On Healthy Silence

silent treatmentTwo things: (1) I am a Super Communicator and Clarifier. I go above and beyond the call of normal communication to make certain that the person before me is always 100% aware of what is happening in my head because if they misunderstand, I feel responsible for their misunderstanding.

(2) Because I am a Super Communicator, I am sensitive to distance. If someone slowly falls to the shadows, I notice because I never fall to the shadows. Before falling into the shadows, I can be found messaging that I’m TIMBER! BRB!

Because you’re a smart audience, I don’t need to expressly tell you from which kind of personally experienced silence this article stems.

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Fun Fact: When someone we care about gives us the silent treatment, for even a brief period of time, something science-y called the anterior cingulate cortex (the part of the brain that detects pain) is activated. In non science-y terminology, the silent treatment causes actual physical pain to our person.

That in mind, this is for you if you are considering hitting the Silent button on someone. For you, so that you are clear; for you, so that you are not hurting another; and for you, in case you are incapable of finding your adult’s cognitive processes so that you may deal in compassion and kindness with another.

There are two kinds of silence. The first, it is a constructive silence – where before the silence is taken, the space and the pause required to think / consider / rejuvenate / not think at all is in fact communicated. Before the silence, a note explaining what you need; an explanation which need not be lengthy, but is 100% required beyond any shadow of human doubt. And just to be clear, I am not here discussing a silence of 24 hours. Rather, I am discussing the kind of silence that is days (bordering weeks) long, that sounds very similar to razor blades across our open hearts if that had a sound.

Here are some examples of what you might say – please feel free to cut and paste:

“I’m going to take a time out for a little bit.”

“I need a break from thinking so you may not hear from me for a few days.”

“I’m tired. Shutting off for a few days. Miss you already. Can’t wait to talk soon.”

“I am overwhelmed and exhausted and I really need to just stop for a bit. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about you…it just means I need some time to myself. I know that you’ll understand.”

Why the above? Because it signals two things – first, that you have confidence and trust in the person before you. Confidence that they are an adult who will take your adult words with an adult’s understanding. The understanding that says they know that everyone needs space, and the understanding that they too will one day also need space – as adults do. (Pick up the key word, y’all.)

The space that you need, that we all need at some point or another, is not about hurting someone’s feelings. This space, to which we are all entitled, is yours as you need, so be okay when asking for it. If the person on the receiving end gets angry or stomps their feet when you are so communicative, you need to expressly tell them to grow the fuck up.

Second, that you are dealing in honesty and respect. That the person before you is important enough (by virtue of their breathing, by the way, makes them important enough) to receive both.

That’s the healthy kind of silence.

The second kind of silence is the hurtful destructive kind, which as above explains, is too easy to avoid. It is the silence which is taken without a signal. The silence that is meted out without explanation or precursor, leaving the person on the receiving end in a daze, discombobulated, wounded, wondering what in holy hell just happened? Where did my friend go? Why are they doing this when we were just playing yesterday and we were having so much fun did I do something wrong behind my own back how many yoga classes can I do in one day meditation is an asshole, right?

It is the silence that can be summed up in two words: Passive. Aggression. And these two words, they are never, ever, not once, is where anyone should wish to be because it is unkind. And without kindness for one another, I don’t have a God damned clue where we’re left.

The only way to recover from this kind of silence is to – when you become un-silent, you come at your piece with unadulterated honesty. You have a conversation about the why of your silence and equally about the why of your inability to signal your need for it. Trust your partner to forgive you if you explain in honesty, while owning and acknowledging your mistake. Meaning, if you could not take responsibility for the silence before, then take responsibility for it after.

When you are on the precipice of silence, consider the above two ways forward and weigh your options against your character, and the reality that we treat people with the respect we show ourselves – either it is comms before the silence, or calm before the storm. If the later is the option which you choose, then remember that you will have earned every bit of the storm which you brewed.

As always, choose wisely friends.

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Originally published April 2015.