Who among us hasn’t been in a disagreement or argument in our lives? In those moments, we could find ourselves speaking cuttingly or with an injurious tone of voice. Sometimes, we may not even realize our tone of voice expresses such harsh emotions.
Your tone of voice is immensely impactful, but it is not something most of us are usually aware of. It can be an indicator of how we’re feeling inside — anxious, happy, stressed or angry. More often than we realize, our tone of voice may give away our internal feelings and emotions, whether or not we realize it.
In this episode of Awareness that Heals, Robert explores how tone of voice can be a source towards fulfillment and better understanding — both for ourselves and those around us. One of the critical steps is to learn to identify the different tones and emotions we may have — putting a specific name to our feelings is integral to understanding them. Robert recommends two (free) Introspective Charts that have over 75 emotions and healing needs that you can use to help you better express yourself.
Cultivating a greater sensitivity in our tone of voice isn’t simply beneficial to others. Tone of voice is also how we think about ourselves internally — an Inner Tone, so to say. Loving yourself when you’re doing everything right and feeling great is almost too easy. But when there are negative feelings in play, it becomes much harder to be kind to ourselves. Developing a congruence with our feelings, emotions, and tone of voice is challenging for most of us at first but it is within our capacity if we give it enough attention. Becoming aware of the way we think about and talk can help us become more empathetic — towards ourselves and our loved ones. This will also help us take better care of ourselves in challenging situations without injuring the person we’re talking to.
If you’re on the receiving side of a negative or harsh tone of voice, understanding a conflict in words and tone can help you view and respond to a situation differently. We are the makers of our tone of voice. The idea is to gradually become more able to reflect our best intentions to take care of the situations we find ourselves in with our tone. But as Robert notes, improvement right away isn’t always realistic. Sometimes we cannot improve our tone immediately, but becoming aware of it is a good starting point. That will help you care for yourself and others without resorting to a potentially injurious tone during challenging emotional situations.
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Awareness That Heals, Episode 46.
Robert Strock: (00:04)
And what a act of love it is to be able to say, did I say something in a way where there were words, or was there a tone that you didn’t like.
The Awareness That Heals podcast helps its listeners learn to develop the capacity, to have a more healing response to emotions and situations rather than becoming stuck. Your host, Robert Strock has practiced psychotherapy for more than 45 years. He wrote the book, “Awareness That Heals: Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges,” to help develop self-caring and the capacity to respond in an effective way to life’s challenges. Especially at times when we are most prone to be critical or to withdraw together, we will explore how to become aware of our challenging feelings and at the same time find alternative ways to live a more fulfilling and inspiring life.
Robert Strock: (00:58)
Thanks again for joining us at Awareness That Heals where we really focus on bringing our heart and wisdom to our life’s challenges. And we start again and again, with being aware of what is most difficult for us. And we look at where these difficulties are really universal for all of us, whether we recognize them or not. So, in this show and beyond the show, every effort I’m making is that it’s so important for us to stay aware of what’s challenging and that’s not what we’re taught. So, we’re really zooming in. And even as I’m saying these words, hopefully there’s a part of you that’s looking at where your life has emotional or situational challenges and crucially, how can we care for ourselves at these times? Now a much more mature version of this is looking at life challenges and how can we care for others as well, and hopefully a continuously expanding sense of others, but we can’t avoid our own personal challenges or we’re going to sink. So, this sets up the ideal conditions for us to be fulfilled in our individual lives and to contribute to the world by finding and living from our best selves. So, I’d like to start off by introducing Dave. Who’s my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation and my dear dear friend for ever. And, uh, Dave, thanks for joining us.
Thank you for the invitation as always. And, um, it occurred to me today, we’ve been doing, uh, living this, but also doing these podcasts specifically for quite some time now. And it’s, it, it is amazing to me, uh, how much material, uh, how much of your life in particular is reflected through these podcasts. And I just want to say I am grateful.
