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.

Love and Unlove

What is the opposite of love? The conventional pairing is love and hate. But is hate what stops me loving? John Welwood suggests that what lies behind “our wounded relationship with love” is “the mood of unlove”, a deep-seated suspicion I harbour within myself that I am not truly lovable as I am 1. This suspicion “undermines our capacity to give and receive love freely”. It acts as a filter which hides evidence of love, while highlighting any note of disinterest or rejection 2.

Possible faces of love and unlove.

My ‘mood of unlove’ announced itself at a party a few years ago, by overplaying its hand. It was a beautiful event, full of engaging people who were happy to see me. A thing happened, a thing too trivial and tedious to reward recounting. And there was no rejection involved. But it was possible for me to interpret rejection. So, why not?: I did. At that point I wanted to run home to my cave, far from the gross injustice of humanity. But somehow I wasn’t convinced with my own interpretation. I stayed, bewildered by the banquet of welcoming signs, baffled by how one small thing could numb me to the feast. The next day the whole incident became a little clearer: I had to develop a talent for seeing welcome, to balance a genius at inventing rejection.

In my new game, I look for signs of welcome. They are endless. I am standing in the crowded U-Bahn 3 , where everyone allowed me to join them. I walk down the street; each person passes without molesting me. The busy morning street opens up for me, to cycle to my destination like a salmon in a dense stream 4 5. Once I stop looking for signs that I am singluarly appreciated, the world is a very welcoming place. Of course, the price of that welcome is to recognise that I am one of many, I am one of us 6. But then, the desire to be seen as different corners me into being especially disliked, if I can’t be especially liked.

“This Happy Dog Thought People Had Thrown A Parade For It” 7

While neologisms can be awkward and unnecessary, ‘unlove’ is precise in its ungainliness 8. What holds me from love is a love-shaped suspicion. Hate is a powerful force, an different animal in its own right, and can exist as a partner to love or its inversion. When hate drives me to feel passionately, that passion may itself flip inside out and become love. Unlove, on the other hand only exists to prove love’s absence. 

The form ‘love/unlove’ has broader applications. My friend’s ex-girlfriend, a constant presence in his conversation, is his ‘ungirlfriend’, because she apparently isn’t ex yet. She still fulfills all the functions of a partner, except for presence. What’s more, an imperfect girlfriend can hardly compete with the perfect ungirlfriend 9. A man yearns for community, because he can’t feel community, but the new community is still haunted by his sense of lack: an ‘uncommunity’. All she knows about a mother is that her mother is everything that a mother shouldn’t be, her ‘unmother’.

Tricky! This image is a representation of unlove. But my use of it is an example of unlove. While writing about love as if I want it’s presence, I am still anamoured by it’s absence.

There is a particular posture to not recognising unlove. I reach for love, but I don’t grasp it. I open the door, but I don’t move. And it is delicious, to keep my cherished problem AND convince myself that I am working to shake it 10. Inactivity is resolved by seeing the obstacle as external; my history, my society, my family, my partner 11. Locating the taste of my own unlove is to admit a deeper reason for my suffering: I don’t trust love.

Surviving Christmas

From the cover of David Sedaris, ‘Holidays on Ice’ (1997) 1

This post was written in conjunction with the following meeting, to be held on Monday, 23rd December in Berlin, Germany, 20:00-22:00 https://www.facebook.com/events/2568519686765344/ https://www.meetup.com/The-Jungle-Monkeys-Mens-Group-Berlin/events/267246411/ https://www.meetup.com/The-Emotions-Workshop/events/267246512/ https://www.facebook.com/events/77797143938492

This post was written in conjunction with the following event, held on Monday, 23rd December in Berlin, Germany, 20:00-22:00 https://www.facebook.com/events/2568519686765344/ https://www.meetup.com/The-Jungle-Monkeys-Mens-Group-Berlin/events/267246411/https://www.facebook.com/events/777971439384925/  https://www.meetup.com/The-Emotions-Workshop/events/267246512/

If psychological suffering can be defined as the gap between how things are and how I expect them to be, Christmas is a rich harvest 2. It’s a time when many families, where mutual dislikes have developed their own traditions, attempt to put that reality to one side in the service of an illusion. And many people, with no faith in magic, imagine that Christmas itself will heal deep familial wounds. Children are exposed to social tensions that were only created so that the same children could endure them. Throw in excessive eating and drinking as a soporific, shake it all about like a snow globe, let that bake for a few hours, and stand back for the magic.

“… why love/feels just/like rage.” Xmas: A Poem, Amanda Bell, 2019. 3

On the other hand, people estranged from their families are subject to the same fantasies, all the more painful without an event to explode them. Christmas can be a long meditation on isolation, “The Feast of St. Loneliness” 4. The further you are from the reality of a family life, the more tortuous can become your warm imaginings.

“Kreest-maas? Itz foor da keeds!”, as is said in Dublin. It is true, in that children get to see just how poorly the adults they are to emulate practice selfcare. But what is Christmas for?

The psychologist Mary Ainsworth had a delightful motto: “Never miss an opportunity to hold a baby” 5. Here is this baby, Jesus in a manger. How do I get to pick him up? As the Christian symbols are jaded 6, I will switch cultures.

Here we are, approaching the depths of winter. A hard time of the year 7. But, according to the yin and yang model 8, exactly here must lie the first seed of the new and light, and the New Year 9. By New Year, I don’t mean the equally tense and inebriated celebration, but that full New Year, including its summer. The seed is small, but that’s why we need to do some work to find it in ourselves. This is where we can pick up the baby of the New Year, even though it may only be the moment of conception, or the moment of desire. Here is the first seed, in the darkest night.

I do have a request for you. Please get yourself something for Christmas. Something that will give you a smile, and a promise of new life 10. If you resist this, and say that presents to yourself do not count, I ask you to reconsider. Consider how you either burden others to telepath your happiness, or burden yourself with a disappointment in others for not doing for you what you can do for yourself. Consider how much happiness you can give to others, once you have found something for yourself.

So, my interest isn’t in what Christmas is supposed to be. My interest is in what YOU can do with it. If one less person can be tense and miserable this Christmas, make that person you. If Christmas already fills you with delight, I am very happy for you. If it doesn’t, I wish you the happiest Christmas possible.