Updated: Jan 18, 2021
A LACK OF SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL REGULATION
As I dive into the self-realization of my patterns, habits, and actions, I have come to better understand my true meaning of “silent treatment”- and it’s very different from the traditional definition. I can't tell you the number of people who have been upset, confused, hurt, or angry because of the fact that I often react by going silent. The worst part about this misunderstanding is that, as I begin to understand my reason for going silent, I simply can’t help it. I know my silence puts them in a difficult position because it can be perceived as dismissive, rude, or even childlike, robbing them of their need to process and communicate, but I promise that, for me, it’s something that can’t be helped.
Try as you might to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, it’s never completely possible to understand. And, for myself, I have been swimming in uncharted territory when it comes to understanding, feeling, and recognizing emotion. Though those things are becoming more recognizable as I am able to reflect and gain better understanding of the ins and outs of my experiences, as well as my reactions, it’s a slow process.
"I can't tell you the number of people who have been upset, confused, hurt, or angry because of the fact that I often react by going silent. The worst part about this misunderstanding is that, as I begin to understand my reason for going silent, I simply can’t help it."
For me, “the silent treatment” has nothing to do with being stubborn or refusing to talk to someone, especially after an argument or disagreement. Instead, it has EVERYTHING to do with a lack of emotional and self regulation. If something is triggered in me during a conversation, my reactions have always been very black or white; I’m left with the choices of either lashing out (to the point of extreme rage) or going completely numb (shutting down, sometimes without even being able to move).
Up until a year ago, I couldn’t have even described that for you.
While the rage reaction has become a rare occurrence, the need to completely shutdown shows up more often than not. This process of shutting down, I’ve realized, physically feels like my body is morphing into a pile of bricks or cement, and I’m suddenly overcome with incredible exhaustion and fatigue. It may sound silly that a 36-year-old woman is just learning to understand feelings and emotions, but this is my truth. I am also just learning to find and use positive coping mechanisms when faced with these overwhelming emotions.
This week was a perfect example of how I allowed these positive coping mechanisms to help me self regulate emotions. Two opportunities to practice these tools showed up in my life, and I truly thank the universe for both of them. What good are tools without a project to use them on?
Monday morning I received a letter in the mail from Collin County. Immediately, my first reaction was to assume that I got a ticket or violation. But, to my surprise, it was a letter notifying me that my divorce had been granted ten days prior. I had been told that I would need to appear in court to get the final approval, so I was taken aback to read that everything had been completed. Although I was the one to spearhead this divorce, seeing the letter and reading those letters in print made me sad. As I sat down with the news, I immediately felt myself beginning to shut down, my body weighed down by the familiar piles of bricks. It so happened, however, that I was reading the letter on my meditation cushion, which made it easy for me to decide right there in that moment to meditate. Right before the meditation, and as a tear rolled down my face, I repeated the affirmation, “ I am peace.” As I kept my concentration on the point between my eyebrows, I held the quality of peace in my heart. After my meditation, I read the letter again, said “okay” to myself and put the letter away. That was that.
This is progress. I chose a more positive coping mechanism to help me with emotional regulation and in the face of that very life changing letter. The experience allowed me to be more present and to practice not holding on to past hurt or even letting my history of emotions build up. I felt less reactive and was able to keep myself in the here and now. Typically, an emotional experience like this would spin me into a web of isolation, which could last days, weeks, and sometimes even months. In that process, I would shut anyone and everyone, including myself, out. Instead, the very next day I was having a conversation with someone, one that was full of engaging questions. It turned into an open invitation for me to think about circumstances in my life, ones that I had numbed out and almost purposely forgotten.
"The experience allowed me to be more present and to practice not holding on to past hurt or even letting my history of emotions build up."
But, in recalling those memories, my brain and body went into complete shutdown, that all too familiar “silent treatment” was eroding the conversation. This person, recognizing what was happening, replied, “I’m simply trying to understand and know you better.” Their reaction triggered something positive, pulling me out of a dive into complete dissociation. Responding, I said, “My body feels like bricks. I’m not being silent to avoid this conversation, but everything has gone numb.”
Personally, this was a huge victory. Now, I can at least communicate to whoever is in front of me that I am not giving them “the silent treatment,” but that I am in fact coping by involuntarily shutting down.
I asked for the conversation to close and hopefully didn’t leave them too lost in the dark. Intuitively, I decided I needed to end the conversation and do something else. I found company in Hulu and watched a few episodes of Bob's Burgers and laughed, redirecting my attention off of shutting down. Though I wasn’t able to prevent the shutdown completely, I was able to identify that it was happening. For me, that’s a sign that I am making progress to “unsilencing” the silent treatment. And, maybe, with enough time, practice and positive tools (like journaling and meditation) I’ll be able to prevent the shutdown from happening at all.