Hey, how are you? So, this blog is titled “The consequences of keeping your mouth shut”. And this is going to be an exploration into the world of “vocal shut down” - especially in relationships, and what happens when we stop saying how we feel. I will say from the outset, this is a pretty personal topic for me. I've spent a lot of time bypassing hard and negative emotions and suppressing anger. And so I'm really fascinated by the process of learning to speak how you feel and get it all out, and I've really observed in my own body and in my clients the consequences of keeping your mouth shut, when we've got all kinds of feelings happening down in our belly and in our chest.
Before we go any further - watch the Youtube channel or read the blog below. Enjoy!
So how does it work? I'm going to explore some of the patterns and symptoms that I've observed in myself and in my clients around vocal shutdown.
One of the things that's kind of incredible about this is how much tension we can develop in our jaw, especially in relation to vocal shutdown. You can even see the physical movement of a person’s jaw can become restricted - it’s subtle - and therefore just how much internal control is being unconsciously exercised over self-expression. You could almost say the jaw is wired shut. And because this has been going on for one's whole life we frequently don't even notice it.
And so when we get negatively triggered, the suppression patterns get activated and it’s really hard to get words out. The jaw is just one of the places that tension patterns happen.
Most people that I work with feel physical constriction or activation in their throat when they get triggered. And so when the need to speak out arises they will then feel quite a lot of activation and closing in their throat. Some people would call that the Throat Chakra, others would just refer to the musculature and nervous system around the throat. Tomato Tomato. So the throat area and vocal system is wired into the Vagus nerve, which in this case is what we’d call ‘dis-regulated’, and the musculature contracts and thus the voice blocks and closes.
So as a fear or anger response is felt in the body, BAM! The the silencing survival strategy switches on and we close our voice.
And there are many other important things happening simultaneously, so you might feel beating in the chest, and either heat or cold, depending on what's going on with you. And you might have fireworks or serious activation in the solar plexus and / or belly. And it's really, really useful to get to know exactly what flavors of activation are happening in the body, so it's not just happening at a mental level. Because you could say those feelings are essentially stuck in the body until they are felt, met, healed, recognised and so on.
Now, in my experience, what happens is that when I don't express myself in the moment, there's something quite significant happening in my body at the same time. I might go into what you might call a freeze. You know, I remember being in a work situation maybe 20 years ago, and a client shouted at me and my body just went into a freeze. And they were shouting, and I was frozen, and that’s what happened and I kept my mouth shut. Or rather, I didn't really have a choice because my body froze.
And then of course in the days that followed all the words were there, the rebuttals and argument, or the boundary saying “you can’t speak to me like that” - all the words were cycling and cycling and cycling around my head, a looping inner dialogue. And simultaneously with that – although I wasn't so conscious of it at the time – were some pretty horrible feelings trapped in my body.
And so when we don't express ourselves, when we don't complete the survival response of defending ourselves, of saying what needs to be said, we can get stuck with these bad feelings and looping conversations. And they create toxic, really nasty feelings in the body, like a wired Solar Plexus, a repeating feeling of anxiousness, resentment and anger that can't get out, that can't extinguish itself.
And I think that the result of this can be a bath of pretty negative chemicals in the body and - that we're learning that this causes disease, and definitely does not feel good. And ultimately, I think what happens is that as this stuff stays inside, it begins to turn inwards, on us, so while it might initially have happened in relation to somebody else, but wasn't expressed, then it starts to turn on us and we start to blame ourselves, and at some level feel useless and feel damaged.
And then we can end up with these loops of internal dialogues where we're blaming and argue with other people, but simultaneously, we're also really blaming ourselves for this. So the whole system starts spiraling downwards. And, yeah, that's pretty hard for us.
