Words of Encouragement (8):
*Can I feel happy and sad?*
In short, yes. This is a confusing, strange and distressing time. We are alive, we are surrounded by life, but also by continuous news of death and suffering on a mass scale, on a global scale, yet also right in our own towns and cities. We are all learning how to be happy with those who are happy, and to also mourn with those who grieve. We are surrounded by contradictions that we are all learning to hold in balance. We are trying to find ways to encourage and support each other, to enjoy the gift of life and be grateful for those in our lives, to make the most of ‘isolation’ and keep our spirits up, and encourage our friends and families and especially children, while at the same time living through wave upon wave of tragedy crashing in upon humanity. You might feel guilty for the times you smile, laugh and enjoy life in this strange season, and you also might feel a burden of grief at times as the world around you wails. It can be confusing, it can be tough, but there is no right or wrong way for you to feel, and your experience of this situation and your feelings are valid. Take time to just sit and be with your thoughts and feelings for a moment if it is all a bit much. Breathe deeply and try to find ways to be calm and relax. This is affecting people in different ways, and that’s ok.
Take care to try to maintain a balance. To know that even while it is a very dark time for many people across the world, it is ok for you to smile, and to share something positive, because those around you may just need that joy and that hope to be able to keep going.
I’ve always been interested in human psychology. I’m sure a lot of you out there reading this are too. However, don’t you find that there is a marked and poignant difference between those instances where we have a purely intellectual fascination in an aspect of psychology from when we have a personal reason or investment to figure ourselves and other people out? I certainly do. The first approach perhaps is driven by curiosity, fascination, a love of learning and discovery. The second is perhaps tinged more with pain, hurt, confusion and a desire to seek out answers to make sense of things we are grappling with ‘in real life’ and / or to find some kind of mental and emotional healing. Sometimes both go hand in hand as two sides of the same coin.
One area of exploration that has come to my attention over the past while is the use of silence in human relationships, its power and place, its promise, and its pain. I can think of five different people over the past few years who use silence as a form of communication. However, without actually saying anything, how can a person know that the message they are portraying is the one that they want to be received? I don’t know. It’s never been something I have intentionally done to anyone, and never something I intend to initiate. The Power of Silence:
Silence can be a blessed and a beautiful thing. Many of us will be familiar with the phrase that ‘silence is golden’. What does that mean? Silence is rare, precious, valuable, of great importance, a gift, to be treasured.
When I think of silence as a gift, I think of those precious moments of solitude where the noise of the world fades out, and we find peace in the stillness. I think of times of rest and relaxation, of being in nature, and although not being void of sound, of finding repose in the natural sounds of a babbling brook, of wind rustling through golden autumnal leaves, of gentle birdsong.
Sometimes I think of the beauty and power of silence as those moments when you embrace and hold someone you love and where conversation and chatter cease.
There is power in silence also, as Scripture tells us, in our souls waiting quietly before God. As we quieten down, perhaps in the sense of a ‘retreat’ we can find hope and connection, we can ‘hear God’s voice’, we can feel more grounded in ourselves, more in touch with the natural world, and find power in silence in a way that gives us clarity, answers, direction, meaning and restfulness that is all too easily dissipated in a world of noise and rush and hurry.
There is Power in Silence. And it can be Beautiful, as we ponder the vastness of existence, the complexity of the universe, the intricacy of our own souls, the value of the life we live and of the people around us. The Pain of Silence:
Sadly, however, there can also be pain in silence. Perhaps you have experienced the loss of a loved one, and you miss the sound of their voice.
But what of other types of silences in human relations and psychology? Silence that is not so much about absence as it is about presence? It’s something I am trying to understand a little more of just now, for the latter reason in the opening to this post.
Silence as a healer – sometimes we all find that we need to retreat, to pull away from the noise of the world and other people, and take time to be still and to heal, and this can be a beautiful yet painful thing. I personally am the kind of person who needs a lot of quiet time, time in nature, and time away from the crowds. Time to pray, to connect, to be still, to write, to understand. Sometimes we are more aware of our pain in times of silence, but inevitably, if used well, it is a positive aspect of human life to take time out to be still, to be quiet, and can indeed be very healing.
Sometimes I feel the need for taking a few days to myself to find the benefits of silence, and time with God, alone. In such instances, I communicate and let the people closest to me know that this is what I’m doing, so that they know that the quiet time is to do with my own needs for personal growth, and nothing that they might have done wrong.
