The Power of Silence

If I had to choose one word to describe my week long visit with my mother, father and my in-laws I would choose: Silence.  Because I didn’t say much for most of the trip.  And even DH seemed to be more silent than usual – he talks more in group situations than I do (in general).

Our trip started with a few days with my parents in Chicago.  The visit with my mother and father was nothing new.  She didn’t ask anything about me, barely spoke to me, didn’t look me in the eye.  My cousin was there – she barely asked about us (DH and I) and we had to do all the question asking.  At one point I stopped and felt good about doing that when I saw that she wasn’t inquisitive into my life as I was in hers (We haven’t seen each other since we were kids).  I let silence fill our conversations.  Silence was my friend.  When silence usually can feel awkward, it felt like my new best friend and it comforted me. It gave my mind time to think.  And I thought about you guys in these periods of silence.  I thought about things you guys had said, advice, support and specific posts you have written*.  And it brought back the things that can easily be forgotten when dealing with Ns.  You and silence stood by me in my parent’s apartment.  It felt really good when all this toxicity was coming my way.

My dad (who is very ill) looked better actually.  It was great to see him and see that he was looking a lot better.  He has trouble speaking and so we don’t really get to talk and we went for a walk since it was nice outside that day.  It was good to see him and when I left I wonder if it will be the last time I see him.

Then, came the in-laws.  Perhaps, I am just used to my mother’s behaviours – in some ways, I have her figured out.  And it feels easier to deal with her.  My in-laws are so subtle, there is still a lot of ‘figuring’ out I have to do.  However, I realised that even if I can’t see stuff in real time I still have Silence and with Silence I found the answers with your help.

Most of the time was spent with BiL and FiL.  SiL flew in for one day.  BiL was the same – behaved selfishly, self-centredly and I found that I didn’t speak that much with him.  I decided – he doesn’t ask about me, I don’t need to ask about him.  I found that I just didn’t care enough to ask about SiL either.  And I realised that I actually don’t care about the answer – I had come to the point of true acceptance with them.  That is how they behave all the time – nothing is going to change except me.

FiL deserves a separate post.  For the first time I was able to see what he was saying that was so terrible.  I could see all this toxic behaviours in real time.  Silence let me see them.  I stayed silent until there was a question asked of me.  Which there never was – so I remained silent.  And the silence allowed me to hear his very toxic words, his dangerous words.  (I’ll write a follow up post)

And then SiL came.  I noticed that DH wasn’t in any hurry to get over to FiL’s apartment from the hotel that morning.  His behaviours said more than his words.  I can tell you exactly the kind of conversation we had – none.  When we first saw her, DH asked her how she was and I thought, great, I don’t have to ask because it would be fake – I don’t care how she is doing.  Then, DH asked her a few questions about her flight that morning, etc.  I remained silent.  She didn’t ask anything about us.  DH even stopped with the questions, he (I imagine) was starting to realise he was doing all the asking and the answers never led to conversation.

In my monkly state, I began to see things in SiL and BiL I hadn’t noticed before.  BiL would say something and then immediately contradict himself.  I started to pay closer attention and I saw that there was communication going on between BiL and SiL – the use of slight head nods and shifting eyes she was telling him if she disliked or liked what he was saying.  If he got the ever so slight head shake of NO he then would change his opinion.  (I tape recorded our conversations – I have to go through it and type up the transcripts, so I will post on this later)

Mall of America with no people - Silence is what you hear!

Mall of America with no people – Silence is what you hear!

I did take a break from this vow of silence with true friends.  We did have time to relax and have fun with them.  The highlight of the trip no doubt.  I played with my friends’ kids and just caught up with the people I love and the people that I want to hear their stories and they want to hear mine.  Because life is great because of this?

Overall, the visits went better than how I thought they would.  Their behaviours were the same but mine were different.  The one thing I’m beginning to notice is that although I change how I handle Ns in my life I still need a recovery time after it.  There is still toxicity after all – I just don’t crash for as long because my behaviours didn’t play into their scripts for continued toxicity.  But the toxicity is still there and my body was exposed to it for 8 days.  It felt the beating.

Thank you for your continued support, it helped so much during the visit.

*Here are the posts that I scrolled in my head when I was silent:

The Project: Me by Judy – Stand on the Rock on FB – this picture represents how I feel when dealing with them and reminds me that it is real.

Brave New Kitty – Reactivity

Caliban’s Sisters – Passive Agression, a Primer

Through the Looking Glass – Don’t Panic: A Guide for ACoNs

Hugs to you all,



22 thoughts on “The Power of Silence

  1. Good for you, TR! Yay! Wish I was there to give you a big hug. It sounds like you did magnificently. Of course there will still be a “de-toxification” period. You can’t be in the presence of that stuff and not need some recovery time from it. I loved how you described the communication between your BiL and SiL. I suspected as much from your earlier posts, so it didn’t surprise me. How sad. What a terrible relationship for both of them. And I am looking forward to your follow-up post about your FiL. It sounds like you had some real breakthroughs.