From another perspective, you could say that what happens when we keep our mouth shut is that an internal split can then develop in us, where we're seeming completely rational and normal on the top side – that's the world-facing side – but down inside us we have internal dissonance where unfelt, heavy emotions are playing out. So the head is saying one thing but the body is saying “no no no, make it stop” or “no I don't feel okay with that!”. But that's not coming out. We've kept our mouths shut, and so all of the NO’s, and “I disagree with you”s are actually trapped in our body. We hardwire these patterns of not being able to find our no, and it becomes normal to not–express, and it becomes normal to have this dissonance where I seem completely reasonable on the top, but in my body there are fireworks going on.
And my observation with this is that when people shut down their voices, then there's this bath of negativity and unexpressed stuff sitting in their being, I believe people can get sick. It might be headaches and migraines, and all kinds of different forms of shutdown, including lying in bed and potentially depression, because it's just stuck it's stuck in the body and it can't move.
Around 10 years ago, a study presented at the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s International Congress on Women’s Health, a study that was written up in the online version of a major North American medical journal called Circulation, showed that women — over a 10-year period, they followed 1,700 women — over a 10-year period, women who were unhappily married and didn’t express their emotions were four times as likely to die as those women who were unhappily married and did express their feelings. In other words, the non-expression of emotion was associated with a 400 percent increase in the death rate. And this study was done in the US, part of a major population study.
That’s incredible. So keeping your mouth shut could have very serious consequences.
And many people will have a vocal pattern of a lot of shut-down, followed by large outbursts. Long cycles of suppression and shut down, with infrequent raging outbursts which can feel a bit like bile and vomit all coming out at the same time. And that can have a strange result, which is on one hand relief at getting it out, but on the other hand, is rarely received, so can lead to alienation from the person raged at, and some level of shame at having been ‘too much’.
And obviously, on the one hand it's so important to get the stuff out. But the more one has been suppressing in between those outbursts, the more violent the outburst will likely be. Add in a trauma history, and a listener or receiver who is terrified of anger, and you have a recipe for pain. I think this pattern is a conversation for another time.
I just want to focus on the shutdown for then moment. And what I'm encouraging here is a conversation – I haven’t got this all worked out, and I’d love you to share your experiences. Mail me, or comment below. I think we’re all working this out together.
A huge component in all of this is listening and the listener too. Can we create safe spaces for speaking and listening… to get how we feel? So while we’re learning to speak authentically and bravely what's really going on inside us, most of us could also become much healthier listeners. And so learning to really sit and let people speak – let them completely speak without attaching to all of their words, or fixing them or helping them - really just hearing and allowing all the words and feelings to come out.
I think an old pattern of mine was to be very literal with what people said so if they said a whole lot of things in the heat of an argument, I would believe that they felt all of those things - every single one. A big learning for me has been to let my partner get all of the words out, encourage her, and not be fixed or attach to them. So, you know, in this case, letting her just say it all, even the most difficult or even inaccurate or mean things. I came to understand that some people have to speak a whole lot of things out to understand how they feel. And while we want to avoid verbally abusive patterns, perhaps there's deep potential healing and clearing in sharing venting with each other.
But it might need some new rules... learning to speak more truthfully but kindly, but also learning to really listen. I think listening skills would be a whole chapter of its own.
So yeah – today I just wanted to share this, and and share a conversation: I'd love you to let me know where this lands with you. And just to say that, you know, we're not alone in this world working this stuff out together.
And this space is one where we're learning how to speak, and speak timeously, and speak kindly but speak really truthfully, and get stuff out, and get over it. Because gosh human life is a messy affair.
And to finish off, I think this conversation is important – I’ve been coming to the conclusion over time that it might be very difficult – if not impossible to be in healthy relationships, if we don't speak what's going on inside us. When we just can't clear stuff up, and we can't have boundaries, I think it's almost impossible to feel safe with other human beings. Unless we can speak how we really feel and what's okay for us and what's not, it’s going to be tough to truly connect with anyone. So let's just keep exploring this together. I repeat, I’m learning this stuff too. Thank you for sharing this time together. I hope you find some of this useful and if you like, let me know how this landed for you.