The Power of Voice
“Everybody’s got a song to sing
Everybody’s got something that they want to say
And ageless voices stay silent while
People dream of words they want to speak
For the first time in their lives.”
--from “Everybody’s Got a Song to Sing” by Linda Marks and Lisa Wexler ©1981
In 27 years as a body psychotherapist, I have come to witness how powerfully the human spirit seeks expression and how finding one’s voice is a critical pathway in connecting with and understanding who we truly are.
Sadly, we live in a culture that does not encourage us to find our voice, and through the power of our voice, make a unique contribution to the world. Instead, beginning as children, we are drilled with messages that stifle voice, and often disconnect us from us deeper selves: “children should be seen and not heard,” “be quiet,” “you don’t really mean that,” or most crudely, “shut up!” These messages hurt our hearts and spirits. But more powerfully, they stifle and silence our souls.
Having A Voice
The roots of voice originate in the spirit and soul. Having a voice allows us both to express or share our internal experience and to say things others need to hear us say. One challenge in our culture is that not all voices and not all messages are welcome. While, in theory, our culture embraces freedom of speech, in reality, between gender stereotypes, cultural biases and fear of emotion and vulnerability, many parts of us are silenced rather than welcomed.
It hurts our hearts when parts of our voice are silenced or disallowed, by us internally or by others around us. If we suppress our voices, we do so at great psychic cost. Deborah Crane is a voice movement therapist in Littleton, MA. She has the fascinating job of helping people discover their voices, and in many cases, connect with previously unwelcome or scary parts.
Deborah notes, “We silence some of our internal voices because our family, our neighborhood or the culture at large encourages us not to use those voices. Girls are not allowed anger. Boys are not allowed sadness. We end up not allowing parts of ourselves that are not accepted. So, we tend to focus on the parts of ourselves that are accepted.”
To have a voice is to be vulnerable. When someone takes the risk of speaking their true thoughts, feelings or experience, we often say that they are “sticking their neck out.”
“We have been taught that we have to be strong and guarded and safe,” reflects Rebecca Parris, a world renowned jazz singer and professional singing mentor in Duxbury, MA. “We’ve been taught to live from fear rather than openness. People don’t realize the weakness of fear, and they don’t realize their vulnerability is a power, not a weakness.”
Vulnerability allows us to express our deepest truth and our most human experience through opinions, thoughts, dreams and points of view. When we live in fear of sticking our necks out, we remain isolated, bound up, tense and unfulfilled.
The throat is mid-way between head and heart, and often serves as a bridge between the two. When we feel something that we think is risky, our throats may become tense and tight. When we feel strong feelings but are afraid to let them out, we may feel a lump in our throats. By gently placing a hand on the tension or on the lump in the throat, you receive the message that what you are thinking and feeling is welcome and okay. The tension melts. Tears may even flow. And the deeper feelings find their way out of the body, mind and heart and into the larger world.
Head Voice Vs. Heart Voice
When I first started having my voice recorded, I noticed that I had two distinct voices: my head voice and my heart voice. When I spoke from my head, my voice had a tinny intellectual tone to it. I spoke more rapidly. When I spoke from my heart voice, however, there was a much more spacious, open and heartfelt quality. I would feel my body relaxing and melting. I learned there was a huge energetic difference between a voice that came from the head or the heart.
When we speak from the heart, we touch the hearts of others. Because the heart and the brain both generate electromagnetic energy, we can viscerally feel where energy is coming from, even if we are not consciously aware we are doing so.
Likewise, it matters how we listen to others. The way it feels to speak to someone listening from their heart is far more safe and inviting than someone listening from the head. Our heads judge, analyze and put meaning on words. That is fine in some contexts. However, for building intimacy and connection, to listen from the heart as someone speaks from their heart is much more effective, safe and fulfilling. Being aware that we have head and heart voices, and learning to use them consciously helps us more powerfully speak and be heard.
Why Voice Matters
“When we find our voice, what we gain is knowing who we are and noting the response of others,” says Rebecca. “We gain a true sense of being in the moment.” Without voice, we lose the depths and authenticities of relationships.
There are also physical, emotional and energetic costs when our voices are silenced or not allowed. “Unexpressed feelings, thoughts and sounds live in us as emotional energy blocks,” observes Deborah. “The voice is a vehicle not only for allowing our strength, but also allowing the stuck energy within us to move up and out of us. The cost of being silenced is that we never feel we can open up and allow deep emotion within, even for our own benefit with no one around. We become our own censors.”
In the lyrics my singing and songwriting collaborator Lisa Wexler and I wrote in our song, “Everybody’s Got a Song to Sing,” we express how it feels when we don’t have a way to express “the voice within us” that “wants to shout.” “It hurts so much because you want to say your words out loud. And no one knows the pain that you are going through.” When we don’t have a voice, we hurt. We feel alone.
When I was in grammar school, I remember an experiment where we took a prism and learned how to angle it so that it could direct the sunlight to burn a hole in a piece of paper. It seemed like magic that we could harness the energy of the sun that way. Living creatures are energy conduits, and our bodies generate electromagnetic energy that we can learn to consciously channel, like a prism channeling sunlight.
Our voices vibrate and those vibrations interact with the vibrations of other living things around us. The resonance of our voice touches other people and can literally change the energy in the room. If we want to plant the seeds of action, speaking our intentions is a powerful place to start. When we speak a vision, we open up possibility for all who hear it.
“Once you find your voice, the possibilities are endless,” Rebecca notes. “In music, we have a microphone that reaches a lot of people over the course of a night. Our impact can be major. But you may impact one person who goes out and impacts a thousand. One would be surprised how many people their voice has touched in a lifetime.”
Six Tips for Finding Your Voice
1. Realize the voice is a “thing” — something to find and have. Kids need to hear the message that the voice is a critical human capacity. Learning to find it and use it is at least as important as learning to read or do math. In fact, writing is much easier when we find our voices.
2. Embrace all your emotions. It is just as important to learn to feel and accept your pain and anger as your joy and happiness. Being able to express what you feel in a way that is authentic and respectful of self and others feels empowering.
3. Be non-judgmental. Being curious and non-judgmental invites introspection, feeling, sensation and deeper thoughts. This allows us to find the seeds of what we know, feel and wish to convey.
4. Be patient. It takes time to find our voices and patience to be present with what is there, even if initially it feels empty or like nothing.
5. Focus on what you feel, not what you think. The quality of the voice changes whether it’s from the head or from the heart. Energy from the heart reaches the heart of the listener or the audience.
6. Listen to yourself, not the voices of other. Other people and the media tell us what to think, what to wear, what to do, and who we should be. None of these things may be right for you. Take the time to find out what is true for you by listening to your own voice.
Linda Marks, MSM, is a Yale University trained singer/songwriter who has been singing and songwriting since grammar school. She was an active singer/songwriter in the Boston area in the early 1980's and has practiced body psychotherapy for 27 years. www.healingheartpower.com
Linda is also co-chair of Boys to Men New England, an adult-teen mentoring program. www.boystomennewengland.org.