    BTW–I live near the MoA, and I have never seen it so silent (not that I go very often). I love that pic and I love the thought of that eerie silence in that place. Great photo!

    Love and hugs,



    • Hi Kitty,

      Thank you; Hugs back to you. I did go through a big de-tox period. Seriously, 8 days in a row of conversations that were not authentic and very shallow – it just doesn’t feel right.

      What info lead you to suspect that this was the case? I would be curious to hear.

      There were some great breakthroughs and so much of that is due to all of you. After feeling awful during their visit I felt I had enough umpf (or energy) to try it again. I think I also kept things simple going into such a complicated atmosphere.

      We were at MoA late at one of the restaurants at the top floor. It was eerie.



      • Hi TR,

        Not sure I understand the question: are you asking about why I said you would need a detox period, or why I suspected this would be the type of communication in your BiL’s marriage? I’m going to go ahead and guess that it’s about the BiL’s marriage…your earlier posts shared how she bragged about how he did everything for her and how he was so careful about his opinions in her presence, etc. etc.. From this, I suspected that she has all the power in the relationship. It sounds to me like your BiL has gone and re-created his NM relationship with his wife. He found someone who controls him and whose approval (or disapproval) holds his sense of self-worth (or lack of self-worth) for him. Theirs is an unequal partnership, and real intimacy is pretty much impossible in such a relationship. They are both stuck in old, familiar roles that feel terrible, but comfortable. It sounds absolutely awful to me, and I feel sad for both of them, esp. him, since he is taking the brunt of the narcissism. Not that you should treat them any differently, or open yourself up to her nastiness–no way. It’s just sad that people can get so stuck and be so unwilling or unable to change. I hope you can look at them and see how much better your marriage and your life is than that. You are so much more together than that, TR, social status be damned!

        Hope that answers your question. If not, lemme know. XX00-Kitty


      • Hi Kitty,

        That was the question – it helps me see their relationship in a different light. Looking at their interactions with this perspective helps me see that they are stuck in old comfortable and they haven’t been able to be aware of the unhealthiness. It has taken me a long time to understand that compassion isn’t making excuses for their behaviours. In fact, and I don’t know what to think about this at times, I feel that I am being compassionate by simply not ‘attacking’ back. As funny as I feel when I say this, there is some honesty there – their behaviours make me feel bad and are so hurtful that these emotions can lead to a justification in my own, equally hurtful behaviours. And when all send and done – I am behaving no differently than the Ns in my life. And the part of behaving like them scares me – I justified hurtful behaviours and was very much on the road to living in an old, comfortable way. They are a constant reminder of what I could have been.

        Thank you for your insight and your support! Hugs, TR


  2. Hey TR, what great news. It sounds like you behaved exactly in the way that was best for you to truly ‘hear’ what everyone was really about. Maintaining some silence, just not filling that space, is a great way to find out who people are. The problem for me is when I’m quiet around my FOO they always ask “is something wrong?” If I say “no, I ‘m just feeling kind of quiet,” they get huffy.
    That’s their problem. I definitely don’t intend to “fill” conversation space with any of them in September. My father will fill it on his own; I won’t spend any time talking alone with my mother; my sisters, well, we’ll see how it goes. I love it that you actually TAPED some of the conversation with BiL and SiL. I’m sorry you still felt the visit as a kind of bodily assault. I’m afraid there’s no way around this for most of us. Contact really does feel toxic, even when we put our minds to reducing the stress. Fortunately you were able to go back to Europe–putting an ocean between must do something to help….. congrats on handling this so well. It’s inspirational. I’m still dreading September, but trying to just a lot the week before I go for dread so I can enjoy what’s left of my summer!! big hug to you and looking forward to reading more as you decompress and debrief…. CS


    • Hi CS,
      That is a great point – I could truly ‘hear’ what was going on. I let some of the pressure off of trying out how to respond to them. It is such an unhealthy situation that in some ways seems counter-inuitive to try and figure out how to interact in it, if that makes any sense?

      I can understand the response your FOO would make; I don’t know if the silence approach would work with some of our N friends; so the silence thing probably works for different situations.

      I did tape the conversation and this actually gave me some added courage when my energy was low; In some small way, knowing if I missed something the tape would be a back up to help me figure out what was going on. The down side is that it takes forever to write the transcript (I need to type it out to make sense of it all).

      My body did take an ‘assault’. I had a hard time getting over jet lag and I was totally demotivated. I finally after 2 weeks feel so much better. Although it was rough I gave myself this time – on such trips that we have we can allow ourselves the time to heal. As you, Kara and others have written about – the impact to our body can go undetected for such a long time.

