You’re watching a video of your family holiday when you suddenly cringe. Is that really what your voice sounds like? If you can’t stand the sound of your own voice, you’re not alone. But don’t worry – you’re probably the only one who gets annoyed by its sound. There’s a scientific reason you hate your own voice so much.
When we hear an outside sound, like someone else’s voice, the sound travels through your ear, into the canal, and to the eardrum, says Aaron Johnson, PhD, a US speech–language pathologist and assistant professor in the otolaryngology department at NYU Langone’s Voice Center. Vibrations from the eardrum travel to the inner ear, where fluid makes little hair cells move. Those movements create electric energy that gets sent up to the brain, which translates it into sound.
That exact same thing happens when you hear the sounds that come out of your own mouth – but something else happens on top of it. “As we’re talking, sound waves travel not only outside our body, but there is energy bouncing around in our mouth and throat and through our head, directly to the inner portion of our ear,” says Dr Johnson. Other people can’t sense the vibrations in your mouth, so you hear your own voice differently than they do.
When listening to your own voice on a recording, you aren’t getting those extra vibrations in your mouth and throat, so you’ll hear what everyone else does. Because it’s as unique as your fingerprints, your voice – or what you think it sounds like – is part of your self-image. A sudden change can be off-putting. “We think of ourselves as sounding a certain way, and then we hear ourselves on recording and it’s completely different,” says Dr Johnson. “It’s unexpected. It’s like, ‘That’s not me’.”
And there’s a reason people are rarely pleasantly surprised by this new sound. The vibrations coming directly from your head are lower, so the sound is richer. “People are surprised they sound… irritating because it sounds brighter and sounds higher than what they’re used to,” says Dr Johnson. So when you suddenly sound more Janice from Friends than Morgan Freeman, you might get freaked out.
To get over your hatred of your own voice, try listening to recordings of it, recommends Dr Johnson. “The more you get used to that, the more you acknowledge ‘That really is my sound’,” he says.
If you think your voice is truly annoying (and not just to you), you aren’t stuck with that sound forever. Singing lessons, public speaking classes and vocal training can help you learn how to change your voice’s sound, says Dr Johnson.
“We sometimes see people who are just not using their voice efficiently,” he says. “You can find different ways to use your voice to produce different qualities using breath and trying not to use your throat very much.”