Robert Strock: (03:22)
Well, thank you for that. So, we’re going to continue to delve more deeply into tone of voice and how automatically, whether we’re aware of it or not it actually changes our quality of life. Let’s just pause for a second and realize that when you speak, it conveys a quality. And so often we’re just talking and we don’t realize our heart’s there. Our heart’s not there. Our anger’s there, it’s not there. Our anxiety is being expressed or it isn’t. And hopefully if there’s some kind of suffering and that quality is suffering, we’re able to say, ah, I want to let you know that I’m feeling anxious while I’m talking about this. So our quality of life is there. It’s important that we’re with that when we’re, for lack of better words, toning in the world. This is enormously significant, especially when we can learn how to be alert and how we can express ourselves and share with others in a way that our tone becomes a source more and more leading us in a direction of fulfillment rather than suffering. And when we’re in a state of suffering, hopefully we can dignify it by acknowledging it with our words. When we notice it’s coming through our bodies, our hearts or our tongue, this is especially true when we can use it as an intervention, by moving it from the challenging tones toward the healing ones or when we’re really immersed in the challenging tones, when we can dignify it with an acknowledgement that this is what is coming through.
Robert Strock: (05:20)
So, hopefully that makes good sense.
I just want to reflect on something you said a sec or a minute ago, which is whether we’re aware of it or not our tones are impactful. I’m paraphrasing, but what I’m aware of right now is how much of my life, significant part of my life, the word tone never even came up in my discussions, my, my inner discussions in any way, shape or form. And can you speak to that? Can you speak to, and even by the way, when I became aware of it, uh, the amount of time it took for me to be even most consistently with it, uh, took years, it’s a really, really important thing I think, to reflect that we’re really unaware of most of the time.
Robert Strock: (06:15)
Yeah. Well, I’ll give a brief version of it now because I’m going to go, go through multiple versions of it as it relates to the world, as it relates to clients that, you know, I was, as I think I’ve probably conveyed in prior episodes, maybe not even tone of voice episode, tone was something that was bombarding me at five years old. And, and I was so aware that it just didn’t make sense. Why would anyone want to have a tone or be conveying a tone that’s injurious to someone else. And as I’ve explored that, you know, anger or frustration, hostility and patience, annoyance is because we really believe the other person deserves it. We want a pound of flesh and we’re kind of happy when we get it. Now, the awareness we’re talking about is catching it before we express it in the tone and still learning how to care for ourselves while we’re in that angry or impatient state and trying to find out what it is that we really need so that we aren’t just reinforcing, endless suffering.
Robert Strock: (07:33)
And as Dave’s saying, there is no learning ground for this. So please don’t just leave this in your head. Please leave this in your musical sense of self, where you’re really saying, it’s like, I’m listening to music. What does this music sound like? What does it make me feel? What I want this tone coming back at me. So, Dave is right that even when we start there, it usually takes years and years to use it as a vehicle for deeper fulfillment or which is not really an orange and or because it includes a part of fulfillment congruence. So, it’s fine. It has to be fine if we’re suffering because we’re all suffering. So, to be able to recognize that, oh, I’m dealing with anger right now is a wonderful thing to be able to say and allows us to be so much more harmless. And a big part of this is gaining literacy of what tones sound like and being able to name them.
Robert Strock: (08:56)
And again, as I have many times, I encourage you to go to chart one on the website AwarenessThatHeals.org and look at that chart where identifies 75 challenging emotions that we could just as easily say, 75 challenging tones. And it really will help you do a overview of what, which of these tones, circle them, are the ones that I might be vulnerable to conveying, probably especially to the ones that you love the most, because most of us are most reactive to these challenging tones with people that we love, because they’re with us all the time. And we’re trying to support two things at once. One is to be aware of the tone. And if it’s a challenging one to say, oh, I need to care for this. And that really is the foundation of Awareness That Heals, be aware of our challenges and how do we care for it. And if it’s a tone, that is one that we really are enjoying, we’re finding meaningful, we’re finding connecting. Then we really just appreciate that and allow it to flow, recognizing that we’re going to keep going back and forth and back and forth at least in how we feel. So, the import of bringing awareness to this is so vital.
I just want to reflect back again to what you just said and the amazement I have to have even a glimpse at age five, that there is something coming at me there. You know, I’m sure the word tone may have not been how you felt it or experienced it at the time, but what flashed to me was, there is no moment when we are all a hundred percent of the time not being bombarded with tones for forever, forever, that we’re not emitting them. And that we’re not on the receiving end of them. And in that, one of my questions to you is, and I like you to elaborate on, elaborate on, is the, is there such a thing as a tone that is nonverbal or a tone that has less than a full sentence, a vibe, if you will, is that part of what you’re including, or is that a different thing?