As we seek to grow in ourselves, we would be wise and mature to reflect upon how our actions and inactions might affect or be interpreted by those around us, especially those with whom we are usually in most contact with so as not to cause unnecessary hurt or misunderstanding. I live on my own, but if I want to have some focused quiet time to myself, I’ll phone my family and let them know, and they respect that and give me some space and when we come together we have a healthy and loving place to pick up from.
Thinking of other people as well as ourselves helps to overcome misunderstanding, hurt and confusion, and it is a kind and responsible approach to life that we all do well to be mindful of.
However, sometimes silence is used in interpersonal relationships to hurt rather than to heal. Why is this?
Perhaps you have a spouse, a family member or close friend with whom you have either used or experienced ‘the silent treatment’ from. How do we interpret this and what could it mean?
I’m not an expert, but as I try to figure some things out, my ponderings have led me to believe that silence when used by one person against another could perhaps convey some of the following: 1. The need for space:
Sometimes people use silence as a way of forming and setting boundaries with other people, of highlighting the distinction of one from another, and of asserting individuality. Men and women communicate differently, and sometimes men are silent, not in a manipulative way, but just because they want space and time to think about things, whereas women’s default communication style seems to be to talk things through. However, regardless of gender, people more generally can be silent because they may be subconsciously or intentionally creating space, distance, and be thinking through some things by themselves. 2. Silence as avoidance:
Whereas with the first point above, silence and space could come from a natural gravitation towards ‘problem solving’, or thinking things through, it can also be used more negatively as a form of avoidance. Sometimes people fall silent as a means of self-protection, of avoiding conversation or confrontation, or because they just don’t want to deal with something and it’s easier just to wish it away, by running away, or creating space. 3. Silence to communicate hurt:
We all hurt each other and get hurt from time to time, it’s inevitable in any human relationships, and for the most part in healthy interactions it is totally unintentional. Still, sometimes we just need time to be silent to either deal with and process or to communicate hurt that someone has caused us. I can’t think of a single person who hasn’t caused me hurt or offence in some way at some time, and being human I must reflect that it must be the case that I have unintentionally done to others similar things as they have unintentionally done to me. To err is human, to forgive divine. Sometimes we feel it is all we can do to slink away, to nurse our wounds, and to come back when we are ready. For the most part I don’t tell people of all the things they do that hurt me because I know their character that they are kind people and don’t intentionally mean to do the things they do, just as I don’t if I cause people to feel that way – I don’t do this because overall I know that I can maturely bring my ‘issues’ before God and seek His strength, wisdom and grace and move on in healthy communication. The point is the intention to continue to build upon healthy relationships. 4. Silence as a weapon:
Unfortunately some people use silence, whether intentionally or only partially so, as a means of control, of negative communication, of power, and even punishment or manipulation. Certain personality types such as narcissists may have these tendencies, and may use silence to hurt other people, to cause concern, confusion, self-doubt in the other person as to what they have done wrong to ‘deserve’ being ignored, or to illicit a response.
I’d like to think that people like that are few and far between. I have come across, and worked with people like that in the past, but I’d like to think I can safely say that all of the people I consider friends do not set out to hurt or manipulate people by using silence.
And yet, I find that friends can and do use silence as a means to communicate, quite loudly, the problem being that maybe they aren’t aware of the message that is being conveyed. On the receiving end:
Being on the receiving end, unexpected silences from friends can convey the following, whether true and intended, or not:
You have offended me, and I will not tell you why.
You are not important to me.
I can’t deal with you.
You have served your ‘use value’ to me, I don’t need you or your friendship any more.
I discard you.
I don’t want you to be involved in this aspect of my life / my life.
I’ve moved on, and don’t consider the friendship important enough to communicate this to you.
My feelings are more important than yours, you should know why I am silent, and if you don’t you should figure it out.
I don’t want to deal with confrontation, so I’ll do things on my own terms, managing my own feelings, and will try not to worry about if I have hurt you, because I can’t really handle that.
You’re too much for me, these things….xxxxx……about you bother me, but I don’t know how to tell you that.
I have a new life, new friends now, you’re in the past but I don’t want to offend you by telling you this, so I’ll just move on and hope you figure it out – no hard feelings.
I’m moving into a new season of life, I have new people, I wish you all the best, but the past is the past, hopefully you can understand that from the silence.
I don’t like you.
I’m too good for you.
I’m too busy for you.
You’re a nuisance and inconvenience in my life, I’m better off without you, please leave me alone.
So in case you feel you have good reasons to use silence in a relationship or friendship, be aware that it could be misinterpreted, cause a great deal of hurt and confusion, and can leave the other person feeling used, washed up and discarded.
