Theme of the Week: Silence

I’ve made a bit of a collage of images readily available on the internet that speak to silence. I’d like to talk a bit about silence in relationship, and in particular to estranged relationships. Some of us will have positive associations with silence, and some perhaps less positive associations. I’d like to start this set of posts by inviting you to have a look at the above images and consider your own experience with silence and relationship.

How do you feel about the silence in your relationships? Is silence a significant cause, as well as effect, of your estrangement? Can silence be used as punishment, power and control? Have you experienced this? Should we be expected to understand and make sense of other people’s silence? Should they be able to interpret ours?

What do you think?

PS/ if you click the image you should be able to see it a little larger/clearer

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16 Responses to Theme of the Week: Silence

  1. B says:

    I’m the originator of the silence in my estrangement, and curiously I feel like the silence is the most eloquent I have ever been able to be with my mum and stepfather. Without wishing to get into details, my stepfather mistreated me as a child in ways that can get you sent to jail. My mum has never acknowledged this – to the point that she would deny things that she had directly witnessed, and each time I tried to raise it with her, she would no longer even acknowledge that we had spoken about it before. And during our conversations, she would say what appeared to be pre-prepared speeches (typically about how unkind I was being to her) that didn’t appear to engage with what I said at all – it was as if I hadn’t even spoken. It was not until about 5 years of estrangement had passed that she was willing to acknowledge out loud to me that there was a problem in the family. So that silence is the only thing I have ever said that she listened to!

    Of course we are still not able to agree on what the problem is: according to her the problem is me – I am mentally ill and delusional, and now she would like to “help” me. So I guess there is only so much that silence can achieve there. I am not seeking reconciliation (god! They’re so awful!) so that does not bother me too much. I do, however, consider it progress that she at least acknowledges a problem.

  2. edward says:

    Silence is a proper response in some cases, but it would exact in a steep toll for me of feeling that the record was not set straight and that the other party might not totally understand my position in the state of affairs and therefore not be able to respond with a total comprehension to the problem at hand.

    That is why I cannot embrace silence, I use as an example how Sue and Karen interacted honestly and openly by communicating to each the other clearly, their feeings and positions. It added up to a proper and amenable conclusion, both are relieved, content and secure with each the other now and there is no bad aftertaste as all points have been addressed. I am sure they both feel understood by the other, which removes all barriers and baggage that silence would have left.

    As to “B’ ‘s situation, it has to be very frustrating that “mum” has not recognized what happened…this is a clear case of denial intended to shield her from doing what is right but what would mean separation from the perpetrator. I see this often.

    Perhaps “B’s” silence was the best thing to do considering the situation…I tend to set the record straight with the other party and leave it with them to respond/address. If consideration to my position is not ackowledged as in silence from the other side, I do not pursue things.

    As “B” stated, “mum” witnessed things that clearly identify the problem and your so called “mental illness and delusiveness” do not at all now enter into the equation.

    I regret your situation and can see the difficulty here, and I do not at all see you as the problem.

    Always Edward

  3. Sue says:

    I’ve seen used as both a means of punishment and manipulation to a natural response when we just don’t know what to do or say.

    6 years ago, during the first rift with my husband’s family, my mother-in-law came straight out and said to me that we know where they are and when we’re ready it was up to us to reconcile. The irony is that I was trying to reconcile with her on the phone at that very moment, but when she shoved it all off on me, I just took a step back and said, I can’t do this anymore. My husband did not attempt to contact her at all for three years, and any contact that was made wasn’t intentional on his part. His take is that if he’s angry, it’s best to keep quiet.

    This past year my mother-in-law was very silent. She called our house twice. She sent us a few invitations and one thank you note, but otherwise was quiet. She did send my daughter a few emails but never kept that up once she realized I had full access to it. (My daughter is 13 and one of the stipulations of internet use is that I have full access to all of her accounts. I don’t abuse this access ever, but when there are inappropriate communications I do step in.)

    My mother-in-law is infamous for communicating her emotions via gifts. If she’s upset for any reason, she withholds gifts. When she’s happy, she lavishes us with them. It’s a pattern evident in all of her relationships. Not only does she use gifts to communicate her feelings, but she interprets gifts she gets as a representation of the giver’s. If she is unhappy with a gift when we’re on good terms, it doesn’t matter what we give her.. If she is unhappy with us, no gift can ever be good enough. She’s also known throughout the family for complaining or boasting about gifts and THEN saying “it’s the thought that counts.” My family taught me that we are not entitled to a gift because it’s our birthday, etc. We should be grateful to have received one first.

    My family of origin–because of my mom–has tried not used silence as a weapon. My mom would tell us how much she hated the silent treatment and never wanted us to use it. So we tended to keep the argument going until we were satisfied. No matter how angry we get at each other (and, oh boy, we do sometimes), there is always a “cool off” period and then we are back to communicating.

