Head Voice and Heart Voice

“The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.”

from ‘Ars Poetica?‘ Czeslaw Milosz 1.

For those who hear but one voice within themselves I feel a sadness. It’s like finding that your friend’s car radio is stuck on one channel 2. To only hear one voice within myself reduces the number of ‘voices’ which which I can speak.

Two very present voices within me are a Heart Voice and a Head Voice. There is also a Hip Voice, but I will focus on the Heart-Head contrast. To give them titles like this suggests that they are very distinct, but in truth it has taken time to discern them, like different footsteps in the next room. So in some ways I am telling the story backwards, starting with the conclusion.

Intention beyond verbal content. Three faces of “How you doing?”: Head, Heart, or Hips.
Three voices 3.

The head voice sees communication as information. It attends to facts. What is most important is the truth or falsity of the facts. Facts are perceived as being separate from how I feel about them, and facts are real 4. Mathematics, science, engineering, physics, these are the impersonal systems that govern the universe. Emotion is seen as ‘dirt in the system’ 5.

Head Voices in agreement, exchanging factual statements.

My heart voice sees communication as social bonding. It is more interested in the tone of what is said, and what that tone says about the speaker’s attitude to me. Expression and posture are as relevant as words. Language is how we associate. Where monkeys and apes physically groom each other in expressions of social commitment, human speech is “grooming at a distance” 6 7

Heart Voices in agreement, exchanging emotional commitments.

In broad gender terms, men are either predisposed (by nature) or cultured (through nurture) into identifying with a head voice, and women with a heart voice 8. While this is a crude generalisation, it is useful. This difference in perspective is then the basis for miscommunication between the genders, as a man responds to a question with solution information, while a woman responds with social sympathy 9. It points to the confusion of having a ‘heart-to-heart’, which someone who wanted a head-to-head 10.

An argument in the making, “I asked you what time it is!”. “I told you that I missed you!”
Another argument in the making, “Didn’t you miss me?” “I returned at the arranged time”.

These are external arguments, where another person’s voice doesn’t answer my need. Matters are complicated when a person expresses heart-felt desire through their head voice, and is then disappointed to get a head answer. This hurt can confirm their suspicion of the heart voice, and a bitter head voice expressed in cynicism or sarcasm.

Cynicism, a cycle of unrecognised hurt.

Where expressing a heart voice can expose my internal life, the head voice feels safe in only offering the external and factual. However, long term use of this defensive posture can lead to a loss of contact with emotions, and an over-identification with the head voice. This is where I find myself at the moment, experimenting with an increasing identification with the heart voice. I have noticed that head-identification leads me to over-emphasise verbal content when I am listening. The speaker may not be looking for an exposure of factual inconsistencies. Another consequence is that I express heart content through my head, were I am unlikely to get a heart response. I would feel more embarrassed about about this, if it weren’t so common.

The most savage consequence of my head-orientation I have titled, The Ambush. It starts with an unease that could be honestly expressed through the heart voice. It would say something like, “I would like to stop talking now”. I don’t express that voice, and the repression builds an anger inside of myself. I use that anger to listen closely to the other person’s head voice. I am preparing a head response, but not with the intention of providing information. My intention is to fashion a factually unassailable and emotionally crushing response, hiding my anger in facts 11. In effect I wish to punish the other person for putting me in a situation where I have feelings that I can’t express. This is the consequence of not being honest about my own heart voice.

The Ambush: settling the heart through the head.

It isn’t pretty. By contrast, greater identification with the heart voice may increase my awareness of emotional states. Then I can be clearer about my emotional needs. If I can express them via my heart voice, I have a better chance of getting a heart response. And perhaps then I can build relationships on kindness to my own weaknesses, instead of injuring them with shame over my limitations. “You need not burn the house to get out of it” 12.

  1.  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49455/ars-poetica-56d22b8f31558
  2. Or they only own one record, or one cd, or one mp3 stuck on ‘loop’. How quickly technological metaphors can date. The radio is the logo for The Emotions Workshop; https://desmond-fox.com/the-emotions-workshop/
  3. This model looks like Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis, head=parent, heart=adult, hip=child, although the voices don’t match. See the wonderful, ‘Games People Play’ (1964), or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transactional_analysis.

    The voices themselves resemble chakras, where head=solar plexus, heart=heart, and hip=sacral.

    Another mapping would be onto the triune brain, where head=neocortex, heart=limbic, and hip=reptilian.
  4. Given our cognitive tendency to only notice what is wrong (and therefore potentially dangerous), the factual head voice isn’t given to gratitude;

    “An English couple adopt a little German boy. After two years the child doesn’t speak and the parents are worried about him. After three years he has not spoken and by his fourth birthday he still has not uttered a word.

    The parents are in the kitchen when the little German boy comes in and says, “Mother, Father, I do not like the orange icing on the chocolate cake.”

    “My god,” his mother says, “you can speak?”

    To which the German boy replies, “Of course.”

    “How come you have never spoken before?” his father asks.

    “Well,” the boy says, “up till now everything has been satisfactory.”


  5. The engineering aspect of the head voice corresponds with NT in the Myers-Briggs system. “The extreme NT can even be seen as addicted to aquiring intelligence…” ‘Please Understand Me: Character & Temperment Types’, David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, 1984, p.48.
  6. Robin Dunbar ‘How Many Friends Does One Person Need?: Dunbar’s Number and other evolutionary quirks’, 2010, p.74.
  7. While the case against excessive head voice may be obvious, empathy also has his limits. Paul Bloom, in ‘The Case Against Empathy’, describes empathy as “parochial, narrow-minded, and innumerate”, with an “the identifiable victim effect” which privileges the cute and famous cases over abstract ambigous conditions. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/05/20/the-baby-in-the-well
  8. A neurological basis for the voices is suggested in Oliver Sack’s story, ‘The President’s Speech’. At a hospital, only patients with aphasia laugh at Reagan’s televisied speech. As they can’t follow the verbal content of speech, they read verbal clues, and find that “the grimaces, the histrionisms, the false gestures and, above all, the false tones and cadences of the voice” are hilarious. It is the non-verbal signs that can give us the ‘gut feeling’ that someone is lying, while the ‘head feeling’ is taken in by a good argument. Patients who can follow the words override the non-verbal signs. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1985/08/15/the-presidents-speech/

    In contrast to aphasia, people who lose the ability to interpret a heart voice can find that they no longer respond emotionally to friends or family. One way to make sense of this change is to suspect the loss of affect is due to the loved ones having been replace by aliens. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capgras_delusion

  9. This is the a basis of John Gray’s ‘Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus‘, (1992)
  10. In a German solution to clarify intentions, the husband first responds to his wife’s question with, “Willst du Rotwein, oder Blauman?” Red wine, for an emotional talk, or ‘blueman’ for fixing. The German workman traditionally wears navy overalls.
  11. Bernard Williams has called this the “fetish of assertion”, the belief that the correctly-worded statement will silence my ‘opponent’. This is a rather pugilistic approach to conversation. Worse, as a form of combat, it can exclude anyone wishing to think rather than fight. http://citiespapers.ssrc.org/dialogics/#fnref-61-1],
  12. ‘I Am That: Dialogues of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’ p.358

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