However, if you find yourself on the receiving end and thinking any of the above, try not to internalise these things, however hard that might be. Most likely those things aren’t true or valid, or aren’t entirely so, and we all have things going on in ourselves and the person treating you in what feels like the above ways probably (or hopefully) doesn’t intend you to feel any of those bad things. Be kind to yourself, communication takes courage, so be gentle with yourself and with those people in your life who don’t really know how to do that well, and so prefer to risk causing greater hurt through silence. We all need a bit of work, and we all need a lot of grace, so focus on being loving, kind, gentle, and understanding, try to gain insight, and try to be the type of person that you aspire to be – one that is kind, patient, loving, understanding, gentle, keeps no record of wrongs, forgiving, helpful, strong, courageous, communicative, an encourager and a blessing to others rather than a source of hurt. The Promise of Silence:
As you can see from the above, silence leaves room for a whole lot of things! It can leave room for healing, for growth and for hope, but conversely it unfortunately, when communication is withheld can leave room for miscommunication, false beliefs, hurt, pain, negativity, and confusion. Be careful how you use silence in your life, and the lives of others. Don’t abuse it, because you never know how much you could unintentionally lose when you’re not brave enough to bring things to the light. Don’t let things fester, be honest in your communication – “Speak the Truth in Love”. So you might offend someone by what you say, by wanting to clear things up or communicate how they made you feel. Maybe you will find that you have caused them hurt too and give them an opportunity to help you grow as well. But by bringing things to light and communicating, you create the opportunity for growth, for sharing, for understanding and for a healthy and mature way to move forwards taking into consideration what both parties have to say. Don’t be afraid of that. But speak Truth in Love and with noble and kind intentions. You may just find that people are far more understanding than you give them credit for.
What is of more concern, I think is not the hurt and offence caused by trying to communicate, but the hurt, pain, and confusion by leaving space for things to be imagined, by not saying anything at all. Maybe what you think is ok from your point of view, comes across very differently to your intended recipient. And if you do intend to hurt people by using silence, perhaps it is time to turn away from that in humility and seek Forgiveness.
So, what of the promise of silence?
In the Bible, there are passages where people are calling out to God, lamenting His ‘silence’ and that He seems and feels far from them. I have experienced such seasons in my life. However, I realise that I have a relationship with God and as I grow in that faith replaces fear, trust and knowledge replace anxiety and worry. Why? Because I know my God’s proven character. Where He is silent on something, He is drawing me closer to Him to trust Him. It doesn’t mean that what is important to me, that He is silent on, isn’t important to Him too. He loves me. He loves you. He is a communicating God, and if He is seemingly silent on something it is for a very good reason, and I can trust His Word and His Character – He Is Good, and He Is Love. There is great promise in silence, in knowing Jesus Christ.
However, there is no one else who is so faithful and true. No one. No family member, friend, relationship, spouse or soul mate. There is no one as Faithful, Loving and True as The Lord Jesus Christ. And there is no one else who always has your absolute best intentions in His Heart, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. There is no one else who has or ever will pour out their love in sacrifice to take your punishment and forgive your sins, and draw you into His eternal care, as the Living God.
There is promise in the silences we commit to God. There is hope in knowing that with all the manifold things in our lives that we don’t understand, He does. And He Is loving and gentle and kind and knows how to lead and teach us more about Him, about ourselves and about other people and to learn to live these things out in a way that honours Him as He enables us. God Is always drawing us to Himself, to think upon Him, for His ways Are Perfect. His arms stretched wide on the cross remind us that He Is selfless and calls us to be like Him, to think of others and not just of ourselves.
It can be hard to know how to do this in practice, because we are a bunch of muddled up sinful people. But we are not alone. All we need to do is ask in faith, believing that Jesus Christ Is The Way, and that we have the Holy Spirit to lead us into all Truth.
How intensely practical this is when it comes to human relationships, when we don’t know what to do. When we put God first, we allow Him to work in the silence, to bring promise where without Him there would only be pain.
And if you find that you can’t relate to these things, if you don’t believe, then what promise can you find in silence? From where you are just now, you can still find promise, you can find hope and a desire to understand people better, to be self-reflective and think about the impact your behaviour, your communication or lack of it has upon other people, even as you think about what effect they have on you.
None of us were made to live in isolation, we are social beings, but we also have a sometimes intense need for space and silence.
