The Covid-19 Coronavirus will go down in history as being a global pandemic that stopped the world – so to speak. If you watch the news, or read the papers, you could be forgiven for forgetting that there is actually anything else at all going on. However as the media machine rubs it’s hands together and relishes the attention, it’s blatant sensationalism is overshadowing many other important health issues and one particular lifestyle pandemic that has been building in our global society for centuries. But this one, nobody wants to talk about….
Recently in a voice lesson, a client asked me why his voice sounded weak and hollow when he sung a particular passage of a song. I asked him how he felt when he was singing. He told me in his own words that he couldn’t feel his voice in his body. I agreed with him, that he had lost his oomph! I shared that I suspected he was ‘holding back his expression’ and this is what was making his voice weak and hollow.
In technical terms he was just singing in falsetto, but energetically there was much more going on. My client was curious about my comment. I explained to him that holding back our expression is one of the most common and devastating habits that we develop. To really look at how this happens we need to take some big steps back and consider what’s really going on.
I asked my client to cast his mind back to when he was really little. One, two, three, four years old - maybe up to five. I asked him what was the difference in the way he expressed himself back then, and how he does now? ...aside from the obvious, like he has more sophisticated words. I asked him how he moved, what were his gestures like, how free was his body and his voice. I also asked him how honest and expressive he was with other people about his feelings.
When we are really little, we don’t hesitate to express ourselves fully, we know we are amazing and we express ourselves without hesitation or self-consciousness. In simple terms we express ourselves from our whole body; we don't hold back and we don't overthink things. We have an impulse and we express ourselves without question. However as we grow, we get the message from the world around us that it is not safe to express ourselves fully and with confidence, because we might ‘rock someone’s boat’. We can also sense that pretty much everyone is holding back and playing the game too, so it becomes normal. Over time we start to contract and curtail our expression to fit in and be accepted by others. After many years of this, the young boy who used to sing his song with freedom and express his sensitivity for all to see is not so free in his expression anymore. This is an absolutely travesty and has a devastating effect on his life, but because almost everyone experiences the same thing and forgets how it happens incrementally over time, it appears normal. I told my client that many boys opt for competitive sport rather than more creative or expressive interests because it's a way they can harden up and hide their real feelings and it's also very acceptable by society’s standards to do so.
Unfortunately many young boys start losing their ability to express their true feelings from a very young age. Even though they can feel that it is natural to do so, they largely choose to hold back, putting a massive strain on their mental health and their body, all because they can already feel that they won’t be confirmed or accepted in their sensitivity by the world around them.
So from their point of view, it’s safer to harden up and hide how they feel. I have watched young boys do this many times, they look around at their friends and consider the ribbing they would get from expressing their feelings and this is just too much to bear, so most remain silent or deny.
This begs a few questions:
When is it ok for a boy to show his true feelings?
And at what age do we as a society say he has to turn them off?
Is it at 1 when he senses his dad doesn’t honour or express his own sensitivity?
Is it at 3 when his mum keeps powering on with work even though she is clearly exhausted?
Is it at school when his sports teacher and friends encourage him to push through the beep test even though he has hurt his leg, has a stitch and can hardly breathe?
And if he grows into a man not being able to express his feelings, what happens to these feelings? Do they just go away, or do they build up inside him until he becomes someone he is not and either explodes or implodes?
If we fully consider all of the above, it’s easy to understand how boys and men may not express themselves or communicate fully, and this is not just confined to men of course; girls and women go through their own version of the same thing. However society is generally a bit more open to girls and women expressing themselves more honestly.
So here lies the beginning of men’s lack of expression and communication in adulthood that can lead to inner turmoil, mental health issues, domestic violence and for some men, suicide. We can’t look at men’s suicide rates and not completely honestly investigate the root causes. There is no band aid big enough to cover over this problem.
We need to be prepared to look at how this happens to boys incrementally over time and how we as a society contribute to it by not reading a boys sensitivity deeply enough and allowing him the space to process his feelings and express himself truly.
It’s wake up time, if we truly want to change what is going on in the world - holding back our expression is a bigger issue than most people realise.
We can start to rectify this in simple ways by asking ourselves, do I really allow myself to acknowledge what I am feeling and not distract myself with other things to not feel it? Do I give myself permission to express how I am really feeling to others, or do I hold back to save face? Do I let people see that I am really a gentle and sensitive person inside, or do I toughen up to make it look like I have it all together? Do I have someone (at least one person) in my life that I can be completely raw and honest about my inner feelings with?
The more we allow ourselves to feel how we’re really feeling and express those feelings, the more we get to know our true essence that is underneath and not change ourselves to be what society says we need to be. Through living like this, we set a standard that communicates to everyone around us including the younger generations, that it’s ok to feel what you’re feeling and express it. It's ok to allow ourselves to be sensitive and transparent in this world. It is actually a strength. This is how we can begin to turn the tide of dishonesty and support each other to beat the highly contagious pandemic of holding back our expression.