Mental Health in 500 Words or Less: The Hidden Strength in Silence

Silence is often misunderstood in our world, and a force that wields much more power than what initially meets the eye.

A quick story. I’m an introvert. In a nutshell, this means that I’m the kind of person that feels energized by alone time and independence. It also means that growing up I was the quietest kid in most rooms. This led to all kinds of well-meaning suggestions from those around me — Don’t be so shy! Open up more! How come you don’t talk more?

I’ve heard them all, ad nauseam, in addition to the various meanings they might assign to the way they experience my natural temperament — that I’m disinterested, withholding, stuck in my shell… you name it.

I can understand why these assumptions formulate so automatically. We live in an extroverted world, and many times “success” and what we deem “normal” is equated with extroverted traits such as being highly sociable, outgoing, etc. Considering there are companies out there that still use personality assessments to screen for these qualities in potential employees, there are at least some real-life stakes to projecting a certain image.

The ancient psychiatrists and psychologists of yesteryear even tried to label introversion as a personality disorder at one point, despite so many mental health professionals being card-carrying introverts themselves. For people like us — our inner worlds are often more vibrant and saturated than our external reality. Naturally, this makes us predisposed more toward listening, self-reflection, analysis – ya know, typical therapist-type stuff.

Luckily, the people I mesh with most on this strange little planet are the type that tend to really dig having a friend that does not need to force-feed verbiage into every waking moment, and do not feel slighted by any perceived lack of gum flapping when our bodies happen to be within the same physical space.

At the same time, I also really enjoy talking to people and hearing about their lives, to that extent I’ve always felt this internal pull toward “improving my conversational skills” that it took me long-time to realize a lot of it wasn’t exactly helpful to me and even reinforcing some anxiety.

But now that I’m grad school to be a therapist, I find myself revisiting the nature of silence, but this time through a much different lens. Silence, in our world, isn’t looked down upon or seen as a social deficit in our chosen vocation anymore. Instead, is a highly valued skill and an important tool for facilitating self-realization and change in others. Silence provides an opportunity to reflect, to process the events of our lives, and to sit with our own discomfort and learn that we can grow stronger from the experience.

So if you’re interested — find a brief moment this week for some silence. No agenda other than just listening. Take inventory of your inner life and connect to the wisdom that tends to surface when we cease to fill too many of our moments with words.

See you on the next consult!

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