Robert Strock: (11:32)
There have been times in my life where I’ve done out loud and especially earlier in my life, what I would call toning, where it’s a kind of a version of singing, it might just, it might be just something like, like an OM that we, you know, in our earlier in our years, we all, we get together with a group of people and just, OMMMM. And we feel a peace. We feel like, oh, that’s kind of a, a place where we can center on or privately, I would, I would just, just hum. You know, I, I see my grandkids they’ll do that all the time. They’ll, they’ll just be in a silly fantasy world, but they’re in delight, they’re in an experience of delight. So as a kid, it was more natural and easy to be playing with it. And they’re not doing it, like you said, I wasn’t thinking of tone at that point.
Robert Strock: (12:32)
I was thinking of, and not to over characterize my mother this way, because she was a great mother, but I was thinking of bitchiness, you know, anger, why this anger, well, what does that have to do with me? You know? Yeah. My room might not be neat, but really you really think your anger is in more significant than my room not being neat. And you’re my mother, come on. Yeah. And so, there was a feeling of natural awareness of a caring tone. And fortunately I did have a stable, caring tone coming from me in general from my father. And that I think was a very important thing that really helped me as I looked back at my life. Because if you have, let’s say a completely chaotic household, then you’re use to your sense of normal as chaos or anger or punishment. And then you don’t have any frame of reference for that.
Robert Strock: (13:33)
Other than maybe your favorite songs, most people did have their favorite songs, but that would probably feel more like a dream and not like your life. So, the idea is we’re all singers, you know, we’re all singers in a rock and roll band, you know, we’re, we’re all, we’re all capable of really tuning into, oh, I have the castle capacity to be a generator of music while I’m talking now, just even thinking about that to me is a happiness. And I also have the capacity to be a representative of my suffering. I can say, boy, I’m really feeling sad today. I don’t know why, or maybe I know why. Well, I’m really feeling irritated today. And it’s really hard to know what’s going on. That’s kind of a miracle. Very few people do that and are examples for us. So, it’s equally important to be able to be aware of our suffering and to be able to have the freedom, to have our words, just be congruent and to acknowledge that if I would have had that at five years old and my mother would have said, boy, I just had an angry impulse that I was going to lay on You, you little five-year-old, Bobby.
Robert Strock: (14:54)
No, sorry, but you know, would you mind cleaning your room? I probably would have been a lot neater. Now, if you had done that, you know, I mean, I, I still carry that rebelliousness. You know, I have to remember, come on mom, inside me, I don’t want to be owned by you forever. And most of us are deeply affected even at 72. So, one of the thing about tomes that blows my mind, thinking as a therapist, is that it’s one of the easiest ways to look at somebody who’s unconscious because just even asking them, what are you aware of as to how you sound? You can see that they’re not aware of how they sound. They’re so used to it. It’s just the norm. And so oftentimes, you know, many, many of my clients have said, how come you don’t do more dream analysis? And my answer is, and it depends on how close I am with the client, because I get very close with most of my clients. I’ll say, don’t know how to tell you this, but your unconscious is displaying itself. So openly, we don’t need to guess on dreams and on dream interpretation, unless something really dramatic happens. And that’s not to destroy dream analysis. It’s just to say that I hope they’re doing tone of voice acknowledgement, as well to supplement it, because it’s a lot more obvious.
Would it be correct to say then that the truth of what a person is expressing is more clearly coming from their tone. It may be congruent or not with our words, but as certainly the tone is expressing the truth of what they are really feeling, really wanting to put into that situation at that moment.
Robert Strock: (16:49)
I would say it’s a good 85%. truth is that there are certain people who are taught to be in a relative monotone. And frankly, that would be 50% of my profession has been taught, taught just to stay neutral. Don’t be overly caring, you know, you’re here to be neutral. So, there might be a detached analysis or, or there might be a detached professionalism, but there may be feeling a lot more in their heart than, than what is actually showing. So, they’ve been taught a way to talk. So, sometimes it’s more like I was taught to talk this way, but actually my heart is much more diverse than that. And that could be for the better or for the worst. I mean, they may be, they may be hiding all kinds of anger and, and difficult suffering, or they might be not revealing their love. So, it could be either way, but I think for 85% of people, they really do display largely what’s going on inside their heart or not going on inside their heart, with might be just in their head.
