‘Silent Treatment’ May Not Be About You

Image Credit: The Independent When discussing communication with people, there is almost a general consensus by discussants that the best way to solve a problem is by talking about it. It is believed to be the mark of emotional maturity to verbally resolve issues as amicably as possible. When someone is unable to talk about issues of discontent in the approved manner – calmly, without anger or rancor, or immediately – they are classified as either emotionally immature, abusive, controlling or a combination of all. This makes sense. People should verbally communicate with each other when they have discontent or disagreement. They should be able to say that they are hurt or offended or abused and try to resolve said problem in the most peaceful way that they can. But…what if they can’t? What if they cannot verbally resolve issues amicably? Or resolve it in the moment when they are hurting? Or any time afterwards? This is one reason why many people adopt another method of communication: silence. Growing up, I learned not to talk back to adults or people older than me. When I say learned, I mean ‘forced to adapt to silently accept the hurt’ that was dished out by older people to me: regardless of how I felt. So, no matter what anyone older did to me, I swallowed it and remained silent. This would have been great if I didn’t have such an effusive emotional expression and personality. You see, if I was happy, I was happy. You could taste the happiness…it was that infectious. If I was sad, it could envelope you in its gaping chasm. And by god, if I was angry, it could consume you in its explosion. But with adults, I couldn’t express any of these emotions. So, I cultivated the silence that was expected of me in my interaction with older people. With people my age or younger, I was myself. This means they got to enjoy my happiness, empathize with my sadness and suffer the searing heat of my anger. Let me describe this anger a bit. Have you seen Moana? Remember how Te Ka seemed to only see red haze, prompting her to destroy anything – and everything – in her way when she was in the power of her rage? Yeah…that is me. When I was hurting, I used to say the most hurtful thing that could come to my head as I lashed out. When that red haze came upon me, I didn’t stop until the recipient was eviscerated: figuratively. With people who were strangers, I couldn’t be bothered with the repercussions of this action: they didn’t matter to me. Now, imagine if I did the same thing to the people who were close to me, who mattered to me. How would I come back from eviscerating a person and saying mean, hurtful things to them? What if they did something – like hit me in response to my ‘sharp mouth’ – and we could never come back from that? Because it had happened! I disagreed with a boy who was my friend and because of the things I said, he came to my house to beat me up. If not for other friends who were around, I would have been beaten to a pulp. With people I cared about, I knew the approach to communication had to be different. The closer a person was to me, the less likely I would want to lose them in a fit of rage. So, with them, I started to be silent when I was hurting. I would give us space, so I could put out the raging fire I was feeling. My motto was – and is – ‘We can come back from silence. We cannot come back from a heated back and forth where mean and hurtful things may have been uttered’. In my first year in the university, some guy offended me on my way to my seat at the Faculty of Science Lecture Theatre – one of the biggest in the school with a seating capacity of around a thousand five hundred. That morning, the hall was packed full, with students spilling over and hanging on the windows and doors. I cannot remember what the guy did, but the haze thickened, and I had a full blowout. I kept going until the deafening sound of the silence around me cleared the haze. I turned around and watch as people literally shrunk from me. Did I tell you the painful shame and regret that came after each of these blowouts? Nothing in my entire life compared to what I felt when I saw people shrinking from me that day. I was red with the remnants of the anger but especially from the debilitating shame I was feeling. As I took my seat with the full glare of students on me, I swore to myself to never lose my head like that ever again. But the anger didn’t go. The rage kept pressing on my chest whenever I was hurt or abused or felt offended. So, I chose a less daunting expression: silence. This meant that the anger stayed longer but the aftermath was more rumbling mountain than erupting volcano. Oh! There were times when the anger still erupted, and I chewed down on people but for the most part, silence was my go-to reaction whenever I was offended: especially with my closest friends or people I was romantically involved with. I have read over and again that silence in a relationship is ‘emotionally manipulative’, ‘abusive’ and ‘controlling’. In fact, I was talking to someone I had dated when I mentioned how we had had a seemingly perfect relationship and breakup. He mentioned that if we removed my emotional blackmail with silence, we could describe it as having been perfect. I was shocked! My emotional blackmail? How?! He explained that the ‘silent treatment’ was emotionally abusive to him and that many times, he just apologized so that we could

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