    Myself, I find it hard to know what to do sometimes. I am often reticent when I cannot think of what is the right thing to do or say or feel or act. I’m well aware of how some people perceive my words and actions, and I’d rather they be mad at me for NOT acting than to take any gesture on my part the wrong way. The last argument we had with MIL, for example, I realized I was stumped (and crying at that) and I just stood there silently, hurt. This infuriated her. I wasn’t shutting her out, but I was so very hurt, unable to look at her in the eye when she was yelling at me and telling me how I did this or that wrong, how wrong, wrong, wrong I was in her eyes, how she was right. Everything she said hurt and it was all I could do to be in the same room with her let alone look at her or acknowledge what she was saying. And it was quite plain to see I was upset and crying.

    At one point she said something so unbelievable that I shook my head, “No? I’m wrong?” That’s a prime example of how a simple gesture can be misunderstood. I was shaking my head in disbelief that she would even *think* it, let alone assume it.

    I’ve said way too much, again. In my case, I tend to use silence as a last resort, when I am just utterly dumbfounded as to what to say or do. And I tend to view silence as a weapon, a punishment. Especially if I reach out and am greeted with it.

  4. Sher says:

    I look at silence as a weapon. Silence totally prevents any discussion/ remedy/ resolution/ compromise to be made. How does one combat utter silence? You can’t. The silencer wields all the power. Estrangement can not be ended with silence, only maintained. So, if that is the desired status, then silence is 100% effective. But for the estrangee, it is a formidable and cruel form of power. I am done trying to push through those steel bands of silence. I accept that silence has been the victor…..but what a cold, sad victory my sister has obtained. Her choice. Her consequence. Her silence.

  5. Nanett says:

    My experience with silence is a long one. As an only child I was ignored and disregarded. My feelings were dismissed as unimportant. I was looked on as a peice of property rather than a person. As I became a teenager I started to find my voice. Yet I was met with silence. I was pathetic as I longed for the love I wanted. Silence was a tool to control me. And it worked for many years. As an adult I finally found security with people who love me. Now I have drawn my line. I am now the one silent. Yet I have learned who I want to be and who I do not want to be. I will never be silent with my child. I will always be open with her.

  6. Debbie says:

    Silence has meaning only in the context of a particular relationship. In estrangement, it could have any of a number of them. Therein lies the pain of it, and the dilemma – to speak our truth, or be silent too.

  7. sheisindeedundone says:

    I saw Pariah last night. My friends and I remarked on how, it seems, newer filmmakers are using silence as a communication tool There’s a beautiful scene where the two young women are on a bed caressing one another, but not saying anything. The filmmakers created this beautiful moment by allowing that to happen. The audience held their breath and just had to take it in.

    Silence, for me, is crucial in relationships. I spend so much time alone that silence has become a way I recuperate; I need it to be and feel healthy. If my partner can’t be silent with me then I know we’re not a good fit.

  8. pammoreside says:

    I was silenced as a child. My thoughts, dreams, passions, and opinions, were ridiculed and dismissed. I learned to keep them to myself. Our family was very dysfunctional – a huge elephant was sitting among us but no one was allowed to make mention of this obvious fact.

    My mother used silence to shut us all out. If she was angry, as she often was, the silent treatment was her weapon of choice.

    Most of my life feels like I have been screaming out to be seen and heard. For many years I wrote long letters and engaged in endless discussions trying to be heard, seen and accepted by my parents for who I really was. It wasn’t until my fifties that I realized this was a battle I could not win and I chose silence. I no longer engage in the old manipulations; the dangled carrots, the messages sent to the siblings, the accusations and demands for me to explain myself and the pokes and prods to get me to re-engage in the old sick patterns.

    I have chosen not to engage. I have chosen to remain silent.

    My silence is part of my healing process and it feels good. I don’t need to explain my thoughts, my feelings or my actions any longer. I accept myself and I make deliberate and responsible choices for what is best for me and for people I choose to have in my life.

    How great is the irony to come from a house where children were to “be seen and not heard” that I have finally discovered that no matter how loudly you speak you can never be heard by those who will not listen and that by choosing silence I am finally starting to see….ME.

    • Sue says:

      My parents, although I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, used to shut down my feelings, etc. too. (((((HUG))))) I found myself as an adult always wanting to be heard.

      • edward says:

        That seems to be common. hmmmm

        Feelings shut down, and individuals dismissed along with their needs. hmmmm

  9. Karen says:

    Initially when I looked at the collage I thought of many different things, even the lyrics of songs and poetry. As a person who seeks out solitude and privacy and requires a lot of it, silence is a true gift. I enjoy being alone. Sometimes I think it due to feel overwhelmed by others and their demands. I often wonder to myself if had I met people who were more mindful of boundaries and respectful communicators–less demanding, selfish and hurtful in their behaviors and communications–I wonder if I would require the amount of privacy and solitude that I crave. I do crave it nonetheless. I find it healing and embrace solitude because it offers me silence, peace and quiet. At the same time I know that silence in relationships speaks loudly and can hurt. For me the silence feels like I’m allowing myself to take a breather–to think, reflect and consider and that itsn’t always a “bad thing”. Silence suffices when the meaning of words spoken cease to be heard.

