How a Somatic Trauma Informed Approach Helps You Gain More Confidence in Your Authentic Voice


(*Rise Together Live includes discussion about the topic that might not be in the blog)


When I first met *Emily I noticed that her voice was timid & quiet. She spoke with a subtle shakiness & her pitch was confined in a higher range.


It was clear from the beginning that Emily had a highly sensitive & compassionate spirit. As I got to know & sing with her she shared that there was 'a lot of tightness' in her throat & she would often need to stop singing even as others continued on. Her challenges with voice didn't stop there. She shared that it was very difficult for her to deal with conflict or strong temperaments & that she often became hyper sensitive or nervous in situations (especially social ones) even though her rational mind knew she was safe. Like in singing her throat would tighten & she would default to remaining quiet~ often engaging in ways that would 'keep the peace' such as people pleasing or attuning to everyone else's needs.


In these early sessions it became apparent that there was more to Emily's challenges then just using her voice...


What is Trauma?

Peter Levine (Pioneer in Trauma Based Therapy) describes trauma as that which ‘happens when the organism is strained beyond its adaptational capacity to regulate states of arousal. The (traumatized) nervous system disorganizes, breaks down, & cannot reset itself. This manifests in global fixation, in fundamental loss in the rhythmic capacity to self-regulate arousal, to orient, to be present in the flow of life”


To simplify trauma is like an ‘injury” whereby the nervous system has become fractured or unable to naturally regulate. Because of this the individual becomes stuck or easily triggered into overwhelm, freezing up, or overloaded. These strong physiological reactions are generally inconsistent with the situation at hand.


Trauma exists on spectrums of both severity & in effect ~ from intense or life threatening experiences that cause PTSD, to physical injuries, developmental trauma, &/or experiences in life that prevent the natural discharge or expression of states of arousal.


What does Trauma Have To Do With Voice?

I learned that as a child Emily was not allowed to express anger or emotion & that doing so could incur rage from her caretaker. To adapt, her system became accustomed to hyper-vigilance & 'freeze response' whereby she would dissociate from her experience. Her physiology adopted the patterns of these states ~ tight & constricted belly & diaphragm (limiting access to breath & vocal volume), shoulder tension, constriction in her throat & sensitive attunement to details in her volatile environment.


Even years after Emily had left her childhood home her voice & expression was still impacted by the physiological feedback loops imprinted in her system. (i.e. belly & throat construction limits access to breath > limiting vocal volume > limiting the development of vocal chords > creating a meek voice > which in turn causes insecurity > leading to more constriction > the loop begins again)


Clear communication & dynamic vocal quality rely on a regulated nervous system. When this system is in a protective response (fight/flight/freeze) we become limited in our physical capacity to vocalize & lose access to the rational & creative capacities of our mind.


What does this look like?

Trauma is not the cause of every problem & there are legitimate medical, psychological, & biological reasons for various symptoms & challenges. However… trauma or unprocessed experiences can create a variety of symptoms that limit our access to a full voice & resourceful communication. As you read through these consider how each symptom might impact one's ability to express.


Physiological

  • Dizziness

  • Lethargy

  • Nausea

  • Panic attacks

  • Light/Sound sensitivity

Interpersonal

  • People pleasing

  • An sense of feeling responsible for everything

  • Feeling separate form others & the world

  • Taking things personally early

  • Fear of being alone or fear of being with others

  • Inability to connect with others

  • Becoming enmeshed with others.

Mental

  • Excessive, worrying, anxiety, perfectionism

  • Memory gaps

  • Intrusive thoughts/imagery

  • Inability to focus

  • Fragmented

Emotional

  • Hyper-vigilant

  • Overwhelm

  • Sense of terror (with no actual danger present)

  • Shame, Guilt, Worthlessness

So What does a Somatic Trauma Informed Approach Look Like ?

