This week we marked the anniversary of the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.  I felt compelled to write a little something today after looking at some of the pictures and quotes from MLK.

 Photo by Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images

Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote of,

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,”

has always been one of my favorite quotes.  As a child, teenager, and even a young adult the idea of being silent about important things was never an option for me.  You create the soapbox and you talk about whatever it may be.  It was not until I have gotten closer to 30 years old that I realized the purpose of silence and why people chose to be silent over fighting for what is right.

Silence at times feels like the best option.  It gives space for you to think, to process feelings, even to return to equilibrium.  Sometimes, we do not have the right words to say.  Sometimes we are really mad.  During those angry moments, silence can be taken as a form of manipulation or control.  No one enjoys getting the silent treatment and in the therapy world, we call the silent treatment stone walling and it is toxic.  For those that stone wall, typically, they feel like there is no option but to be silent.

I think that being silent can create power because it is a choice.

I think that there are times in life where you realize that nothing you say and nothing you do will create a solution to the situation so you decide to become silent.  Power may or may not be helpful especially in situations where it does not feel like there is room for change.  Maybe that is the power of silence…maybe silence creates space for change.  Power can both build self-esteem and tear it down, depending on who is being silent and who is on the receiving end of silence.

Is being silent being afraid though?  What if choosing to be silent is the coward way out of a sticky situation?

What if being silent creates complacency where there should not be complacency?

By that I mean what if you have a message that is really important but you are staying silent about it and the other person or other people interpret that as you have nothing to say.  Better yet, what if they interpret your silence as not knowing what to say or that what they last said is so valid, nothing should be said to revoke it?

I know that as a therapist, I have been taught how to use silence.  We had one whole class on how to manage silence in sessions.

I have strategically stared at the floor for 45 minutes worth of a session on purpose to create space and to create a boundary.  This particular session was with a teenage girl who had cut herself and stated that she did not want to talk about it.  Because I knew that treatment could not continue until she talked about the situation, I told her that I would sit with her until she was ready to talk.

It was important for me to show her how much I valued her body and her spirit.

It was important for me to show her that just because other people blow it off like it is no big deal, I think it is a big deal.

It was also important for me to show her that I would be there for her.  I purposefully created silence and let her know that the ball was in her court.

Do you understand how hard it is to not say ANYTHING during a session?  They are staring at you and expecting you to lead them.  I have been trained to look at the floor; not to get distracted, but to be present and to put them in charge.

I could have done a lot of harm in doing the talking.

I could have damaged our relationship by being like every other adult who lectured her about cutting.  I could have talked with her about cutting but know that she did not want the change to happen because I started the conversation.

Most importantly, we both needed to know that SHE wanted to change.

The first step to changing is to talk about what you want to change.  The last five minutes, she caved and opened up about what had happened and so I created more space for her the following session.  She became one of my first client success stories where she did not cut for the remainder of our time together.

So silence.

I understand how complex silence is and how it can be used in ways of manipulation and power, but ultimately…much to my husband’s chagrin sometimes,

I will always be the person who cannot be silent.

I believe that things have to get worse before they can get better so sometimes talking makes things worse.  I do understand why you need to let the dust settle, but I think there is value behind talking things through.  There is value in standing up for what you believe in and sometimes that is very simply yourself.  I will not be silent because I believe in change and I have hope that things can always be better.

Once you stop believing in change, your life really does stop moving forward.

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