“Silence is golden.”
Well, not always.
I had a recent experience that brought me to my knees, begging for a response—for an explanation, for validation, for understanding—and I got silence. It caused such intense pain with uncontrollable sobbing that I knew it was bigger than just that particular moment. At this point of awareness, images came across my field of vision like a movie screen showing other times in my life in which I’d been in this same position with the same result. As I was pleading to anything and everything, my mind became clear and a thought was brought forward. The thought was of the philosophical experiment regarding observation and knowledge of reality: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The truth was clear. Just because someone else does not validate our experience, it does not mean it isn’t real. Just because another doesn’t hear us, it doesn’t mean we aren’t speaking truth. Just because another doesn’t honor our feelings, it does not mean they are not valid. In that moment I called my higher-self forward, my “I am” presence, and she listened and validated. Essentially, I validated my own hurt and experience. In this moment of realizing that I do not need another to hear me, validate me or my experience, or believe my truth—that it comes from me—something dramatically shifted for me.
As I processed this experience more deeply over the days following, I learned more about why silence can be so painful, and why that experience felt bigger than just that moment. I had learned when previously studying about boundaries that not only can there be boundary violations of intrusion, but also boundary violations of distance. This was the catalyst that led to my finding information on a form of abuse called “withholding.” This was a form of abuse I had experienced for years, but at the time I had no idea what was happening. I thought maybe I just needed too much, or had expectations I shouldn’t, or that something was wrong with me. None of that was truth.
Silence, particularly in the form of withholding, can be one of the most toxic and painful forms of abuse. It is a favorite of narcissists and those with anti-social characteristics. Andrea Schneider (2014), a licensed therapist, stated that withholding “is designed to (1) place the abuser in a position of control; (2) silence the target’s attempts at assertion; (3) avoid conflict resolution/personal responsibility/compromise; or (4) punish the target for a perceived ego slight.” The intent behind this type of silence is control and avoidance. It allows the person who is withholding to avoid responsibility. It is a cowardice way to control.
When control and/or avoidance is the intent behind any type of withholding—affection, words, attention—it is intensely damaging to the target. Even anger or words of attack feel less painful, because at least there is acknowledgement. Silence cuts to the very core of our sense of worth and existence. We feel invisible. And when we buy into it, we begin to disappear. We are unable to resolve anything and we are forced into silence ourselves and spin in feelings of fear and abandonment. Boundaries of honor in relationships are violated. What is being taken away is acceptance and approval—core human needs—which is why it is so damaging. It is a withdrawal of approval and can generate real fear. The target often finds themselves groveling and doing whatever to get that approval—to get the silence/withholding to stop. I recognized I had done this in the past, and in this profound moment of awareness, I vowed to never do so again.
When we heal the need behind seeking approval or validation from others, it takes the power away from them to use that as a manipulative form of control. We get our power back.
Yes, sometimes silence can be helpful or even necessary to process and take time to re-center. Again, it is about the intent behind the action. There is always a positive and negative form of every action. We become empowered when we become aware and recognize the difference. When we can see the action for what it is, we can move out of fear and move into truth. We do not need to seek validation from others—especially those who are so unaware and unhealed themselves. Really when we think about it, it is silly that we do.
Internal validation comes from really knowing our worth. We must own that we are enough. If you do not believe it yet, believe in the possibility that you can get there. Begin with positive, empowering statements until they become beliefs (this topic will be explored in another post). State: “I am enough.” “I know my worth.” “I do not need other’s approval or validation to be okay.”
This is truth about the tree that fell in the forest—just because no one was there to see/hear it happen, it does not change the reality that it did fall. Your reality and truth is yours, even if NO ONE validates it. You validate it. You honor you. Take your power back.
Schneider, A. (2014, June 2). Silent treatment: preferred weapon of people with narcissism. Retrieved from http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/silent-treatment-a-narcissistic-persons-preferred-weapon-0602145.