Finding the words...

During a recent session with a student we began to talk about what it was like to engage with the world as someone who is shy. Our voices are often so quiet that others may ask us to speak up. Our voices are so soft that others may talk over us. Often we have a ton of things to say but can't formulate them effectively.

Sometimes this fast paced world doesn't seem to have time for a shy speaker. Our opinions and thoughts seem discounted because we can't express them rapidly enough. Our intelligence and sensitivity may, on occasion, not be apparent because we cannot communicate in ways others readily accept or expect.

Even after twenty years of working with shy singers to find their voices, I have moments when I experience an inability to communicate verbally.

Occasionally it's when I'm asked a question that seems like it should have a clear easy 'yes' or 'no' answer, at least in the mind of the questioner.   But to me there might be many aspects to the issue and I cannot find a simple way to respond. This moment will also be full of tension, as in the past I had a bully of a boss who demanded a reply immediately upon asking a question, he was also a side-swiper and would ask questions in a certain way in order to manipulate the answer. So now, on occasions when the answer to a question requires more thought, I will feel stymied and unable to respond in any intelligent way. I've had to work on identifying those moments, encouraging myself to say: 'just a sec, I need a minute to think about this'.

But I truly get speechless when something really matters to me. I've talked to some of my students about this and found that they have a similar experience. It's almost like being a child before language is learned. It's visceral. It's a moment when I feel rather than think. I almost wish I could choose a colour of paint to throw on the wall. There's too much emotional sensation, too much tension. It rises up and chokes the throat.

If one has an understanding listener, they may help identify the moment by gently saying 'relax, take your time'. If not, I will sometimes give a pat answer that makes little sense or even is not always true, because I felt inwardly that the safest option was to respond with something other than silence. It's hard to look at this and know that somewhere along the line, listening to your own internal voice and making choices for yourself became too dangerous. That's why even as an adult, a shy person may not be able to instantly respond to what appears to be a simple question. Logically, they may understand they are safe, that they have the right to speak their truth and be heard. But emotionally, they may still struggle to speak.

For me I think the way to work on this issue is to become aware of the programmed response, identifying it when possible and asking, with dignity, for time to reply. Sometimes the realization will not occur until after the event, but I can look back and see what happened, and check in with myself in future when I start to feel that first sense of uncomfortableness, asking myself, 'do I need more time or a little space right now'. I want to respect the desire of the other person to communicate. I want to open to them and show them who I am. I don't want to shy away from that connection. But I have to build that bridge through awareness and positive self-talk.

I thank those who are patient and loving enough to wait for me to find the words x