Your voice as vulnerability ánd as strength

I coach voices. That is, people come and see me when they experience a problem with voice or communication. They find it difficult to make themselves heard or feel that they are not always being understood. They might have a hard time expressing themselves, or struggle with nervousness when they have to speak in front of a group. But often a request for help about the voice is not just about the voice. Your voice is kind of a barometer, and can be an indication for something that is out of balance in another area of your life.

I have now worked with approximately a hundred people and their voices, and that has given me the following insight. Although all people are unique and need a completely personal approach, the voice problems they encounter are fairly universal and often traceable to certain, personal qualities. Following  my experiences, I have developed a model that I base on the overexcitabilities from the Theory of Positive Disintegration.

According to Kazimierz Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration, the internal conflicts you experience are the gateway to personal growth. Because at those difficult moments you really feel what your own inner world is like, what this means for your personality and the way you want to live. It is a process that reveals what really matters to you. In this development the theory distinguishes several levels, which are influenced by various factors.

One of those factors is a hypersensitivity to stimuli. Everything you experience is processed by the brain in your central nervous system. This translates into your thoughts, feelings, emotions, fantasies, ideas, and so on. But one person reacts more strongly to stimuli than another. This hypersensitivity means in the first place that you process these stimuli more intensively and deeply. Dabrowski calls this the overexcitabilities (OE’s). He outlined five forms of OE, of which the first three in particular play a major role in self-development: emotional, intellectual, imaginational, psychomotor and sensual OE.

Intense stimulus processing is an internal experience, but obviously also reveals itself when you start relating to the outside world. The moment you experience (positive or negative) stress, OE can translate into all kinds of physical sensations: heart palpitations, flushing, headache, skin problems, sweating, digestive problems, cramped muscles, and so on.

Being part of the physical system, the human voice is pre-eminently one of the forms of expression in which OE’s can manifest themselves. This can be in the form of something that is bothering you, a vulnerability. But you can also transform that same characteristic into a strength, a talent. What could that look like?

Emotional overexcitability

People who recognize themselves in this OE, experience emotions as very intense, refined and complex. As a result, they often think about existential issues. They also strongly identify with other people’s emotions and there is a desire for deep connection with others. How is this expressed through the voice?

If you are emotionally empowered, you use your voice in a creative and expressive way to show your emotions. You speak from the heart and people are moved by your dynamic, emotional perception. In this respect you always consider the feelings of others, without ignoring yourself. You have a deep desire to show through your voice what you value.

In emotional vulnerability however, this OE can manifest in different forms. The balance either tips one way or the other. You might have trouble regulating your emotions, and you react to everything in overdrive. If you are angry, sad, nervous or you feel uncomfortable you find it difficult to mask this, and it always sounds through in your voice.

The other possibility is that you regulate your emotions quite well and keep them under control, maybe a little too well. Because of this you give the impressions of being flat, cold, impersonal or insincere. While in fact you are anything but flat and cold! You just don’t show the intensity of your inner world. Doing so makes you feel uncomfortable, because as a child you have often learned not to show that intensity.

In communication, it is also possible that you are too busy reading and considering the emotions of others. What are they thinking? Am I doing it right? Isn’t it too boring? Am I offending anyone? Consequently, you are less present in your body and not firmly grounded, and then your voice loses strength and engagement.

Imaginational overexcitability

These people are extremely capable of visualizing, imagining what something could be like. They have a talent for art, drama, poetry or a preference for fantasy, fiction and simulation. They are creative, drawn to many different ideas and they may think in images. Their inner, visualized world is often leading for their expression.

The great thing about this is that if you are imaginational empowered, you can fully take others along with your imagination through your voice. Without losing contact with them! You are a master in inspiring enthusiasm in people. You can clearly and articulately express a future situation or a new idea that you visualize. You respond intuitively and find the right words naturally, without getting caught up by your thoughts.

In imaginational vulnerability, you are carried away too much by all those different thoughts, which take you in all kinds of directions. Under tension this can lead to the outburst of unexpected, abrupt statements. You take big mental leaps and you skip from one subject to the other. To keep up with yourself, you start talking fast and unclear and don’t complete your sentences. Because of this, you lose contact with the other person who may have a hard time following or understanding you. You find it difficult to distinct primary and secondary issues. Perhaps you yourself no longer know exactly what you actually wanted to say…and you lose your train of thought.

Intellectual overexcitability

These people typically think deep about different things, also on an abstract and conceptual levels. Because they have a talent for thinking in subject-object, they are very self-conscious. They want to know exactly how everything works and absorb all kinds of knowledge. And they like to go to the root of things. They have rapid streams of thought and tend to rationalize or intellectualize.

If you are intellectually empowered, your voice is a wonderful means to express your message in an engaged, inspired way. You know what you are talking about, so you speak with conviction and a sense of authority. You owe it to your self-consciousness that you formulate precisely, calmly and clearly, with respect and understanding for others and space for dialogue. You won’t easily jump to conclusions or raise your voice.

In vulnerability, this OE has two sides of the same coin too. Because you are constantly analyzing everything, on the one hand you may tend to doubt yourself and the things you say. Is it correct what I am claiming? Is it the absolute truth? This will make you look indecisive and reluctant.

On the other hand, intellectual OE can make you belief that your conviction is the only truth, leaving no space for the opinions of others. People may find that you come across as pedantic or a know-it-all.

But irrespective of the prevailing characteristic, in both cases you are too concerned with the content of your message, at the expense of the delivery. Because of this, you are unable to move people. Maybe it’s your self-consciousness that inhibits your enthusiasm? If strongly-felt engagement is part of you, feel free to show it!

In either case, my work with the voice affects someone’s personal inner world and emotional development. A voice problem can be a symptom of an inner conflict: an invitation to face a part from yourself that you’re turning down, or to start living according to your own values.

In the coaching program ‘Voice, awareness and personal growth’ we take your request for help on the voice level as a starting point, but we put this in the broad context of your personal, emotional development. If you really want to change something about the way you speak, is it at least important to consider your emotions in this process. In addition to voice training, this program provides extra time and space for in-depth reflections on your feelings, talents, conflicts, beliefs, values, wishes, and whatever else comes up for discussion.

Would you like to know more about the overexcitabilities, and how you can learn to regulate them? Download my free eBook: 7 tips to empower your voice – on a deeper level.

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VOICE: A Multifaceted Approach to Self-Growth and Vocal Empowerment