sure that I have actually spoken what I need to speak. And, um, And also it can be difficult in some relationships because people have different expectations on speech, um, and verbalizing and, you know, just verbal cues and things.
And I naturally don’t always offer them. I can sit very quietly and sometimes, um, it can be important to check out that, you know, person it’s all right with that. So it doesn’t feel the same as me to them, but it does feel like it’s an extension of it. Um, Because I’ve had such long periods of time where all I’ve had is the strength of my own thoughts.
And I haven’t verbalized that I’m, I’m reasonably comfortable with that place, but I can also feel quite immobilized by silence and times. So especially if there are issues of humiliation or shame, um, I can be, I can feel paralyzed and not speak the way that I would like to speak. Um, so I recognize those are.
Similar traits. And we’re probably in that propensity towards the meetings and that I had before, but I don’t feel the risk of slipping into more than momentary silence, if that makes sense around the houses. Explanation.
Pooky Knightsmith: Yeah. Yeah. And just kind of taking it out of sort of broad, broader for a moment. Um, thinking about, you know, if there’s anyone listening to this who is perhaps still supporting, um, someone who, um, can’t always verbalize, what, what would you advise like it sounds, and, you know, from what you’ve said, that the relationship’s the most important thing and being kind of unconditioned that whether someone is speaking or not feels very important here, That being very, very open to other cues that might not be verbal or feels important and then maybe exploring other, um, perhaps slightly more creative ways of, of communicating might matter.
But does that sound fair? And would you add
Caroline Harroe: to that? Yeah, I think what’s really important is that a person feels accepted and they feel safe, um, because, um, That’s just happening for a reason. So if somebody isn’t speaking, it’s it’s happening for a reason. And, um, whilst it is important to meet the person where they are.
So, you know, if it’s a child, that’s absolutely stunned into their own silence, we need to help them with that. But how do we help them with that might not start off by looking at speaking. So I think, um, you know, I speak to a lot of parents who can feel very out of control and the way that they try and take control the way that they try and help is say, come on, speak to me.
I want to hear what you’ve got to say. And actually that person can communicate what they want to say. Without saying without actually speaking. And, um, so for me, I would very much say that a person needs to feel safe. They need to feel understood and they need to find their own ways of communicating. I think we have to be very, um, aware to not reinforce the idea of, um, perpetuate in safety behaviors.
Silence is, is one of them, but to enable, um, the, the person to make the changes that they want to make and. You know, a good question to start with might be, um, like, do you want to, do you want to talk right now? Is that something you want to work towards, um, and establishing where that person is in that relationship?
So you’re on the same page at the same time. Um, and you can do that in a number of different ways, you know, for writing or, you know, I made them minimal those kinds of things. Um, so I think, I think safety and relationship is really, really important, but I think everybody’s different. And, um, I think it’s about, you know, taking the time to understand that in that given moment and seeing it as an opportunity, because some of the most, the deepest connections we can develop between, um, other humans can happen in those moments of silence.
So not to be afraid of them really. Um, Because if we’re supporting someone, you know, especially kind of parents or teachers, we can, we can perpetuate the fear by being scared ourselves. Whereas actually we can, you know, we can embrace that person and all that they are and, and help them. Um, we just have to say the changes as they’re presented to it.
Pooky Knightsmith: And is it helpful to talk. To someone who might not respond, like, did you find it helpful when people spoke to you or would you rather, they met you in whichever way you were trying to communicate at the time?
Caroline Harroe: Yeah, there is at different times, I think, um, I like people. So for me naturally appreciate people, just keeping talking.
Um, but also people being okay with the quiet, that’s something that you can communicate very clearly that you’re uncomfortable with silence. You can just keep filling the silence all the time. So I think there’s a, there’s a balanced approach really. Um, but it would, like I said, it was very, very much from time to time in my life.
You know, there’ll be times when I just, um, I was tired of trying to communicate and. No, it didn’t want that pressure. And other times when actually, you know, it was cool to listen to other people just talk to me. And I was all right with that. That could be quite happy. It didn’t, I didn’t feel like I was missing out.
