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After years of saying I’d have our old home videos digitized “one of these days,” I’ve finally done it.
Found a reputable service that can deal with all the different sizes of tapes we’ve accumulated over the years. Packed and shipped them off.
I open the box and lift out twenty-three DVDs. As I read the titles, I sit down, overwhelmed.
- “Annemarie: birth”
- “Jonathon: birth”
- “Annemarie: meeting baby Jonathon”
It’s been forever since I last watched these, probably two full decades.
- “Christmas Programs”
- “Family Vacations”
Not gonna watch those now. They were always too stressful. Maybe later.
- “Gregory Family Game Nights”
- “Kids Being Silly”
- “Annemarie & Jonathon: Singing”
No way! I’ve never seen these. I don’t even remember taping them!
I can’t load the files on my laptop fast enough.
Eagerly, I click on “Gregory Family Game Night” — an epic family tradition — anticipating a joyous, perhaps even tearful, solitary stroll down Memory Lane.
At first, I’m disappointed.
I sound whiney. I must have been having a bad day that night.
I skip ahead to another segment.
Someone musta added cranky to my coffee that weekend!
I skip again.
Wow — that was a seriously bad mood month for me.
I start skipping faster.
My disappointment dissolves into tearful dismay.
How did I not know that my kids grew up with a Bad Mood Mom?
Tone Tells Truth
I’m clear that the Perfectionism Bully and Anxiety Girl were major players in my life when my kids were little.
But I thought I’d kept them contained to my life.
I can’t tell you the energy I devoted to protecting my children from my demons.
If I can just keep them safe until they leave home, they will escape what I can not.
However, it turns out that despite our best intentions, our STS (superior temporal sulcus) — the part of the brain that hears and interprets tone of voice — turns off when we speak.
We don’t hear our own voice, at least not the same way we hear everyone else. This explains why we are so often surprised when we get feedback based on how we said something. (“Tone? I’m not using some kind of tone!”)
It also helps explain why our voice sounds so unfamiliar when we hear ourselves on an audio recording. When transmitted from a speaker, our own voice gets routed through our STS, and we suddenly hear ourselves the way others do. (“I sound like that?!”)
We’ve been hearing ourselves every day of our lives, and yet we haven’t. …our tone often betrays our thoughts and feelings in ways we don’t realize.
from Thanks for the Feedback [emphasis added]
3 Steps for Taming Tone
My personal “I sound like that?!” moment was a harsh, but necessary, reality check.
I’ve been a critic of others’ negative tones of voice, all the while oblivious to my own.
I feel a teeny tiny bit better knowing that there’s a biological reason for this — I’ve not been hypocritically ignoring obvious evidence.
But now that I know better, I want to do better.
Here are three steps I’m taking to tame my tone of voice. (You’re welcome to borrow and adapt as needed!)
Step 1: Listen to Yourself
I know, I know — the moment you hear a recording of your own voice, all you can think is, Turn it off! Turn it off! But the only way to hear your own tone is to record and listen to yourself.
I use my iPod voice recorder. I hit “record” a few times throughout the week, during normal every-day conversations and interactions. Later, after getting all prayed up, I open myself to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and listen to the recordings.
Hopefully, your “I sound like that?!” moment won’t be as blind-siding as mine! But if it is, know that you’re not alone. This is tough stuff.
Step 2: Listen to Others
Use the data you collected from listening to yourself to ask for feedback from those who care about you. Ask specific questions, like
- When I ask you to do something, do I come across as reasonable or demanding?
- When I’m upset, do you hear me trying to problem-solve with you or trying to attack you?
- When I’m frustrated with you, do you feel like I’m disappointed by your choices or do you feel like you’re a disappointment to me?
Listen to all feedback with curiosity, not defensiveness. Ask clarifying questions.
Step 3: Retrain Your Brain
Based on listening to yourself, the Holy Spirit, and people who care about you, you’re going to come up with a list of specific tones of voice that need to change.
Which is going to take:
- Practice. If you’ve ever done drama, you know how many repetitions it can take to learn your lines. If you’ve played piano, you know how often you have to go over the same run to get it perfect. Ditto with changing your tone. Repetition is your friend!
- Trial-and-error. For me, this is the hardest part of making any change. I used to hunt for the magic trick — Presto Change-O! without any of the trying and failing. Now, I aim to fail early and fail fast, so improvement starts sooner rather than later (or never).
- Continued feedback. Asking my husband, “Did that sound less demanding? No? Okay, how about this…” is humbling. Asking those who are closest to you to let you know when you slip back into a specific tone that you’re trying to tame is risky. Stick with people who support your growth without shaming you for needing it.
- Grace. I lied. This is the hardest part of making any change, for me. I used to get so caught up in beating myself up for my past mistakes (“My poor kids are going to need SO MUCH THERAPY for having me as a mother…”) and all horrifying errors (“WHY can’t you get it RIGHT for ONCE?!?) that I’d give up practicing and fall back into old habits. I’m getting better at giving myself permission to be imperfect and compassion when I ever-so-obviously am.
You can’t go back and change your old home movies. If your kids had a Bad Mood Mom, your husband had a Whiney Wife, those are facts to accept, not problems you can solve.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is this:
You can choose to change your tone today.
A gentle answer deflects anger,
but harsh words make tempers flare.
The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing,
but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness.
(Proverbs 15:1-2 NLT)