Saturday, May 21, 2016

Some thoughts on silence

I've never been comfortable with silence.

When I was young I got the silent treatment from my mother. It felt like I'd be in solitary confinement for the rest of my life. But her silence rarely lasted more than a day or so. When she'd finally speak to me again I'd feel redeemed. I'd swear to myself I'd be so good it would never happen again, that silence. But, of course, it happened again. Many times. For years I thought the problem was me.

I didn't realize that all over the world, millions of other mothers were doing the same thing to their children.

I've realized that this kind of silence is "incoming". Other people's silence affects me. I take it personally.  Even now, in my seventh decade of life, when someone is silent I assume I've done something wrong.

Here are some examples:
  • I communicate with my adult children mostly by text. If I don't hear from them within a day or so, I think they don't want to talk to me because I am a bad mother. 
  • My husband is a morning person and likes to spend a couple of hours in the first part of the day eating breakfast, reading the paper and working the crossword puzzle. If I start a conversation he sometimes gets annoyed. I think he cares more about the Seattle Times than he does about me.
  • I send a Facebook message to a bereaved friend. She doesn't respond for two days. I think it's because she thinks I am a nuisance.
If I were reading this in someone else's blog I would probably laugh. It's obvious even to me that people are just living their lives. They're not being silent to punish me. The adult me knows that. The little kid me doesn't.

Here are some legitimate reasons why other people might be silent:
  • They are busy doing things besides texting. Like reading or sleeping or camping.
  • They are spending time alone, in quiet.
  • They are grieving.
  • They feel guilty or ashamed or embarrassed or afraid.

"Outgoing" silence is a different matter. I do this a lot. I'm a talker, but not always.

Here are some reasons why I might be silent:
  •  I am writing. This blogging business takes time and care, and so does the other writing I do. I am within myself and there is no room for anyone else in there.
  • I am having a conversation. I rarely answer my phone when I'm sitting face to face with someone else. I want my complete attention to be on what's going on between us.
  • I am keeping a confidence. In the vault of my heart I carry the secrets of my family and friends. Not the "elephant in the living room" kind, where we keep the conversation light and just don't talk about important stuff, but the secrets that keep people awake in the night until they find someone safe they can tell who will hear them without judging. Listening to someone else, and carrying their confidences, is just about the most important gift I can give them. 
Recently I discovered a secret someone else has carried for nearly 40 years. I do not even know the person, but I know how important my silence is to them, and I will remain that way unless they choose to talk about it.

I am a grownup now, and I know the silence of others is not about me. It is about them.


DJan said...

It's good to know that you've learned such important facts about silence, yours and others. I found it all very interesting. Thank you for writing down these thoughts. :-)

Betty said...

I only wish my mother had given me the silent treatment when I made her mad. But, she went into the kitchen and started slamming cabinet doors and pots and pans for what seemed like hours. When she got that out of her system, she berated me with every single thing I had ever done to upset her. Temper, temper.

Olga said...

It is a good thing to examine those automatic assumptions and where they come from--aa thought provoking post.

lyndagrace said...

Our parents certainly do leave their marks. I think the silent treatment may be the most hurtful of all. Like you, I understand why certain behaviors trigger feelings of inadequacies in me, but that logical thinking doesn't happen until after I've had time to settle down and think about the situation more rationally.

Deb Shucka said...

Very reflective and thoughtful. It's good to know where our vulnerable places are, those tender parts that will always need a little extra attention and compassion.

Rian said...

I learned very young to *give people the benefit of the doubt*. I realized that if I had the choice of thinking something bad about someone or something good, that choosing the bad only made me feel bad. Whereas if I chose the good, I felt better... and if it turned out to be wrong, well... I would feel bad for a shorter time. Don't know if that makes sense, but it worked/works for me.

Linda Reeder said...

When I think back to when I was being scolded by my mother, I remember harsh words and slaps across the face that wounded me deeply, but I was the one who went silent. I held my true thoughts and motives and fear in my head and in my heart. It took me a long time to become a "grown up", and emerge from my silence.
There are still many times now when I am silent. Introverts need that. And sometimes silence is the best way to not hurt other's feelings. I am still way too tied into the feelings of others.
Interesting post, very thought provoking.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Great thought-provoking post. My husband and I are both very introverted, so much of the time silence is just the energy-regenerating privacy we both naturally need. But sometimes it edges into a statement about some kind of dissatisfaction--his or mine or both. If it follows an actual argument, I'm aware of the silence and its meaning. But sometimes I'm clueless until he asks, "Have you noticed I've hardly spoken to you in two days? Don't you wonder why?" Oops.

Arkansas Patti said...

I know I can be slow in responding to other's emails or returning calls so I am very understanding when it happens to me. I don't even make excuses for them for I feel they will get around to it when they can. If it goes on for a long time, I will get concerned that something might be wrong with them so I will make the move.
My parents never argued in front of us or lost their temper with us. If they got angry, one would walk away till they cooled down, then they would discuss the problem calmly. If it involved us kids, we were sent to our room while they gathered their thoughts. Discussion and punishment followed careful thought. I am so grateful for that.

joeh said...


Mona McGinnis said...

11 house guests have just departed. Soon I will tackle the sticky floors, dog foot prints, soiled bedding and leftovers. For now, I will bask in the silence. Yes, there are many reasons for silence and many responses to silence. I find I have to create silence in my mind so that I don't create something out of nothing, i.e. create my own conversation and misinterpretations. I have to ask myself whether it's the child-me or the adult-me who's responding. I often think of the Bambi movie when one of the little forest animals said - if you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all. Some days it works! Like Linda says, I'm still way too tied into the feelings of others.

Sasha + Saku said...

I've learned over the years not to project my feelings unto others...I'm almost always wrong. Like others who have commented, there was no silent treatment in my family. Mom yelled and Dad left the house, and a smack with the back of mom's hand or a yardstick was an almost daily occurrence. So I've never really experienced the silent treatment.

Yet when my children left home, and I was on my own, I learned to treasure the silence. Even now, with my son living with me and my daughter close by there are often days between conversations. (My son and I will say good morning/night and how was your day...often that's it.) I wonder how they feel about my silence?

Definitely a thought-provoking post. Thank for sharing.

Sandi said...

Ah, Linda, this post resonated me with. I have certainly known the angst of wondering if someone else's silence/lack of response was due to something I said, or did. I try not to go there, but I still do at times.

Right now I'm remembering a dear letter I received from my aunt several weeks ago. I meant to respond right away . . . and then I didn't and we went on vacation, and I got busy. Now, I am reminded that I need to at least send an email and let her know I received her sweet letter.

Sometimes, I'm the guilty one. :(