We are created for connection, and unhealthy silence creates the opposite, which is isolation.
Do you know there is healthy and unhealthy silence? My personal experience of unhealthy silence came from the trauma I experienced. I was disappointed with life, and I lived with so much shame. Feeling disconnected was one of the side effects. I lived with unhealthy silence.
I watched a video recently that inspired me to think more about the impact of silence.
I have a close friend who recently buried her husband as a result of Alzheimer’s. From the very beginning, it was a confusing and frustrating journey. As the disease progressed, communication decreased, and silence increased.
Close to the end of his journey, one of his four sons went to visit his Dad. He shot a video while he was there. It was heartbreaking to watch. The father and son sat in complete silence for over 20 minutes. The son wished he could communicate with his Dad, yet knew his Dad didn’t have the capacity. The beauty of the video, however, is how the son connected with his Dad by simply by sitting in silence and holding his hand.
This video illustrates the trauma of silence.
How often do we long to communicate with someone we love and can’t find a way to connect? The trauma breaks down our ability to connect. We feel misunderstood, and silence becomes our only form of communication.
The silence we eventually live with is one of the worst parts of experiencing trauma.
The silence I’m referring to does not mean we never speak a word; it means we cannot communicate in meaningful ways.
It becomes difficult to have deep connections. We can easily talk about things in general, like sports, weather, careers, family, and what we do. We often complain about life and people in general, but we can’t connect on deep levels.
There is a story of trauma from the bible about a man named Job.
We learn in the beginning that Job was a righteous man, and there was no one like him in all the land. He was wealthy and enjoyed the good life that comes with success. He cared for the poor, the homeless, and those who had nothing.
Yet, he suffered more losses in a few days than most of us will ever lose in a lifetime, including everything he owned. Worst of all was the loss of his seven sons and three daughters, all killed within a few days.
Job experienced trauma and then silence.
We can read about how he lamented and asked God why? (Although he never blamed God.)
His wife said to him in anguish, “Why don’t you just curse God and die?”
He remained firm in his faith and responded by saying, “You talk like a fool! Should we only receive pleasant things from the hand of God and never anything unpleasant?”
This conversation is the last we read anything about his wife. I often wonder if the trauma silenced her too.
During his trauma, three close friends came and sat with him in silence for seven days. His losses were so great there were no words to comfort him in his grief.
I remember a time in my own life when trauma silenced me. Fifteen years after my abuse had ended, I learned that our sweet daughter was also abused during the same period as me.
For days I could not eat or get myself together enough to function as a businesswoman or a mom. I felt Satan himself was mocking me, crushing me with his intimidating words of defeat, and laughing at me.
I was already in therapy for my past emotional despair, and this news traumatized me all over again.
Even though it’s been many years since this news came out, I still feel the trauma of it all and have tears welling up from my soul.
I remember Jonas holding me for a very long time after one of my counseling sessions.
Jonas said, “I’m so sorry this happened to you and our sweet daughter. I wish I could fix this for you, but I can’t. Life is just not perfect here but someday it will all be perfect. When we get to Heaven there will be no more pain, no more disappointments. It’s just not perfect here”.
The words he said comforted me but did not lessen the trauma. I still had to ask the age-old question: Why God?
I longed for Heaven. I already had a little girl in Heaven and felt like the ultimate would be to be with her. I wanted life to be much more!
Would the trauma of abuse ever go away in our family? There were other family issues that we were trying to work through at the same time. It all felt like too much! I didn’t know I was in the beginning stages of unhealthy silence.
I started to experience the trauma of silence. There was no lasting comfort, and peace was only a wishful thought.
At that point, I completely shut down. I took a short sabbatical, and I isolated myself from those I loved most. Getting out of bed was impossible most days.
I even began making plans to leave my business, walk away from everything, and start a new life someway, somehow, somewhere.
One of the things I remember most during that time was that I could no longer pray audibly. When I would start to pray, I felt a lump in my throat that I thought would choke me.
The trauma of silence had a physical effect on my ability to verbalize my feelings and thoughts, even to God. For three years, I prayed silent prayers.
I remember telling Jonas that I can’t pray anymore. He said, “That’s ok. I’ll pray.”
The truth was I loved God, but I didn’t trust Him.
The prayers of protection and safety for our daughters I sincerely prayed, felt like they had never reached Heaven.
As silly as it may sound, I felt a lot like Job. During that time, I talked with one of my upper management leaders at Auntie Anne’s. I gave him a heads up about my issues and the need for some time off.
He said to me, “Do you feel a little like Job?”
At that moment, I felt understood and comforted.
I know my loss was nothing compared to the losses Job had, but suddenly I felt like I could relate to his suffering.
Trauma and silence are about loss and suffering. The kind of loss that makes you feel it’s more than you can bear.
If you experience too many losses over a short time, it can feel like you’ve lost it all. The moment of loss takes your breath away, and your heart may feel pain. Pain so deep you wonder if you’ll ever recover. Will life be normal again?
During this time in my life, two of my very dear friends stopped by my house. I felt like a zombie. I was thankful they came, but I had nothing to say. I was speechless. They told me they only came to sit with me.
I felt embarrassed because I had nothing to say. I had experienced trauma, and now the trauma of silence was beginning to impact me.
Back to Jobs’s story. I don’t know how long he suffered or when he was able to get up from the ashes.
We do know that eventually, Job and his three friends began to talk. The conversation started with why God? Job pleaded his case to God as his friends listened. His friends refused to reply because Job insisted he was innocent of any wrongdoing.
Job said, “I am pure. I am innocent. I have not sinned. The trauma I’m experiencing is not because of any wrong I have done.”
In the trauma of silence, we quietly asked the same questions and declare the same things as Job did:
- Have I sinned?
- Has God forgotten me?
- What does God have against me?
- I feel guilty and loathe my very life.
- I complain and experience the bitterness of the soul.
- I feel like I’m being destroyed.
- God gave me life and showered me with kindness, so why has this happened?
- Why was I ever born?
Even as Job’s friends accused and judged him, he still responded by saying things like, “I hear what you say to me, my friends, but someone in silence or trauma is not inferior to those who have never experienced trauma. I am not inferior to you because of my trauma. I will continue to plead my case with God.”
After seven days of sitting in silence, followed by his friend’s accusations and misunderstanding, Job had the last word. He said to his friends, “I have followed God closely.”
Job knew he was not to blame for all his losses.
When we face trauma, we may feel like Job in many ways:
- At a loss for words
- Alone and accused
- Abandoned by God, friends, and family
Trauma leaves us silent and then silence becomes our trauma.
We long to be heard, understood, and accepted by those around us.
The trauma of silence made me feel angry and out of control. I was a basket case! I couldn’t get through life without professional help. I came to the end of the road with no choice but to see a counselor and a Psychiatrist. It saved my life.
Instead of silence, I began the journey of spilling my guts to someone who understood trauma. It was a long process, but the result was worth every minute I spent with this wise Psychiatrist.
The good news is that you can reverse the trauma of silence with help and determination to live out the purpose for which you were created.
My two friends who came to my house never accused me, but instead, they sat with me in my silent trauma.
My Psychiatrist listened as I asked the questions that had no answers (or so I thought.)
Peace was distant and out of reach, but today because of the work I’ve done to overcome the trauma of silence, I can say, “It is well with my soul.”