There are a lot of reasons why communication & self expression goes sideways. But, there’s one challenges in particular that will effect everything from the way you sound, to the words you say, to your very ability to speak. This challenge lies at the root of those messy & embarrassing moments where we couldn’t speak up, said too much, become hyper-sensitive, withdrawn, or even belligerent.
What is it?
When our animal body senses threat it takes us out of our window of tolerance & into a survival state (fight, flight, fawn, freeze, collapse). This instinctual (& unconscious) shift inhibits access to the pre-frontal cortex & social engagement system - limiting our ability to reason & connect. This means that in these states you literally lose connection to those internal mechanisms that allows you to listen, understand, learn, & in some cases lose access to the physical mechanisms required to speak.
So what does a lack of safety look like?
Here are a few examples.
Your boss offers you feedback about your work. Though, she is clear & respectful in her words you find yourself getting defensive & speaking in sharp, short, & slightly passive aggressive phrases.
You’re at family dinner & your brother makes some off hand remark. It’s a perhaps a bit rude, but you take it as san attack. Before you know, it you've stormed off to bathroom overcome by emotion.
You’re in a meeting at work. You know your stuff & came prepared… but when a colleague, the one who seems to rub you the wrong way, asks you an affronting question your mind goes blank, your throat closes up, & all you can do is stare like deer in the headlights.
You love the idea of singing & envy those people who seem to express themselves so freely. Yet, when the opportunity arises to sing with a group you become instantly paranoid & uncomfortable. Your inner critic starts spinning on thoughts like “they’re judging me” or “Oh God that sounds awful.”
At a party a friend makes an off-hand remark about your work. In your mind you jump into the story of how she is so disrespectful & doesn’t care about you. But, instead of talking it out with her you begin avoiding her - ignoring her calls & texts.
In every one of these examples there is a feeling of being threatened (i.e. safety breach) resulting in a less than optimal way of communicating. When it comes down to it being able to express yourself with clarity & freedom requires a sense of safety. If you don’t feel safe it can be impossible to say what you mean, listen to others, or experience freedom & joy in self expression.
Of course, as humans there is no way you will always feel 100% safe. Depending on your history, experiences, conditioning, & possible trauma the ability to sense safety in various situations can be complex. What you can do, however, is learn to recognize when your sense of safety has been breached & help your nervous system regulate. As you learn to do this more effectively you expand your window of tolerance, cultivate resilience in your system, & discover greater ease in dealing with the inevitable challenges that come with self expression.
Here are three simple steps to get you started.
Step One: Recognize.
To recognize is to be become fully present to the moment. Start by orienting to your body & senses. Slowly look around the space. If possible notice your sensations & breath. A key to recognition is to both acknowledge where you are at emotionally, mentally, & physically & to give yourself permission to be there.
When you recognize that your heart is beating fast, you've become defensive, you've gone blank, your mind is spinning, or you've shut down... then you know that this challenge is at least partially about safety.
Step Two: Resource.
When you recognize that there is a sense of being threatened slow down & begin to resource. Do this by bringing your attention to something in the space or in yourself that feels safe & steady.
There are many ways you can resource. In an uncomfortable meeting you may sense into your friend/ colleague who's in the room & who you know has your back. In a heated argument you might pause to take some deep breaths or physiological sighs. Something I do, when I feel anxious or insecure, is bring my awareness to the steadiness in my sacrum or lower spine. Not sure why, but connecting to this spot almost always calms me down.
Fully engage with the process with permission & attention. Trying to 'speed up' the process can actually make it take longer to regulate. You might remind yourself "This will pass is in its time."
Step 3: Respond
As you begin to feel more present & safe you will be in a far better state to respond to the situation. This may happen in the moment (when you get really good at it) or it might happen after the fact. That's okay! Re-establishing safety often takes time & repairing or addressing a situation after the fact (when you're more calm) will also help you build your capacity for honest self expression.
The Power of the Animal Body
Our body and nervous system is developed with an incredible intelligence. There are survival mechanisms built into our system to help us fend off danger and survive. The challenge is that sometimes these activated or collapsed states happen in situations that do not garner their intensity.
And… there are incredibly ways to build this capacity in the system & increasing our ability to regulate the nervous system & access our voice, our words, & our free expression. Embodiment, singing, & somatic experiencing techniques can help us not only increase our resilience but access voices & internal strength you didn’t even know you had.
Check out these related blogs & learn more about regulating your system to express yourself freely!
Psst. I will soon be unveiling Embodied Voice: Re-Wild ~ a deep an immersive experience into your voices of primal body & wild dynamic spirit. Be the first to learn about it by emailing me now at email@example.com
About the Author Amy Thiessen is a coach, writer, & musician who focuses on helping others find & express a their voice with resonance. Her unique approach works with the wholistic mechanism of voice utilizing somatic awareness, psychology, mindfulness, spiritual practice, & vocal techniques of toning & song.
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