I come from a family that makes use of the silent treatment to communicate anger. When I was a kid, sometimes I used to go to my grandparents’ house during the times that they weren’t talking to each other due to an argument between them. Sometimes their periods of silence would last for a long time, even weeks, meanwhile they lived together in the same house under a tense and uncomfortable, silent atmosphere. If they had to communicate something, they would leave notes around or they would pass on messages through me.
I myself began using the silent treatment as both a weapon and a defensive mechanism as a child. I was brought up to be somewhat of a man-hater so for a period of time I refused to talk to any male relatives except my grandfather or brother. There was also a period of about 4-5 YEARS during which I didn’t talk to the husband my mum had at the time (he wasn’t my father). And I mean I NEVER SPOKE TO HIM and I never took the bait to speak to him no matter what anyone did to try to persuade me to get talking. Let’s just say I had my reasons not to talk to him. To me this was the normal state of affairs in my life; silent warfare. If I didn’t like something (actually I was powerless in that situation) it seemed to me that the only kind of protest I could make was to stop talking to the person whom I considered was to blame for all the problems (that’s how my child’s mind understood it, anyway).
Using silence as a weapon or form of protest isn’t something that I am fully over. There still remain two people in my life that I am ‘not talking to’.
What I have come to realise about the ‘not talking to someone’ strategy is that it causes harm to yourself. It seems like it is protecting you from the other person, but actually you yourself get harmed from it. When I was a child I had no knowledge or awareness of what I was doing. At that time using the silent treatment as a weapon was all I really could do and it made sense to my child’s mind and the powerless situation I was in. Now I am an adult, I don’t have to use the same strategy because I am in charge of my life and I have self-awareness regarding my actions; however, I admit it’s still hard not resort to the silent treatment (or at least no communication/ignoring) with the most difficult people in my life since it tends to be easier to ignore a problem rather than confront it.
I am speaking from my personal experience and my own realisations now regarding the effects of giving the silent treatment to someone can have on your throat, voice and self-expression. The anger/rage/resentment that you may have towards someone which you do not directly express through open and honest communication with them stays lodged in your throat and doesn’t fade over time. This is very harmful for the throat area and also damaging for your breathing. You may find that your airway is very narrow and tight (although you probably used to it being this way so you wouldn’t know the difference). This is a problem because it makes your full self-expression impossible due to stuck emotions that you have not expressed which are now physically lodged in the throat area. Additionally, it can lead to recurring health problems in the ear, nose and throat area.
I used to reason that my throat area must be relatively quite healthy since I am a good speaker and do a lot of speaking practice (exercise for the throat). However, I recently came to understand that I still have issues here that would benefit me to clear. For example, it would be healthier for me to clear the air with the two people in my life I am ‘not talking to.’ To me, this doesn’t mean that I have to become best friends with them, just instead that I move on from my childhood strategy of dealing with ‘problem people’ by either cutting them out of my life completely as if they don’t exist or by ignoring them if we are forced to be in the same place. If I were to do so, my expectation is that this would clear some of the tightness in my throat which makes it hard for me to breathe clearly sometimes.
Another sign of blockages in the throat relates to ‘not being able to hear’ other people’s opinions properly. Take me as an example, while I am very good at asserting my own strong opinions, I am generally not able to receive strong opinions (with which I disagree) with equanimity. It bothers me when someone has a strong opinion which I think is ‘wrong’. I get a feeling of annoyance or sometimes disgust if the opinion happens to be something I have a strong dislike for. If I had no blockage in relation to having the opinions of others, I’d be able to listen and hear them without having strong adverse reactions (doesn’t mean the same thing as agreeing with the person). It might even be able to laugh or shrug my shoulders when I encountered such an opinion.
It has crossed my mind whether this blockage in relation to not being able to ‘hear’ opinions with which I disagree is the result of growing up within a politically correct culture and educational system (this could be a generational blockage effecting most people these days). In politically correct cultures, there is a narrow range of what is ‘acceptable’ to say in public and the opinions which get expressed are judged according to this standard of acceptability and appropriateness of being either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. When someone says something outside of the realm of political correctness in public, other people react and censor you for speaking your mind. In essence, we have been trained by our cultures not to express ourselves authentically; we are silencing our own opinions and therefore potentially creating physical blockages which make it hard for us to hear others with equanimity. As long as we can express our opinions that are more or less the same as everyone else thinks, we are happy; but if someone disagrees we freak out and try to silence them. Things have even reached a point now where even in western countries a growing number of people don’t believe in the right to free speech because saying what you think can upset and offend other people.
What to do if this sounds like you?
In my understanding and experience, blockages in the throat begin to clear by themselves if you take steps to change your own personal behaviour where you have been ignoring people or shutting out the opinions of others. Part of this journey also involves allowing yourself to express anger in the first place (rather than silently squash down this unpleasant emotion to pretend as if it doesn’t exist). A visualisation/kinaesthetic exercise that has also been of benefit to me is to imagine and feel yourself pulling out all the heavy emotional gunk from your throat area. Use your hands as if you are grasping all the suppressed rage from your throat and then pull it out as if you are hauling out a big, heavy fishing net that’s full of fish. When you imagine that you have got the blockages out, fling them far away from you. *Do this regularly.
NOTE: There are other reasons that blockages in the throat may occur. However, in this post I wanted to discuss two causes that I have personally experienced.