Being Comfortable in the silence
Updated: May 12
Silence is Golden
They say that silence is golden. It's precious because it's powerful.
If you've ever felt an awkward silence, you have felt that power...it's weight, it's presence.
Silence is powerful because it holds space for something to manifest, for something to happen.
Clients sometimes ask me what they can do for others around them; friends, loved-ones, colleagues. Whilst the gift of silence might sound odd at first, understanding it can be eye-opening.
The silent space
One of the reasons that counselling is so helpful for people is due to the silence given to a person to be truly heard. By offering silence to a person, the counsellor provides a meaningful position to be truly heard and understood. As a person hears themselves in that silence, with the knowledge that they wont be interrupted or distracted by the other persons thoughts, feelings or interpretations, their words will seemingly fill and grow within the space. In this way they can hear themselves, make sense of their experiences, and draw from their own internal strength and wisdom.
How many times have you been in a conversation with someone and they stop talking and you say something to fill the void? We learn this by example as children. It's a cultural norm. We learn to take turns talking, and when it's our turn, even if we don't have anything to say, it's socially correct to at least say something. We avoid the silence in case the other person reads it as rejection. Human's need to feel connected because we are social animals, which is why sensing rejection can feel disastrous to us.
But there are signs we can give to another to show that the silence is not a rejection, but instead is a gift. Looking at a person rather than looking away is a great sign. If we have a close relationship we might reach out to that person, hold their hand perhaps if they are sharing something deep and personal, and particularly if it's something difficult for them to talk about. We can show signs that we have heard them by nodding.
And even though we are holding the silence for that person to fill with themselves, we can still speak by telling them things like "i hear you", "that sounds difficult/challenging/intense" or "you look upset/happy/confused by that". Saying these things provides the social turn-taking, but re-assigns the silent space back to the other person for them to build on their experience.
The power to help and heal
When a person is given the space to think-out-loud, they have the opportunity to take sometimes bothersome feelings and thoughts and turn them into something in the real words, easing the internal pressure and releasing tension and anxiety. This is powerful stuff. Even if you disagree with them or think they aren't thinking straight, simply supporting them to be heard can help people immensely. And it's not just them. By really listening to a person without getting in their way of sharing can help us learn deeply about another human being. This is incredibly helpful in relationships of all kinds. Even if you don't really understand what the other person is talking about, it doesn't matter. It's not about you, it's about them. Their experience of you will deepen because of this gift you give them.
Isn't it wonderful that some of the greatest things we can give ourselves and each other are free for us and within our power to give.
Tania Rose is an Arts Psychotherapist, Teaching Artist, Mother, and
Author of the book MINDFUL NURTURING — Parenting in thoughtful ways