“Why are you so petrified of silence?
Here, can you handle this:
?” – Alanis Morrisette
I use silence often in therapy sessions with my clients. I gradually found out during the course of my training that I am quite comfortable with silence. Well, a certain kind of silence, anyway. Of course, silence is a lot more tolerable when it isn’t yours. Part of my job as a therapist is to hold my clients’ silences and to assess the silences and moderate them if necessary. I separate these therapy silences into two categories: productive silence and anxious silence, and it is very easy to tell which is which. Productive silence is when I am feeling calm and comfortable (because, if I am tuned into my client, then I will be feeling what phe is feeling) and when I can tell that my client is thinking, when the wheels are turning…something is being processed. Rarely do I interrupt these silences; sometimes I have just sat in silence with a client for 5 minutes or more. Anxious silence is when the only thing my client is thinking is about the silence and how awful it is, and by proxy I end up thinking this, too, but probably a few degrees less intensely. I am much more inclined to interrupt anxious silences to give my client a break and to maybe steer the conversation in a more productive direction.
Again and again, I hear clients say that they must keep busy, not because they have to get things done, but because if they don’t stay busy, if they stop and slow down, that their mind will begin to wander and they will begin to feel uncomfortable feelings like sadness, fear, or the emptiness that loneliness brings. Clients have reported keeping the TV on at all times – even when they sleep – because the silence without it is so unbearable. Hearing these stories makes me feel so sad with empathy. Often, one of the goals in therapy is simply to increase tolerance of silence and, more importantly, to increase tolerance of the buried feelings that often surface when given the chance.
I recently read this article about how more and more people are having to take more drastic measures to seek stillness and to get away from all the screens and constant information/noise flow. The term I like to use is “plugged in;” so there is an increasing number of people paying, quite literally, to unplug, or to have someone else do the unplugging.
How did we get here?
How did we get to a place where silence is not only hard to come by, but that it’s unbearable for lots of people?
At the core of silence – stillness – a person simply is. Being still is being with yourself without any other distractions. It’s just you. My wish is that people didn’t have to be so petrified of silence so that they could sit, think, feel, and actually cultivate a loving relationship with themselves.
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