“The power we have to create the kind of world we really want to live in, genuinely rests in the capacity we have to give voice to the things that are important to us so that we can speak that world into existence. Our words literally create our world.”

With March being the month we highlight women’s achievements and their progress, Maraya Rae Rodostianos, a therapist, coach and mentor for women who are seeking a more authentic and intentional expression in their lives, spoke to Neos Kosmos, about the transformative power of authenticity in resolving the obstacles that hold us back.

The Greek Australian therapist delved deep into her own journey from trauma to healing. What she learned along the way led her to start a private practice offering integrative somatic therapy, to women seeking to heal from patterns of silencing their voice and suppressing their true self.

She has also started a new venture SheSpeaks, a feminine-centred, psychologically and emotionally safe speaking circle, where small groups of women come together regularly to practice using and empowering their authentic voice.

Based on a unique blend of inquiry practices drawn from various modalities and training, her approach guides those she works with inwards, to the places where they most need to heal.

“As a woman of our generation, raised in the Greek community, I learned watching my mum, that women were expected to be subservient, they needed to put themselves last. Though my family was incredibly supportive when I was a young girl, and I was encouraged to do all sorts of different things, I was not allowed to be angry. I wasn’t allowed to express any kind of frustration or discontent. I remember, for example, being really upset, and being told to ‘smile’ even though I was fuming inside.”

Just like many women, and men too, in many cases, she continues, “I learned that in order to be safe in the family, and in order for them to give me the love and the attention that I needed and that sense of security, I had to be quiet, I had to be really silent. Especially if my expression was to upset or disappoint another. As a result, I grew up not knowing how to say ‘No’, or how to assert my boundaries or advocate for myself, which led to later relational trauma and many missed opportunities.”

After years studying trauma, Maraya now understands, that this inability to say ‘No’ to situations, was based on survival instinct. “A fear that if I say ‘No’, I will be rejected, criticised or judged. Underneath all that is actually a nervous system response akin to terror.”

Maraya elucidates how this fear of speaking up permeates personal and professional spheres, impacting relationships, opportunities, and overall well-being as we suppress what we really want to express.

She describes the concept of “fawning,” a learned behaviour of appeasement to avoid conflict which is very common in women. What Maraya finds fascinating about this behavioural pattern, is that it presents the qualities that are admired in society -being compassionate, kind, caring, thoughtful. “But when these qualities come from a place of self-compromise, they’re not authentic and they erode our sense of self.”

“Often it takes something big to come along in our lives, for us to start looking inwards,” Maraya adds. “Illness, divorce, death or other big life transitions”

“People won’t look inside if they have found ways to cope or escape from their pain.”

After leaving Melbourne over two decades ago in pursuit of a life aligned with the spirit, Maraya embarked on a journey that took her to the Sunshine Coast, Greece and then Byron Bay, before returning home in 2020. However, it was a profound and tragic event that would propel her into a deeper exploration of self, of understanding trauma and finding a way to heal from it.

Following the loss of her husband, the father of her children, to suicide, Maraya had to search deeper, to come to terms with her grief and trauma.

She finally found a way to make peace with what had happened in sharing her story, when she presented her own signature talk on this traumatic experience, as part of her training with Woman Speak.

“It was transformational, sharing the deepest and darkest and having it witnessed and having it held in a circle of women, in an environment that was safe. It was incredibly helpful and healing.”

The really big turning point was when she started thinking about her own part in the equation.

“Though I understand that I was not responsible for his choice to leave…that it wasn’t my fault, I was responsible for not speaking up. In our relationship I was trying to control the outcome by trying to create an environment that was harmonious, peaceful and happy, pleasing and appeasing, avoiding conversations that may create conflict. My focus was on keeping the household happy because that made it comfortable for me, because I wasn’t comfortable with conflict. How is it possible to have a meaningful and connected relationship with someone if we keep silent when we want to speak up? Intimacy is built on vulnerability and truth.”

From that moment on her mission in life has been to be real. “To speak my heart’s truth. What happens from that point on, that’s not up to me, and I have to be comfortable with that. Because a life that’s linked to truth creates a life and a whole world that’s built on truth.”

The women who come for support are mostly women who don’t feel safe to be themselves

Since becoming a circle leader with Woman Speak and then a coach, and trauma therapist in her own practice, Maraya has discovered that most women who come for support are women who have not felt safe to be themselves.

“For some this has happened from big events such as abuse, but also something as simple as having a parent who forbids you to cry. It can be really big things and it can be seemingly small things that have created this pattern of self-sabotage.”

“What I find interesting is that most of the women who come, are all quite high functioning. Part of the behavioural pattern of fawning is to over-function, so they have become high achievers. They won’t stop, they will push themselves to burn -out. On the surface it looks like they’ve got it all together. But on the inside, they don’t feel seen. They don’t feel heard. They feel like they’ve lost themselves. Some of them have lost themselves to mothering or in their relationships, and they feel like they’ve pushed themselves too much.”

“I remember wondering, when I was still living up in Byron Bay, what it would be like to take this work back to the Greek community where I grew up. To women just like me, who were raised by families just like mine, who lived in homes just like my own,” Maraya says describing the full circle she has come, returning back home, and her interest in working with women from her own background, who have similar upbringings and lived experience.

She understands the challenges Greek Australian women of her generation face, many of whom have achieved so much, which makes her wonder sometimes ‘how much achievement is necessary for self-worth?’ Because image, she adds, is very important in the Greek Community. “To be clear there is absolutely zero judgment in that.. What I mean is that there’s a lot of surface presentation, an importance in how we present ourselves that is, which from the experience I have had, working with many women over the years, including myself, amplifies an internal struggle.”

Returning the conversation to International Women’s Day, Maraya believes that the feminist movement has definitely empowered women in many ways, but it has also disempowered them.

“We have been told that we are equal to men and in that conversation, somewhere along the way, we have felt that we need to be just like men. And that feminine essence has somewhere been lost. I think, particularly in corporate and male dominated environments, women feel like in order to be heard, seen, respected equally, they need to be like men.”

But we’re very different, she stresses.

“We think differently. We feel differently. We make decisions differently. Women are more contextual in their thinking, for example. Before they decide to produce anything, they will look at the big picture and what will be affected along the way. This is a significant difference in the structure of the female brain.”

At the heart of her work lies the mission to empower women by helping them acknowledge their inherent worth and understand that their truth, needs, ideas and wisdom are not only of value but also deeply necessary.

“Your value as a human being and your value as a woman is unquestionable… the intuition that you have and the wisdom that you bring, the way of seeing the world and the holding that comes with women is an incredible gift. Please don’t hold it back.”

It’s therefore also about learning to trust that we have been given everything we need to navigate and guide us. So many of us look outside for answers, guidance or relief from our struggles, but Maraya concludes. “What we need to do, is to stop avoiding and distracting, and learn how to ‘be with ourselves’. To meet our inner world and listen deeply. The closer we are to our inner world, the more authentic our voice will be. Everything we are looking for is found within, we just need someone to guide us inwards.” That is what she now helps women do.