I’m 53-years-old and I’ve been speaking since a normal age which means I’ve had a voice for a solid half-decade.
That speaking voice came pre-loaded with some genetic qualities: it’s on the deeper side for a woman and I can put good volume behind it when needed. When I make a statement, the tone communicates confidence. When I ask a question, my lilt often sounds more like a declaration than an enquiry (for better or worse, usually for worse).
And then there are the elements of my voice that were learned growing up with a religiously and sexually conservative American mother and an emotionally and politically conservative Anglo-Quebecker father in a Podunk town in rural Quebec.
That second voice, the way we express ourselves, is the one I want to write about today. And as you’re reading please evoke Cate Blanchett or Oprah Winfrey’s deep and authoritative narration voice to give my words the utmost credibility.
Moderating your voice is an act of self-preservation
Although the types of conservatism that influence what’s okay to talk about and what gets shut-down differ from family-to-family, and what’s safe and what’s dangerous to discuss differ from community-to-community, almost all of us have a voice that, at some point in our lives, we did our damnedest to subdue.
Because we couldn’t afford to upset, offend or drive away the people we counted on for our survival and well-being, we learned to moderate not only our tone, but our words as well as our ideas and opinions.
Eventually, all that moderation starts to look and feel like whole lot of forgettable; you and your voice become just one more white shirt in a sea of colorless costumes, hiding your naked truth to protect your soft center.
But all that hiding and protecting has been keeping millions of people from starting or joining conversations that we as a world culture desperately need to be engaged in. Conversations about every topic under the sun. The voices that have been dominating many of the most important cultural, business, political, religious conversations seriously lack in diversity.
That is why your authentic voice is needed. And why your protective inner voice needs a good talking to.
Has your authentic voice been overpowered by a protective inner voice?
We all have inner voices. Sometimes they whisper, “Oh, I don’t think you should say that,” like when you consider telling your partner that their clothing choice for the evening isn’t flattering. Sometimes they shout, “Are you insane? Don’t say that!” like when you desperately want to tell your boss what you think of the office’s new dress code policy to reduce sexual harassment in the workplace.
In those situations — needing to keep the peace at home or keep a paycheck — you can be forgiven for having subdued your knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, values, opinions, and/or worldview.
But listening to that protective inner voice is a learned behavior that most of us apply to all situations where our voice might anger someone, offend someone or drive someone away — even when our actual well-being is not, or is no longer, at-risk.
And dammit, that’s when your badass voice is needed most!
How to quiet your protective inner voice
In my day job, I interact with up to a hundred authors each week. Authors are infamous for having articulate and authoritative inner voices. Sometimes they’re helpful, like when they tell us how a character could get away with murder, but sometimes they’re not. That second voice is the kind we all need to learn how to quiet, whether we’re writing or speaking up to be an engaged citizen of the world.
Some people can personify their inner voice, saying it sounds like their Grade 10 English teacher or a judgemental relative, for instance. Others among us just have a voice, fully disembodied with no clear sense of where it came from. But why it’s there is the same in all cases: to protect us.
Trying to cast your inner voice out is usually not effective because a) it’s part of you and b) it’s raison d’être is to be helpful. The problem isn’t that you have it, it’s that nobody told it that some or all of the situations it used to protect you from are no longer a threat.
So, to quiet your misguided inner voice when you have something you want or need to say and it’s telling you to keep your damn ideas to yourself, your best strategy is to engage with it. Have a conversation.
Literally, start a dialogue with your inner voice.
First, get off to a good start and thank it for being so helpful, having protected you for all the years it’s been giving you advice. Really. Do this. Say it out loud so you can easily distinguish your intentional voice from your inner voice.
“Hey Protective Inner Voice, I am so grateful that you helped me wisely choose who I should share my new-fangled ideas about saving the environment when I was a teenager. Dad did not want to hear those ideas and you were smart enough to let me know. I really appreciate you.”
Next, explain what it is that you want to say now and why it’s important for you to share your knowledge, belief, attitude, opinion, or worldview in this specific situation.
In the last decade, I’ve developed some seriously strong opinions about the unhealthy way that sex, religion and politics have been woven together to suppress women’s equality and pleasure. And you’ve been so great at warning me that talking about these things will upset a lot of people. Thanks for those reality checks, I appreciate it.
Then, let your protective inner voice know that you’re not running off like a wild child, intent on blowing up your life.
But, I’m in a place now where my well-being will not be put in danger if I speak up and speak out. I have a supportive community of people standing with me. My new husband supports me. Trolls? Nah, they’re just background noise, they aren’t a real threat, I promise — all bark and no bite.
Finally, let your inner voice know that you’re not kicking it to the curb, because if it gets a whiff of all-out rejection you can bet your badass it will come at you like a screaming banshee.
So I’d like you to trust me while I’m working on my next story. I promise that once I have an edited draft I’ll let you have a look and share your thoughts, but I’m not promising that I’ll implement them. I want to be clear that I love having you as my navigator, but I’m in the driver’s seat.
What do you say? Will you give me the morning to write this piece without worrying about me?
Once you’ve had a few conversations about using your voice to talk or write about topics that felt risky at first but proved not to have posed any actual threat to your well-being, your protective inner voice will quiet down in those situations. It’s a teachable monkey brain.
But be aware that it might get bored once you’ve proven how safe it is to speak or write about the topics we’re not supposed to speak or write about. It still wants to be useful so make sure to give it a challenge every now and then by considering doing something stupidass…
Hey, Protective Inner Voice, so, I was thinking about writing a book about being a senior citizen call girl and going deep to experience the life so I can write with authority. What do you think?
Thanks for reading! If you want to read the stories that required the longest conversations with my Protective Inner Voice, these are the top two.