The power of silence – part 2 – when silence is not ok!

In my last blog I explained that silence can be pleasant, relaxing and even therapeutic. There does not have to be anything awkward about silence between 2 people who are comfortable with each other, it can deepen their relationship.

However…

I’m sure there are many people (men in particular) who have sensed there’s something wrong with someone (perhaps a girlfriend or wife) so they’ve asked “what’s wrong?” and this person has barked “nothing!” with such venom you’re glad you were out of spitting distance! What they actually mean is “there is something wrong but…” either, “I’m not sure what it is” or “I don’t want to talk about it” or “I’m not ready to talk about it” or “I don’t know how to put it into words” or “I wish you could mind-read, then you’d know what was wrong”. There are numerous reasons why they choose to say “nothing” at this point but it’s certainly not because nothing’s wrong!

What then proceeds is a period of silence, some (women) can keep it up for hours… during this period, the power lies with the silent party as the other wonders what they’ve done, maybe trying to “make up” for their unknown misdeed.

I can understand, when emotions are overwhelming it can feel impossible to put anything into words. For years, I didn’t have words to express emotions, I didn’t know what emotions were, I struggled to find words to describe what was going on inside my world. If this happens to you, if you can manage “I don’t know what to say” or “I don’t know what the words are” that’s better than saying “nothing” and pretending you’ve not shrouded everything in a black cloud! I find, if I manage to say something, anything(!) this gets the conversation going and I manage to explain a bit more, even if it’s just a few words, this helps the other person understand and at least I’m trying! If after 20 minutes (how long emotional chemicals last if you don’t perpetuate them with thoughts and behaviours) I felt I could verbalise a bit more, I could start where I’d left off previously.

Something else that helps me is writing things down. If I can’t say the words out loud, often, I am able to find the words to write, maybe it’s to do with slowing down the process or using a different part of my brain or breaking down the process. Whatever it was, even when very distressed (snot, tears, the works…), unable to verbalise anything, put a pen and paper in my hands and I could start writing, explaining all sorts of things that were going on in my head. There were periods of therapy where I would struggle to speak in sessions but could write reams in emails straight after the session! Fortunately, I had a understanding therapist!

At the other end of the spectrum – some people deliberately give someone “the cold shoulder” because they’ve annoyed them or “send them to Coventry” because they’ve wronged them in some way. In this way, they feel powerful for choosing to cut this person out of the loop. Going silent on someone is an unhelpful passive-aggressive trait that some people will be aware they use while others may not. In this instance, a bit of assertiveness never hurt anyone – it’s far more helpful to think through what’s going on, what the different perspectives are, what you want from the situation, how you could get this, how you could compromise and approach the other person with a level head.

If something needs to be said, don’t hope it will go away, say it – what’s the worst that could happen? If the other person gets annoyed or angry, that can be managed but if no-one is talking about anything, nothing will ever change!

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