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Naming What is Kept Silent

“When I pronounce the word Silence,I destroy it.” -Wisława Szymborska

I write a lot about vulnerability because we (I) struggle so much with not only figuring out how to do it, but how to do it consistently and authentically. During a therapy group this week I witnessed a man processing the loss of a relationship through a lot of anger and tears. I sensed everyone in the room could feel his grief over the loss. It was clearly helping to share this frustration and anger but something was missing…

The therapist could sense this individual was talking around the core issue behind a lot of the sadness. It’s normal to be sad about the loss of a relationship, it’s normal to be frustrated and angry...but what happened to turn this individual’s sadness and grief into not wanting to live anymore?

In that moment the therapist asked him to name what was going on behind this sadness and the individual processing would not do it. So the therapist asked “Do you want me to name it?”

We can often do the work to understand ourselves, contemplating how something got to be the way it is, but we very quickly remove the possibility of naming it out loud. For me, when I get to these moments it is generally because I want to be in control of fixing it. Wow this is bad, but I can master it...I can handle it...I don’t need to ask for help yet...only if it gets really really bad…

The practice of naming it forces us to give up that control. Our silence can feed our sickness. Our speaking it somehow brings it deeper into existence. It is now something real that we cannot manipulate solely in our own minds.

I often wonder if that is partially how Jesus operated when he went to heal people. I have always been astonished when he approaches the man at the pool in Bethesda and asks him “Do you want to be healed?” Or when people approach him and he says “what do you want?” To some degree, it’s as if Jesus is saying “I know what’s going on here, but I want you to name it.”

Not so he can shame them...but so they can begin the practice of inviting someone else in for healing.

I grew up believing that we tell people our stuff so they can “hold us accountable.” There is still truth to this, but I think we need to understand a deeper piece of healing comes from naming what we have kept in silence and allowing ourselves to be known. Our focus on accountability is more on behavior correction and less on being connected and known. Our focus should be more on helping each other name what we have kept silent and inviting someone else to join us in holding it. Does this lead to behavior correction/modification? Absolutely. But on the way there we learn to no longer stay silent about our condition...our needs...our fears...and in the process of naming them we become more connected with the story/stories around us.

When the therapist named what this individual was keeping secret, the individual wanted to head down a road of shaming himself...but instead he received feedback and support. He was encouraged and given different perspectives on his condition. In the end he walked out of the room being able to own the pieces of him that were not quite healed yet. He was able to walk out of the group with several other members who were saying “me too.” His problems were not immediately fixed in that moment...but he was now walking through his pain with the support of those around him. The things he previously could not name are now being shared and he is moving away from the silence that has kept him sick.

What does it look like for you to name what you have previously kept silent? What holds you back?