Robert Strock: (18:01)
And there are some professionals that are not only professional in the office, but the professionals at home and the professionals with their kids. Um, so there, there is a very high correlation to tone of voice being a good representative to our interior life, for sure. What one of the things that’s very subtle and I think it would be naive on my part to think that I can convey this deeply enough so that you will really understand it at a level that you can use. And what it is is that we believe our tone oftentimes is a reaction to someone else and even worse, a deserved reaction. And we don’t see that we are starting from ourself, and we are putting out energy from our source inside ourselves. So as long as we believe, well, I’m getting angry because of you that’s the most common expression.
Robert Strock: (19:12)
That’s not very highly functional that I hear in my office. And frankly, I hear in the world where I’m upset with my husband, because he’s just, he’s so stupid, um, has helped with my wife because she’s so, uh, so, uh, demanding or if he’s not available, available to me when I want her to be, versus I’m having a reaction that’s really impatient or annoyed and angry and oh, I have a chance to actually see that it’s my response. I am responsible for my own tone. Now that’s an evolutionary stage of development that at best we can intermittently be aware of for wherever that 10% of the time that’s fantastic. And until we die, that’s an aspiration. How much can I be aware of my tone? How much can I say, ah, this is what this tone is expressing. Is this going to be beneficial to express or not?
Robert Strock: (20:20)
Am I going to just recreate a power struggle by being in this tone, a friend of mine wrote a book that highlights this and the book was, the cover of the book, the name of book is, “We’d Have A Great Relationship if It Weren’t For You,” and our subconscious plays that out and we don’t in a sense get a fresh start. We’re just like a, a continuity of 3 million tones that just keep carrying on. Well, yeah, but she really is that way or he really is that way, so I keep reacting to them. Well, it’s justified. And we look at the way he, he or she treats me and we don’t stop long enough to say, oh, maybe I can change the trend. Maybe I can stay aware that I’m a contributor. And actually even being a contributor might be an understatement. I might be the main source of starting it, but one way or the other, maybe we can be aware and have a greater sensitivity to our tone.
Robert Strock: (21:33)
So just take a look at whether that makes sense. And whether that leaves you to be angry at me, or you’ve justified. Yeah, but you don’t have my wife or you don’t have my husband. You don’t realize how bad it is. No matter how bad it is, it’s going to be beneficial for us to try to be aware of our own feelings, care for our own feelings, which is what this whole Awareness That Heals is about. Not only this, this particular episode of this particular, uh, theme. So being able to see that we are the master of our own tone, whether we know it or not, or maybe it more accurately the maker of our own tone, we’re certainly not the master, but we have the capacity at any given moment to become the master of our own tone. And this also relates to how are we thinking about ourselves, our inner tone.
Robert Strock: (22:37)
And sometimes, for example, let’s say we have a chemical or hereditary emotional state where we’re anxious all the time or depressed all the time. And so, the inner tone is going to be one that really is going to be anxious, or it’s going to have some depression in it. Now for those people that have that going on, the way to deal with tone is to be able to gently if possible, or a little kindly or a little bit of tolerance maybe, might be the best we can do and say, oh, this is really hard. And so, what I can say to myself, and if I’m really close to somebody, I can say to them, you know, I am doing my best not to have my depression or my anxiety to come out to you, but please accept me. Forgive me for that. Now, when I had my kidney transplant and I was sleeping an hour a night, I was exhausted.
Robert Strock: (23:42)
I was a wasteland. So, I modeled this with my clients. Some of them didn’t know I had a transplant and I just said I was having a chemical reaction, but I said, listen, I’m, I’m a bit tired, I didn’t sleep very well last night. I don’t want you to identify with my tone, this is not about you,this is about me. And I’m capable. I’m fine. I don’t want you to happen to have to worry about me, but I don’t want you to identify with my tone. Now, if we could do that, it creates such an intimacy. What I got back was something along the lines of, oh, I’m so sorry. And thank you for letting me know that. And it softened the room just because there was a acknowledgement of whatever the tone was. So, we can’t lose. We don’t have to be improving our tone. Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes the best we can do is acknowledge that this is our starting point.
