In the late sixties, I married my high school sweetheart. He was a quiet person by nature so when we began having difficulties in our marriage and his response was one of silence I thought it was just his personality. Little did I realize it was a manipulative technique that would eventually destroy my already fragile self-esteem.
Remaining silent is a strategy employed by many in situations where conflict arises. Your boss lashes out at your entire department, criticizing their poor job performance in general. You’ve only been working for this company for two weeks and feel he is being unfair to you. You’re angry but fear of offending him and jeopardizing your position keeps you from standing up for yourself. Your wife makes inappropriate comments to your family and friends. This really bothers you and you want to ask her to refrain from doing so. But she has a nasty temper and you are concerned about the ramifications of such a risky move.
Very often people believe that they keep quiet in situations such as these because they are too nice: they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feeling by telling the truth or cause the other person to become upset. But the truth is that those who don’t speak up are governed by fear. They are overly concerned not simply with the way the other party may react but more importantly with how that reaction will impact them. “I get really upset if anyone yells at me.” “I wouldn’t know how to respond if someone disagreed with or verbally attacked me.” Their lack of confidence renders them temporarily mute. While this may momentarily deflect an awkward situation it rarely provides a long term solution.
But there is another form of silence that I was referring to earlier and that is giving someone the silent treatment. This was the case with my first husband. Whenever I needed to discuss something important with him or tell him something he did not want to hear he would respond by not responding. In essence, I was ignored. Disregarding someone when they speak to you is a blatant form of disrespect: it sends a very clear message that you have no value, that your worth is so minimal you do not merit a response. Years of being beaten down emotionally eventually led to feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing, and feeling invisible. My fragile self-esteem was on the verge of collapse and I was dangerously approaching a point of what I referred to as non existence. I had premonitions of no longer being.
Both modes of non communication are forms of passive and/or passive aggressive anger. Fear, a root cause of anger, fuels the examples I provided: fear of being hurt, fear of rejection, fear of facing hard truths, and so forth. When one is capable and confident they know they can handle whatever challenges they encounter regardless of how the scenario plays itself out.
How does one deal with silent anger? I recommend the following:
1. Develop a healthy sense of self; know that you have the ability to handle anything with anyone at an time.
2. Relinquish any concerns of what others may think of you. Concern yourself only with being and doing what your heart tells you is right. Live to please God, no one else.
3. Develop good communication and conflict resolution skills. Rehearse possible scenarios with a trusted friend to build your self-confidence.
4. Enlist the support of others if you are going to address the other party. A strong support system enhance your authority.
5. Discuss any unresolved issues with a third party that you respect in order to gain deeper insights and awareness into the situation before taking action.
6. Know that you can respond after the fact. Not all issues need to be addressed at the exact moment. Giving yourself time to think things through thoroughly allows for a better response.
7. You deserve better! Use your voice. Speak up. Say what’s on your mind with confidence and dignity. Expect to be treated with the respect you deserve.
If you are on the receiving end of silence, may I make the following suggestions?
1. Address the way you are being treated with the offending person.
2. Ask questions: “Have I done anything to hurt/offend you? Why are you ignoring me?” Encourage a dialogue to gain insight into the nature of their behavior.
3. If possible, resolve the underlying issues.
4. Set boundaries if necessary.
5. If no resolution can be achieved at this time, let it go and move on without anger, bitterness, or resentment. Pray for their healing.
6. #7 – This applies to you regardless of which side you are on.
Silence isn’t always golden. Sometimes it is toxic. Know when it is advantageous to use the voice God gave you. If you do, say what you mean and mean what you say without being mean. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s as simple as that.
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