Silence can be many things. It is one of the most powerful tools of communication. It can be accepting, aggressive, protesting, peaceful, beautiful, ugly …. Today, however, I talk about Silence as the Weapon in relationships, close relationships.
I have been subjected to silence a lot of times in my Life – in anger, resentment, disagreement, disapproval, as punishment, as an indication of withdrawal of affection and a myriad of such emotions. And it has always had the impact it is expected to have, it is intended to have. It sends me into a tailspin as I try to figure out what I did wrong and/ or what I can do to rectify the situation. It makes me feel vulnerable, defenseless, guilty, powerless.
Over years, I too began to use Silence as a weapon. Unknowingly, unwittingly, I imbibed the same strategies I was subjected to. I could conduct a cold war with great efficiency for days together, sometime weeks, in the mistaken belief the other person can read my mind and would know what I am feeling. I would assume that the other person, by my very silence, should KNOW that I’m hurt or angry. My silent rage would do no one any good. Generally the other person wouldn’t even have a clue that I’m mad, and even though I would want desperately for them to engage and ask me what’s wrong, my body language/ silence would say “STAY AWAY!” – and that’s what they would do – stay away. And I would feel more hurt and abandoned, the viciousness of the cycle only becoming stronger.
When used as a weapon, silence can be every bit as damaging as strong words. The silent treatment or worse, unspoken expectations, is a form of emotional manipulation – elegant on the surface because it is so easily deniable. If someone dares challenge the perpetrator of silence or accuses him/her of trying to “make a point,” it is easy enough to feign incredulous ignorance. Even better, if just the right amount of perplexed hurt is communicated back, the unwitting victim now feels guilty for bringing it up in the first place and a double-victory (of sorts) is won.
Silence is a formidable weapon of controlling behaviour, a strategy of psychological warfare. The sad part is that silence most often is used in between people who love one another. It can be used only between people who love one another, whose affection matters – mother-daughter, parent-child, husband-wife, brothers-sisters, and friends.
It took me years to recognize what I was doing. It took me many more years to recognize Silence for the violent tool it was. And it will probably take me many years to successfully counter it.
I have made dealing with Silence-the-Weapon, as one of my Life’s tasks. The day I can overcome it, keep my power and self-respect, AND keep the relationship, I shall consider a milestone achieved.