Um, but I think that, you know, those times are very different and very varied. And, um, there’s just so many different kind of internal experiences in relation to that mutism that being met in that. Time and space. It can be a challenge, but I think it’s when King.
Pooky Knightsmith: And finally, are there any ways in which your periods of quiet have influenced how you lead?
Because I’m just, I can’t get away from how intrigued I am from this idea that you go from these periods of silence to this very, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s allowed role being a CEO, isn’t it? Whether that’s physically loud or, you know, it’s a big, it’s a big, big world. So how has your experience influenced how you lead.
Caroline Harroe: Um, well, when people come to what goal may or the organization, um, it’s interesting because it’s, it’s a different place. You know, we start off by saying, this is not for everybody. Um, you know, what you see is what you get with me. I am no different as a mother, as a CEO, I’m like, kind of. Um, authenticity is a bit of an affliction.
Um, so I think we, yeah, you know, we recruit, um, the humility, um, and human qualities that are higher up my list than they might be another organizations. I’m not really interested in the huge work experience people have got when they apply to work in my, in my team, what I want to. Do is be met by compassionate individuals with a propensity, for humidity who, um, see themselves as willing to learn.
And I think that’s probably my leadership style as well. I, um, yes, I, you know, I have to, I have to lead, but I, I know all of my team, um, I feel. Like that’s, that’s important. I don’t want to steep hierarchy. I want interpersonal relationships. So for me, that’s what leadership is. It’s about being like kind of paving the way for people to feel safe and secure in being, um, vulnerable humans and muddling through this all together.
And so I kind of wear my heart on my sleeve because of those interactions, because they’re the things that have been effective for me. Um, You know, being approachable, being honest, being slow to being fallible, you know, and being hopeful. And all of those experiences are absolutely inherently bound in, and the life that I’ve led.
So I can’t lead any differently. Um, but people are often surprised. Um, when I joined my team or my organization, they’re like, you’re here all the time. Like we’re not used to working where the CEO is around or involved or talks to us, or, you know, it’s important to me. Like without those relationships, um, calmness isn’t anything.
Pooky Knightsmith: Wow. Are you proud of what you’ve done?
Caroline Harroe: Uh, I feel very proud of my organization. I feel very proud of my team. I feel sometimes it’s a bit like how has this happened? How, how have I come from that to having this growing team doing amazing work inspired? What? So I feel very, very proud of those things, but I’m guilty of not stopping long enough.
To celebrate because I feel that there’s plenty of people that still need us to fight. So I’m constantly fighting for them. Um, but yeah, I guess it’s, uh, it’s a long distance traveled so much so that when I talk about it, people are a bit like, Oh, I don’t actually believe that that happened. It seems so far from my understanding if you cover line that, um, yeah.
So it, it just feel it a million miles away, but still a massive part of who I am that just doesn’t get air ready. I guess it’s nice to be able to talk about it because most people wouldn’t know it’s about me. They might know more broad strokes about, and some of the experiences I’ve had, but my relationship to speaking and silence and me to them, and that history of that is a really big part of me.
Pooky Knightsmith: Well, thank you so much for taking time to talk to me about it today. It’s been, it’s been fascinating and I’ve learned a lot listening to you. Although one of the key things I’ll take away is never to assume that because I’ve heard one story that I’ve, I’ve heard them all for every story will be different and that we need to find a way to, to hear what people have to share.
Well, what thought would you like to leave people, uh, listening with.
Caroline Harroe: I guess for me ever optimist, um, to see everything as a, as an opportunity. So however difficult things can be, it presents an opportunity thing. And whether that’s to see somebody at their most vulnerable and for that to be okay, or, you know, to create an opportunity for connection that’s outside the traditional means.
And that’s okay. I think, yeah, I think that scene every. Potential challenges and opportunity for something different or an opportunity for human connection, but be my key message really, and just it’ll be feel right. Not in an invalidating way. It will be nice. So think down, um, Figure it out together and create opportunities for human connection.
And, you know, if we do that, people, people get there, they find their way. .