Your voice can be your weak spot as well as your strength. In the last issue of Third Factor, I explained how your voice is a barometer that can indicate something is out of balance in another area of your life. I linked this to Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities (OE) and explained how intellectual, imagination, and emotional OE manifest in the voice—whether in strength or vulnerability.
So if your voice reveals vulnerability, how do you transform that into strength?
Based on my own struggles with the voice and my experiences in my voice coaching practice, I can offer you some advice. The first thing to remember is this: your voice is never separate from your thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and bodily state. That means that, though we’re focusing on the voice here, my method will help you deal with OE more generally, too. Moreover, all these techniques are connected, and they influence each other. They work best if you combine all of them.
I will start with advice related to emotions. In my next piece, I’ll offer advice for how your mind affects your voice as an OE person.
Learn and Practice Breathing Techniques
If you haven’t ever paid attention to your own breathing, you may find that (like most people) you tend to take rapid, shallow breaths into your chests. This is probably especially true when you’re nervous, to the point that you might feel out of breath.
Solid, healthy breathing involves slow, long, and gentle exhalations that you activate by contracting your diaphragm. Gently let go of all your air and inhale again more deeply by inflating your diaphragm without lifting your chest. If you frequently practice low, deep belly breathing, you will naturally support and stabilize your voice without needing to strain from your throat. This will also reduce your stress level and help you to regulate emotions. Finally, focusing on your breath will develop your general awareness, making it an excellent starting point for any other vocal techniques you may choose to practice.
Welcome and Accept Intense Emotions
→ Emotional OE
Next, let’s take a look at how you can work with emotions as part of the process of strengthening your voice. This advice is fundamental for everyone, but especially for those with emotional OE. How do you manage that emotional roller coaster if you experience everything so intensely? What do you do when all those emotions sound through in your voice—even the unwelcome ones?Most of the time, such people try to fight emotions by suppressing them. As a singer, I did this a lot. But it never worked—in fact, it had the opposite effect. See, early in my singing career, I usually wasn’t aware of the nerves I felt before I went on stage. This was partially because I wasn’t in contact with my body—which is where we feel our emotions—and partially because my mind suppressed my nerves, thereby convincing itself it had everything under control. The result was that, on the outside, I appeared to be doing fine. But when I started to sing, my voice was tight and strained—clearly affected by those suppressed nerves.
As I developed more bodily awareness, I became aware of my nerves before a gig. At first, I felt really annoyed with that: I didn’t want to accept the fact that I was nervous. I tried to fight it, but my mind couldn’t “control” it anymore because the signals my body sent overruled my mind. My voice revealed more nerves than ever before. And for a while, this frustration took the joy out of performing.
Eventually, however, I realized that this was all part of the process. I learned to accept my fear of failure. By becoming friendly with my emotions—by accepting them and feeling them fully—I stopped fighting them. It was only after I did so that their impact on my performances diminished.
Most people are experts in ignoring the bodily sensations that reveal their emotions. Why? Children are often forced to “unlearn” the direct emotional expressions of anger and sadness because they are regarded as too intense. Even children’s joyful enthusiasm is too much for most grown-ups. So as you grow older, you learn to restrain yourself—and that behavior gets rewarded by society. You may never have learned how to address the feelings present in your body in ways that are both socially appropriate and effective.
Sometimes, people even begin to focus on the emotions of others at the cost of paying attention to their own. Empathy is generally a positive trait, of course, but not when you use it to hide from your own emotions. Imagine you’re giving a presentation and all you can think of is, What are they thinking? Am I doing it right? Isn’t it too boring? Am I offending anyone? When you try to get into other people’s heads, you usually fail to ground yourself in your own body.
As I mentioned in my previous piece, fighting or suppressing your emotions can result in either of two seemingly opposite outcomes:
- Your emotions become too controlled. Your voice lacks overall expressiveness, and you sound flat, impersonal, or insincere.
