(27) Greater Inner-Strength Comes From Listening to That 2nd Soundtrack

Updated: Apr 19, 2019

We all know the second soundtrack of people speak: the message under the message; that which is said without being said.

Like “How are you?” The one speaking can clearly be heard saying, “Who are you?” or “Drop dead!” or even “I am so glad to see you!”

Or how about the word, Yes, which can sound exactly like, “No way.”

And we learned to hear this second soundtrack early: there were times when my Mom called me home, and I knew I was in trouble, even when I did not hear my middle name.

We all use it, most often to express emotion; our voices carry irritation, sadness and the like even when our words do not.

But many of us use it to say exactly what we do not want to say, like letting someone know we are unhappy with them (without the words).

The reason I do it is because I do not want to make people unhappy, to keep my relationships smooth (or so I tell myself). But the truth is I do not want them to be unhappy with me. I do it to protect myself.

I F We Want to Know

By paying attention to this under-speak, we can know what someone actually means or how they really feel about the topic or about us.

And this information puts us in a place of power.

We can act on what we hear (when what we hear is a No) and avoid being disappointed. We can also ask a question that pushes their under-tone into words; this can mean clearer communication and even a closer relationship.

Best of all? Those of us who are masters at speaking under our words can (with a great deal of practice?) take out that undertone and say what we mean. And each time we do increases our inner-strength.

Worst of All ?

A 'what's-wrong-with-you' tone of voice

I grew up with that awful voice. From both parents. Sadly, I used that voice for a time, even when working with children.

What follows is a flash story that dives into the anatomy of that tone, a voice that puts distance in (and destroys) relationships.


She was dancing and twirling, hopping and laughing.

Suddenly her mother shouted, “Keri no! Not in the living room!”

At that moment, Keri’s hand hit the lamp shade, crashing it to the hardwood floor.

Her mother said, “Oh Keri! It's bent!”

Bending to pick up the lamp, she missed the stricken look on her daughter’s face.

During their mid-afternoon snack, Keri reached for another cookie and bumped her milk. Wide-eyed, she watched as the milk slopped over both sides.

With a sigh of exasperation, her mother said, “Oh Keri, look what you’ve done.”

Yanking a towel from the rack, she did not see the shame on her daughter’s face.

That night, Keri and her mother were sitting in bed with a new book. Her mother was reading about a desperate battle between the prince and the wicked witch.

She read: “...and the witch began to use one of her most powerful spells. Her voice was so terrible the prince shook with fear.”

Keri interrupted, “Are you a witch Mommy?”

Her mother laughed and said, “Of course not, Sweetheart. Why?”

Keri looked away.

After a moment, her Mother softly asked, “What is it Keri?”

Keri remained silent.

Her Mother tried again: “Please Sweetheart, tell me.”

Continuing to look away, Keri whispered, “Your voice hurts.”

“Oh Keri, when?”

“Spilled milk.”

Her mother frowned in silence and then asked, “Do you mean when I said, ‘Oh Keri, look what you have done?’”

Turning back to her Mother, Keri said, “Not words Mommy, voice.”

With a shock, Susan realized that she had used her own mother’s what’s-wrong-with-you voice.

She pulled her daughter into a hug and murmured, “I am sorry Keri. I am so sorry Sweetheart.”

When they had again leaned back against the pillows, Susan said, “We all make mistakes Keri, and mistakes are not wrong. Knocking over your milk was just a mistake.”

Keri tentatively asked, “Lamp?”

The only sound was the ticking of Keri’s cartoon clock, as Susan struggled with an answer.

Finally, she said, “Hitting the lamp was not wrong either, Sweetheart, but you have been told not to dance in the living room, and that was wrong. Do you understand?”

But her daughter’s head was back against the pillow, her eyes half closed.

Soon after, Susan was pacing the living room, wondering why her own mother would use that tone of voice.

She suddenly stopped, as she realized, “My mother wanted me to feel badly about what I had done; but why?”

And then she knew: “If Mom could make me feel badly enough, then I would not do it again.”

Susan laughed, but it sounded bitter, as she thought, “That voice only did half of the job. I certainly felt awful, but it did not stop me from making mistakes; but it did make me angry.”

At breakfast the next morning, Susan again talked with Keri about mistakes not being wrong.

Later, while making the bed, she suddenly stopped. And sat down. She realized, “I have been using that voice on my husband!”

A crash came from the kitchen. Susan ran and found Keri standing over a broken dinner plate; it was one of the good ones.

Looking up at her mom, Keri sounded hopeful, as she asked, “Mistake?”

Susan closed her mouth, stifling the witch’s voice.

She took a breath and said, “Yes Sweetheart, it was just a mistake. After we clean up, I will show you some dishes that you can play with.”

Later that evening, Susan turned off the TV for the third time, as she waited nervously for her husband. She wanted to tell him about ‘the voice,’ but was not sure how.

Finally, she heard the grind of the garage door. As he climbed out of the car, Susan was there pulling him into a hug.

Dropping his briefcase, he said, “Wow. Did I just return from a really long trip?”

When she did not let go, he asked, “Is Keri okay?”

She smiled into his neck and said, “Keri is fine.” She added, “Everything is fine, except for the Witch’s Voice.”

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