To be trauma informed is to recognize that anyone might have trauma in their background & to thus meet each person (& ourselves) with care & attention. Basically, it's the willingness to provide a safe space for ourselves (& others) where vulnerabilities & even 'undesirable' behaviours (i.e. critical self talk) are accepted as they arise with presence & curiosity.


This might include;

  • Creating a place of safety & self acceptance

  • Recognizing that our behaviours (i.e. inability to speak up or lashing out) signal that something in our system needs attention & does not imply that we are bad or deserve punishment.

  • Learning to meet our physiological states & discovering the subtle cues that a defensive fight/flight/freeze response is occurring.

  • Weaving permission & compassion into the way we approach ourselves & each other.


A Somatic Approach Takes to Voice

Our environment, certain scenarios, & even certain people may trigger a defensive nervous system response. In this state we may not have the resources to express ourself effectively. Even certain tones or qualities of voice can incur a strong response in the system.

For example someone like Emily might find that when she digs in & begins to use a lower tone that there is an increase of discomfort or unease (a common response in many of my clients).


The somatic approach offers a way to expand our system's resilience & organization by working slowly & giving it an opportunity to regulate at its own pace.


There are key components to this which include;

  • Orienting - Taking in the environment slowly

  • Permission - Allowing yourself to be where you are (even if that means permission to not want to be where you are)

  • Titration - Switching focus from that that which feels safe to the edge of that which feel constricted or difficult

  • Compassion - Offering compassion for whatever arises


Here are some examples of how this might work.

Developing comfort in singing & voice itself

  • Set an intention of permission ~ all sounds & silence are welcome

  • Orient - take in environment allowing a your neuroception to detect safety

  • Make a tone (a deep belly note, a sigh, a melody, a roar)

  • If there is a strong physical response (emotions, shaking, etc)

  • Pause, notice sensations in the system, & let them ripple through


When you want to speak up but go blank, throat tight, & frozen

  • When you notice tension in your system pause

  • Orient to the space - slowly look around & take in your environment

  • Give yourself permission to be there (remind yourself it will pass)

  • Bring attention & even subtle movement back into your core, feet & legs

  • Keep this connection to your body & allow it to move through at it's pace


When you’re in a conversation & start to become hyper emotional, angry, heated

  • Orient to the space - slowly look around & take in your environment

  • When you notice you’re starting to get worked up pause or take a break from the conversation

  • Let the heat, shaking, energy move through

  • Anchor your awareness on something that feels safe or resourceful


When you are on your own & spinning out in worry or anxiety

  • Orient to the space - slowly look around & take in your environment

  • Anchor in something that feels good or safe (i.e. bring attention to the pet you love or a really lovely plant, or even the softness of a blanket)

  • Spend time with that anchor

  • When you feel calmer you might bring attention to the area of your body that feels constricted.

  • Stay on the edges of that feeling & notice how it changes

  • If you become overwhelmed return to your anchor


Often the patterns we judge as negative around voice & communication (people pleasing, hyper sensitivity/responsibility, over-arching suit, extensive worry, irritability, tightness in throat, painful expression) are related to our physiology. Top down approaches like CBT, learning communication skills, singing scales are incredible tools (which I use regularly). However, sometimes these approached miss the physiological responses in our system that require a greater level of care & sensitivity. When we can meet those areas either by slowing down in our own practice, through the regulatory support of a skilled coach or somatic practitioner, or in trauma informed psychotherapies the physiological mechanisms that limit our expression can begin to dissolve & reveal a deeper, more authentic, & resonant expression of voice & communication.

* Name has been changed

* This blog does not replace professional advice from a psychologist, psychiatrist or medical professional.


About the Author

Amy Thiessen is an international teacher, coach, & musician who focuses on helping individuals connect to their confidence, purpose, & self esteem through voice & communication. As a student of Somatic Experiencing, lifelong vocalist, & yoga facilitator for almost 20 years Amy uses a holistic approach to help individuals uncover & overcome their unique blocks around voice & communication, connect to their self esteem & purpose, & ultimately express themselves in a way that is empowered & impactful.



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