- You find that it grows even harder to regulate your emotions. They go into overdrive easily—and always sound through your voice.
Both of these outcomes indicate a failure to regulate your emotions. Oddly enough, the solution to both problems is the same: Stop resisting. Take a couple of deep breaths, close your eyes, and take a look inside. Allow yourself to feel what’s going on. What do your bodily sensations tell you? Learn to welcome and accept all emotions, positive as well as negative. Sit with them for a moment.
By processing emotional content internally, the things that need to come to the surface get attention from you alone first. Only once you have felt your emotions can you hope to regulate them. You may discover, for example, that your effort to anticipate what other people will think of your speech actually stems from your own fear of failure—not from anything that anyone else thinks of you. When you address such a personal emotion first, you won’t pay excess attention to others. Only once you start practicing these moments of introspection will you be able to get a grip on the intensity that sounds through your voice.
Over time, if you make a concerted effort to thoroughly process emotions within yourself, those of you who were too controlled will learn to connect with emotions that you used to suppress before. You will begin to speak from the heart and become more expressive and livelier as a speaker. As for those of you whose emotions had been in overdrive, over time, you will develop the ability to allow the right amount of emotional expression into your communication. You will come to feel comfortable with those feelings, thereby empowering yourself to get your message across in a purposeful manner. In other words, you will learn to express your emotions as you wish.
I must offer one caveat: when you start accepting your emotions, their impact may at first grow worse. When you’re used to fighting or suppressing them, allowing yourself to feel what you feel can be overwhelming. When this happens, hang in there: they will become manageable eventually if you learn to welcome and observe them.
Connect Compassionately to Yourself
→ Intellectual OE
Intellectually overexcitable people are sometimes told they come across as intimidating or even judgmental. This is another impression that springs from vulnerability in the voice.
The first question to ask here is whether there is some kind of judgment going on that’s seeping out through your voice in ways you don’t intend. If so, at whom is that judgment truly directed: the other person or yourself?
According to Marshall Rosenberg’s method of nonviolent communication, “self-judgments, like all judgments, are tragic expressions of unmet needs […]. We are compassionate with ourselves when we are able to embrace all parts of ourselves and recognize the needs and values expressed by each part.” 1
Essentially, nonviolent communication can be boiled down to four questions, asked of yourself or another person:
- What am I observing?
- What am I feeling?
- What am I needing, or what need of mine is not being met?
- Following that need, do I have a request for myself or someone else?
When you experience an internal conflict, turn your attention inwards and ask yourself the questions above. Through this practice, your thoughts will become less critical; you will grow more likely to accept your own emotions. Consequently, you are less likely to judge yourself. And that will show in your voice.What about those times you really are judging others? In those cases, I suggest digging deeply into the reasons for that judgment. As a highly excitable person, you might need a reminder that not everybody is as intense, sensitive, fast thinking, and complex as you are. Other people will therefore draw different conclusions and make different choices in life than you do. Experiencing life so differently from the majority may make you feel annoyed, lonely, or detached. And that’s the fuel for judgment.
These feelings, therefore, may point toward your own unmet needs. What exactly is it that you seek from the people you judge? Acceptance? Consideration? Empathy? Reassurance? Understanding? If you find a way to communicate your needs instead of the judgment, you are much more likely to connect with others based on the things we all share.
When you become less judgmental of yourself and others, your voice won’t sound so intimidating anymore. You will communicate with more respect and understanding for others and create space for dialogue. And with luck, they won’t think of you as a know-it-all!
Breathing consciously, accepting emotions, and connecting compassionately to yourself are techniques that can help you regulate your emotions before they seep into your speech, thereby transforming your voice from a weakness into a strength. In the next issue of Third Factor, I will talk about how the mind affects your voice, with tips that are especially relevant for those with imaginational and intellectual OE.
1 M.B. Rosenberg (2015) Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Encinitas: PuddleDancer Press (page 132-135)