My reflection point for myself, and perhaps it could be for you, is how can I seek to use silence in my life in a way that is borne out of love, and is selfless, taking into account the needs of others and the impact it might have upon them. For me, the only truly wise and loving way to do this, is to look to Jesus. And for those in my life who use silence negatively, and not in the Love of God, I choose to forgive, and commit these silences to Him, to find in Him, their promise. x
That’s a tough question. Not because you don’t know the answer, but because the answer may be very painful. I could write reams about this life issue, and about the longstanding effects, but I want to keep this short and write about just a couple of aspects, in the hope of reaching out to someone, somewhere who might be suffering with the effects of bullying, whether past or present.
If you find yourself in the quagmire of victimisation of any kind, particularly if this happened / is happening when you were / are young and haven’t had the years of growth through adulthood to build up any kind of resilience or more positive reference points (although bullying in adulthood can be severely impactful too), the chances are high that aspects of your identity have been bruised, broken, fragmented, belittled, crushed or torn apart in some way. It took me a long time, decades in fact, to begin to unpick the Truth that feeling horrible wasn’t the same as *being* horrible, unworthy, etc. Being victimised, abused in any way, whether that be physically, through cruel or careless words whether written or spoken, mental or psychological distress or whatever way one may be made to feel dehumanized by another person *feels* utterly wretched. Not only are there physical and psychological symptoms as a result of the stress, but also mentally and emotionally it just feels horrible. For a child, it is very difficult if not impossible to navigate being bullied in any objective kind of way. For example, when I was bullied as a child, cruel and horrible words came at me from a variety of different directions, I was physically overpowered and hurt by those physically stronger than me. Like a sponge, I simply absorbed what was being said about me, and because it seemed ‘everyone’ – even people who didn’t know each other – was saying the same cruel things, then it must be true….there must be something terrible about me to warrant me being treated that way….like many children, I interpreted the bullying as being in some way ‘my fault’ because I was deficient, not good enough in some way. The psychological distress and damage children face, even if or when bullying stops, can last decades and unfortunately for many, can eat away at most of one’s adult life, unless they find a way to release and process these thoughts, feelings and emotions, possibly with the help of a trained counsellor or trauma specialist, and begin to reframe their life’s narrative to be able to use their adverse childhood experiences for more positive outcomes. This can be gruelling work…but the human spirit and mind can overcome a great deal, by the Grace that carries us through.
What I really want to say, to anyone going through such horrible experiences, and feelings about yourself, is that that is a completely normal reaction to unacceptable treatment. The bullying makes you *feel* horrible, but please, dear ones, and I say this for myself as well…that DOES NOT MEAN that you deserve to be treated that way.
You are intrinsically valuable, important and special because you are you – because you are human, and are made valuable. There is nothing that can change your intrinsic worth – no feeling, no bad treatment, no judgements from others or negative self perception – NOTHING can ever diminish your worth. The fact that it all feels horrible, you feel horrible, doesn’t mean that you are not beautiful, special, worthy, unique, valued, and ultimately deeply LOVED…you are not here by accident, you are Created and loved, and you will always be valuable no matter what life experience may have told you otherwise.
If you can begin to grasp that, then that may be the point when you begin to recover. Someday you will see that you are LOVED, Created and Loved, in the meantime try to learn that you are worthy, and please never give up. You’re amazing to have made it this far…keep faith in the transformation and healing that LIFE can bring. ❤ xx
Do you ever get the feeling that you’ve worked twice as hard only to get half as far? That you’ve overcome so much pain and so many obstacles that you should be ‘ok’ by now, or ‘ok enough’, that just when you begin to think that you’re moving from survivor to thriver that you suddenly feel that things are beginning to get on top of you again?
I’ve been there many times. Life can be hard, but we keep getting up and keep on going as much as we can. Sometimes things get overwhelming though, and it takes time to get back on our feet again. I am back on my feet and going strong, or so I thought, but recently I have been struggling again.
This evening I find myself ‘sinking’ a little as depression and traumatic childhood memories, fears and feelings from being bullied and the years of distress and anxiety that followed begin to resurface. It can be difficult. It can feel sad.
I feel like I’ve poured my heart into some recent blog posts, and that these have perhaps been overlooked. I guess all of us are looking for connection and appreciation, and I realise that I have given a lot of good advice in terms of self care, well being, and mental health, that I need to take on board myself right now.
It’s time to retake control. I can’t let myself slip back into feelings of being overwhelmed or any other negative emotion. And I can’t look to people for confidence, courage or comfort, for ultimately that’s not where my strength comes from (Psalm 121).
I am sorry if this has been a muted post, but this is Life As It Happens To Be, and this is a real life, real time, struggling with real issues and real moods, anxiety, PTSD and depression.
Yet, I have come a long way. I’ll simply take a step back and regain my strength, and be on the road from survivor to thriver once again.