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... a few words about music.

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"Healing the Wounded Voice"
October 7, 2020

Voices as instruments of harmony, expression, self-expression can be wounded in ways other than physical injuries or medical conditions.  We could call this problem “vocal suppression.”  And it too needs healing.  Here are some of the ways this can happen.


·      Being shamed or mocked, especially as young children, has a profound effect that can last a lifetime if not seen for what it is, and shifted into a more positive self-loving frame.  “Johnny, your voice sticks out like a sore thumb. Go stand at the back and just mouth the words.”  “Cara, your squeaky little voice is annoying! Shut up!”  “Would you stop that tuneless humming in the car? It’s driving me crazy!”  These are all examples taken from the lives of people I’ve worked with.  Have you heard something similar?


·      People who’ve been traumatized by sexual or physical abuse.  Even if the physical voice hasn’t been damaged, the energetic voice has , through holding back shame and other peoples’ secrets.  If there’s something I must not tell, my voice can’t open up fully for other purposes too.  Sometimes the memories themselves are repressed, but the body has already learned its autopilot way of keeping the lid on, including when there are triggers.  Meanwhile, the energetic damage can eventually lead to physical damage too, through poor self-care.  


·      The positive side is that we all have a natural penchant to solve problems.  A spirit that’s been held in, wants OUT.


·      Another form of vocal suppression is how for generations women were socialized to express themselves in artificially high (little-girl) or breathy tones in order to not seem threatening.  The knee-jerk characterization of assertive women as aggressive, when compared with men doing or saying the same things, has come back into the limelight lately.  “She’s strident.”  “She’s pushy.”  “She’s annoying.” (There’s that word again.)  With more direct communication frowned upon, women learned, often simply by osmosis, to sugar-coat their content by diluting the sound they used to express it, the subliminal message being, “I’m saying this, but I’m not really saying it.” This is one of a sad set of passive-aggressive coping techniques (not to either sugar-coat the observation or suggest blame) that women learned in order to manage.


·      The counterpoint.  The ’80s began to change this, though the first steps in a revolution often need to be revisited for nuance.  Many women in the corporate world started dressing like men, right down to ties and shoulder pads, and began using their voices more assertively along with that.  But just as dressing like men wasn’t the real solution for women-as-whole-women, pushing the female speaking voice down into a baritonal range just creates results known in the singers’ and professional speakers’ world as a depressed larynx, and/or vocal fry.  You can still hear it in the broadcasts of certain otherwise highly accomplished newswomen.


Over 20 years ago, I began offering a workshop called “Healing the Wounded Voice.”  Participants often told me it was life-changing for them.  And the first time I taught it, I discovered something that surprised me then: the people whose voices had been silenced by criticism of a teacher, classmate, older sibling, parent, expressed as much pain about letting their voices be heard as the trauma survivors who’d been physically/sexually abused.  Shaming goes that deep.


I’ve been urged by several people to offer that workshop again, and plan to do it online sometime later this month (October 2020).  Please contact me if you’re interested in learning more, or want to reserve a spot.



Important:  There are medical issues a workshop like this can’t address: for example, GERD (chronic acid reflux); spasmodic dysphonia (a.k.a. “shaky voice”); injury to or inflammation of the vocal folds requiring vocal rest or surgery (pop singer-songwriter Adele and operatic coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay are well-publicized examples).  But sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly where a singing issue is coming from, and if just a change of habits is needed.  Beginning to explore it may help clarify whether someone ought to consult a medical specialist before going into voice training. A future blog will take up this subject.


How’s your relationship to your voice?  If you resonated with last week’s blog about “The Voice” and separating from our self-criticism, this workshop, or the “Finding Your Voice” workshop, might be good next steps.


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©Danielle Woerner 2020