One other thing I’d like to reflect in my experience is, as particularly the frequent times over my life, when I’ve been not tuned in to my tone at all, and been so surprised at the response that I’m getting, it’s like saying to myself what just happened there. I mean, I thought everything was fine, but I’m getting something back that just, it, it, it just doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s it could be terrible. It could be, it could be whatever it is, but oftentimes that will jolt me into asking myself about it.
Robert Strock: (25:20)
Yeah. And the reason why you’re asking yourself about it is because you’ve been practicing for so long and it’s actually a great key for everyone. That’s listening. If you’re getting a response, that’s surprising. Pause, look and what an act of love it is to be able to say, did I say something in a way whether words, or was there a tone that you didn’t like now? I hope that you can hear some degree of gentleness in my tone. And some people don’t have that range, but by listening to the response, as Dave’s talking about that others are giving you you’ll get a clue. And for those of us that have a hard time imagining all the positive tones, you can have, again, those Introspective Guides at awarenessthatheals.org have 75 qualities that are all tones that are fulfilling, completing satisfying. So, it’s good to glance on that chart too.
Robert Strock: (26:37)
So, we can see some of our aspirations, but we need to be careful that we judge ourselves for wherever we are. The miracle is, can we see ourselves as we are? And can we be accountable as Dave was saying, if I get this reflection back and suddenly my wife is struggling with me, boy, what a wonderful thing it is to say, did I say something in a way that offended you? Was that talking down to you? Was that irritable? Was I inpatient? Was I intolerant? Was I judgmental? Was I tight? Yeah. Was I, was I speaking to you in a way that you didn’t like. Is there, and then, hopefully, the next question would be, how can I speak to you in a way that you would like, so you don’t want to stay. You don’t want to just stay with endlessly, the negative, you want to go to, what’s the tone that you’re seeking.
Robert Strock: (27:33)
So, I hope that all of you that are really listening to this episode can hear that at one level, there’s a deep aspiration to develop our quality of life and to move into Chart Two of all the tones that are more heartfelt. But for so many of us, that’s going to be an aspiration that we can’t meet. And so, what we can do is we can hear the music the way it is. And if we are really anxious, we are really depressed. It’s even more of a miracle and you deserve even much more credit. If you’re able to say, you know what, I’m going through this. Even if it’s just situational, you know, your, your sports team lost, you know, or you just got a medical diagnosis for you to be able to say, I want you to know this is, this is part of what’s happening with me.
Robert Strock: (28:37)
And being able to be congruent with wherever you are in a way that’s harder than being loving. If you’re loving, that’s easy. And if you’re gentle, that’s easy. If you’re courageous, that’s easy, but if you’re frightened or you’re anxious, or you’re sad, that’s much harder because that’s not the image most of us want to have of ourselves. So, the key to tone of voice, at one level, is congruence. That’s really profound, very few models of people that are saying, by the way, here’s what I’m going through. Now. I was listening to an episode of Chris Cuomo on TV, and he was saying, I want you all to know that I’m depressed. That COVID, I’m suffering, long-term conditions of COVID. So, there may be a depression that will come through at times. That is miraculous that’s as much as an aspiration as it is to move toward positive qualities.
Robert Strock: (29:41)
So, being able to embrace where you are, being able to see where you are, being able to be accountable for where you are, is the first major miracle. The second major miracle for those that are really aspiring, is to move more and more into our heart, into our qualities that we most love, but we never, never want to bypass the first one to get to the second one. So, my wish, my prayer for all of us and for the world is that if we can be accountable for our tone and recognize this is part of the human experience, we’re all going to suffer. The difficulty is Presidents’ of our country are not saying, oh, by the way, I’m having a bit of a tone here. Um, that is because I’m concerned about the world. I’m concerned, so you probably sense a concern, there would be of benefit.
Robert Strock: (30:43)
Now I’m not encouraging the president of the United States to say every little emotional tone that’s going on in their life, but it would be helpful to have leaders in our politics, in our spiritual, religious worlds, in our schools, you know, every leader in our corporations, if they were to show the value of tone of voice and congruence or tone of voice and healing qualities, we would be living in a different world. Our quality of life would be so improved. So, I thank you very much for your attention and really with a prayer that we all can wake up to this as much as possible.
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