    How do you feel about the silence in your relationships? Is silence a significant cause, as well as effect, of your estrangement? Can silence be used as punishment, power and control? Have you experienced this? Should we be expected to understand and make sense of other people’s silence? Should they be able to interpret ours?”

    I’ve actually felt controlled by others spoken cruelty in their words and actions and followed by their silence in avoidance, when confronted–their silence speaks volumnes, yet silence doesn’t stand alone–it has been backed up by previous words and actions. I’m certain silence can be used in many different ways–power, control and punishment–so yes, I’ve experienced it. When you’ve felt silenced, unheard, dismissed and ignored by others–then seeking it yourself seems a natural evolution.

    I’ve also initiated the distance too, but have sought this as a means to self-protect. I didn’t see my silence as punishing as I saw being involved with people who were continued to behave destructively, creating huge reservoirs of emtional pain was wounding to myself.

  10. Karen says:

    There are so many times when I wish other people who I’ve encountered would choose silence. I often wish they would choose to say less, not more. I wish that they would refrain from saying the hurtful things they do, keep their opinions to themselves and not try to make it my business. I wish that they would refrain from trying to blast me with every thought, especially their negative, unhappy and cruel thoughts. I wish that they would think before they speak even if that entails a moment of silence. I wish that they would choose SILENCE. I would be so GRATEFUL for their SILENCE. I do not want to know them, or so much of them, especially in the forceful ways in which they choose to communicate. I tend to find myself always in a position of trying to get away from THEM, because they reveal and DEMAND way too much. In my life people tell me things that I do not ask and don’t wish to know and knowledge that has become burdensome. They don’t seem to stop to check it out or to even ask if it is okay or even how I may be feeling. And what I’ve always desired is reciprocity–connection and relating–communication and understanding that few people in my life seem willing to acknowledge or to give.

    It is not that I don’t have opinions myself, but I don’t tend to bulldoze people with them and so many people that I’ve encountered seem so full of themselves that they don’t seem to check out whether you are interested or not–they talk incessantly and get and choose silence only when I attempt to try to talk about my own needs and feelings.

    In being in a position where people have sought me out for sympathy or empathy with me doing everything in my power to enforce boundaries, I have so very often wished that they would silence themselves. It would be a true gift–a blessing.

    In saying that I do have a friend whose marriage is dissolving. Once again I was in another position of providing what so often feels like being a therapist. I kept suggesting to him to seek out a therapist. The relationship started to feel very burdensome and overwhelming to me as it always has/does. It is not because I’m a bad person or an uncaring, unloving person. This man I respected and valued and he is someone who does reciprocate so I desired to keep the relationship intact–at the same time I feel so emotionally spent. I became terrified of letting him know how I really felt, because so often, when I’ve stood up for myself, enforced boundaries and assert my feelings–these relationships end and I’ve been abandoned. That seems to be a constant in my life–abandonment because I have needs and feelings. This man has not abandoned me yet…

    What I told this man, and often times repeat is, “Some things are better left UNSAID.”

    I truly believe this. In so many different circumstances it seems like an act of mercy and kindness, instead of feeling pummeled by heartless cruelty–both words and actions.

  11. Smart Smiling Loving Life says:

    Silence is a form of cruelty. When the people who cut me off have used the silent treatment towards me, it helped me realize the deficiencies in their characters. I see them as cruel and deeply flawed. I understand that they are no good for me. Maybe their silence is a gift? And so the circle of confusion continues.

    • Lita says:

      smart smiling loving life, My siblings and mother have done the same. They use it to punish me, it is painful but I can’t keep trying any longer. The post try try again has been so helpful to me. That is why we need to look after ourselves, since we have absolutely no control on others. Waiting for them to break their silence only keeps us in limbo, in emotional pain. So focus on yourself, not always easy but necessary.

    • Fiona says:

      Hi there,

      Thank you for your comment. When you are on the recieving end of someone’s ” silent treatment” it’s excruitiating isn’t it? I’ve spent a long time considering the role of silence, good and not so good, in relationship breakdown and healing. My commitment to myself is to never leave someone with only my silence. It’s not always easy to close things off with communication, and its not always well recieved, however, it’s honest, and authentic, and it’s kinder than the alternative. When we know better, we do better!

      Best wishes on your continued healing,

  12. terriann says:

    I closed things off with an email communication. The email was ignored, and everyone pretended and pretends they did not know why i was leaving the relationship.. In retrospect, I wish i had closed with verbal communication. It (like you said Fiona) would have been more authentic, …,and more confrontational!
    To this day it is actually what bothers me most. If i had it to do over again, i would have acted more bravely, and spoke out, Whether or not i would be heard is another story, but i would feel better about my behaviour, and that is what is important to me.

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