Thinking about silence.
Being silent in a group.
Thinking about patterns from our families of origin.
Being on a retreat with three other women and the group facilitator and seeing one group member play out her family drama in our midst. Feeling forced to fit into the mental mould she brought with her, watching her filter every action and remark through the lens of her own old, old pain. Being unheard, because she was too attached to what she believed to be true, to be bothered to see and hear what was really there.
My old drama, my family dynamic.
On the margins.
I’m not actually that quiet a person. As a child, away from my family, I was known for being rather talkative. I was made to sit outside my classroom to work on my own, so I didn’t distract the other children.
But at home I was the quiet one.
The female one in the middle of all those boys.
Didn’t really count.
Before I came back to England to live I was involved with running a festival in West Wales. We’d have all these meetings throughout the year, running the organisation that ran the festival. My partner and I were both involved. My partner is one of those quiet types who doesn’t say anything till she has something to say. And is a bit deaf, so misses quite a lot of what other people have to say. And when she did speak, she found people didn’t listen to her. She used to complain about this, so I started to study and work out why some people in a group get listened to, and some get ignored.
We couldn’t put it down to gender in that group, as we were all women. So what was it?
It turned out to be quite simple – if you want to be one of the voices that gets heard in a group, then make sure you say a lot right from near the beginning of the meeting, especially if it’s a new group and no-one knows enough about each other to have any preconceived ideas.
Make your mark.
Get your oar in there.
Right from the off.
People are marking who are the ones to take notice of and who hasn’t got much to say for themselves.
We’re doing this without noticing we’re doing it.
Even the most skilful facilitator can get caught out by this.
The people who’ve been hogging the attention only have to signal with body-language that they have something to say, and everyone will turn to them. And the one who’s been quiet up till then and had started to say something will be interrupted and ignored.
Even if people do listen, they somehow don’t take it in in the same way – they’ve already decided that person doesn’t count.
So – for myself – I choose how I want to be in a group. Quiet or talkative. I enjoy just sitting and listening and watching people, but I can do the talkative, extrovert thing too.
And time and time again I find my theory proven correct. If I choose to be quiet, people form an impression of me as shy and self-effacing. If I subsequently want to be more seen and heard, I have to work a lot harder than if I’d gone in with a splash at the outset – when I’m least likely to feel like doing that.
So now, in my ripe old age, I will consciously set aside my preferred pattern of waiting and watching before I will get involved, and I’ll get in there at the introductory stage, to secure a seat in the front row, just so I can be sure of being seen and heard at a later stage, if I want to. Once I’ve done that, I can spend time just watching and listening, as long as I get something in every now and then to keep myself in the others’ radar fields.
But how do you break a pattern that’s been in existence for over 60 years?
How can a quiet, marginalized one make her voice heard loud and clear after a lifetime of perching on the side-lines of people so used to being the centre of attention they don’t know or notice they have marginalized you?
That’s the problem. The ones who have been getting all the attention never know they are hogging it and preventing others from being heard. They think the quiet ones are just quiet, not silenced. They may even deny they are quiet. My family of origin probably don’t see me as backward in expressing my opinion about anything, even though I have spent hours throughout my life saying nothing while they talked over me.
So when I did speak – clearly, with a simple, clear request, a need – they somehow filtered my clarity into some kind of muffled noise that couldn’t quite be heard. And a massive miscommunication ensued.
The broken promises had apparently never been made.
It was like I’d been talking under water, or something.
And I’m sorry to say there is only one way to break a mould that has been in place for so many decades – that is to smash it completely to pieces.
There’s no place for politeness, or sweetness, or trying to please.
This is what anger is for. It’s the only thing that can break the constraining prison of old patterns that won’t be argued or reasoned away. Because how can you reason something away when people can’t even see it exists?
So – I’ve smashed it. Because I refuse to stay trapped in that glass coffin, sleeping my life away just so others can continue to feel alright about themselves.
If they are shocked, it’s because they never noticed, for all those years, how overlooked I was.
They are privileged, white men who are being confronted with their own sense of entitlement, in the face of my needs, and they won’t own it or recognize it.
So be it.
I can imagine the broken pieces being put back together in a new way, glued with gold paint outlining each repositioned shard – like one of those Japanese things.
But that can only work if each broken, bruised, wailing, hurt piece is truly seen, truly heard, truly taken responsibility for, and brought back to be placed with sorrow and contrition in its own rightful place by those who hurt and bruised.
And it can’t be me who does that.
Because it always has been me before. Time and time again.
It doesn’t change anything.
So the broken vessel will lie there and wait – while I get on with my life.