      How are you doing with the prep for the upcoming visit? Totally there for you. Hugs.

      xxoo TR


      • Two weeks sounds about right for a detox from FOO; of course you had major jet lag. I’m trying not to fret too much about it in advance; it’s worst after I talk with my father. He’s playing every hoover card he can, but I’m working on just spacing him out. When I go I will be as “spacey” as possible. I’ll speak in cliches; I won’t respond to ANY button pushes; when he starts conversation topics I had nixed (my mother) I will simply get up and walk out of the room. I will not look at his eyes as he talks but at the middle of his forehead just above his eyes. I find this helpful. I may even wear earplugs to lower to the volume of his voice (hidden beneath my long hair). I will not leave myself open to emotional connection with the guy because it’s freaking pointless. The stuff I dread is the big party, where I’ll have to encounter my mother the ET; but I will see niece and nephew, the party will be planned up the wazoo, I’ll talk with my niece as much as I can. I also dread morning coffee with my father’s narc wife (we’ll call her Zsa Zsa). She’s horrible, she’s the one who hasn’t let them set foot in my town in TWENTY YEARS. She has been the recipient of my hospitality ONCE, in 1993. I’ll try to minimize time in a room alone with the woman. She’s been with my father for 30 years, so she’s there to stay. I’ll spend one afternoon with one sister, the GC, who used to be a real person in my life but for the last five years has turned into the Flying Monkey in Chief. Chief enabler. But I’ll see her apartment, and we’ll hang out a little. I’ll try to space her out too, but she will be watching my facial expressions. I’ll just try to act addle-pated and spacey with her too. I will hide behind generalizations, vague trite truisms, and will not allow any incursions into what I really think. My sister believes I’ve done my mother grievous wrong, not letting her get away with the plagiarism w/o me saying something about it. I won’t discuss it with her either. Going to be a great time. GAHHH. xox CS


      • Hi CS,
        I remember you mentioning the not looking them directly in the eye. I was aware of this technique when I was with my FOO and I thought that since they don’t have great eye contact all ready this wouldn’t be difficult. I did notice that as they continued to talk there was no point and I found myself looking at something else at times – I know I was not interested in what they had to say. In some ways, it allows us to focus back on our thoughts when we can get wrapped up in their verbal games.

        The party sounds challenging to navigate, I found this type of event to be challenging because there is so much stimulus going on in addition to Ns. It is great that you are ‘getting something’ out of it – seeing your niece and nephew. Something I believe we and on Kara’s blog have talked about before: How can we make this productive for us?

        The other technique that I would like to use more of and it didn’t come up this time around (I think because I was not adding to the conversation) was to boil down my response to what the N says that is manipulative to one word: Why? Why did you say that?; What do you mean?; Can you explain what you mean? What is your meaning?; I don’t get that, what are you really saying?

        The visits with FOO are so unfun.

        Big hugs, TR


  3. This is WONDERFUL! TR. This is a universal lesson for all of us. I would talk and talk and talk and there would be no response….so I would talk more because I thought I wasn’t asking the right questions! LOL~ No, there WERE no right questions with these people. They didn’t have any concern about me, or my failing health, (these were inlaws and brother and sister in law, etc) Bravo, TR….you have walked in the light of a very good lesson…for all of us! Silence is Golden in these unhealthy circumstances.
    Hugs, Lady Nyo



    • Thank you Lady Nyo!
      LOL, totally understand that feeling; I would try and think of ways to rephrase things or ask things differently. It can make it so stressful. With doing this, the burden seems to still lie with us. This behaviour in a subtle assumes the total responsibility of having a conversation. And in healthy conversations it is genuinely 50/50. The silence, in the case of my in-laws, reverts back to them. That help me feel like the interaction was more fair than it had been in a really long time. Indeed, Silence is Golden :).
      Hugs, TR


  4. Wow… I never thought of it quite that way before. I know I’ve used silence, but I never made the connection. I’m adding this to my toolbox. It was always there, but I didn’t appreciate it. Thanks, TR! And good for you!!


    • It was so weird to switch to this; this happened the first day of the trip and the first visit was with my mother; While DH was talking, I started to feel the pressure off of me and then all of sudden my mind was free to wonder and then I started thinking and my thoughts lead me to you guys and all the support. I kept coming back to the support of you guys. It kept me going through the 8 days.

      In a way, it reminded me again that listening (not only to the other person but also to yourself) is important.

      Thank you so much!
      Hugs, TR


  5. Pingback: New tool for the toolbox… | The Project: Me by Judy

  6. Hi TR, I like your reminder about Kara’s point to find something productive for ourselves in the dreaded visits. My father’s party will be held at the shore; I’ll go on a walk to hunt for shells to add to my collection. Yesterday when I Skyped with him, he told me that newly married niece and her husband would be moving in with her husband’s parents, to save money. He expressed disapproval of the idea; then he asked me: “what’s your opinion?” I said “I don’t have an opinion.” He looked surprised; I then said, “I’m sure their doing it because they feel they have to, so no “opinion” is called for.” Then he went on a ramble about how he had already helped them financially, who knows how long he a NW will live, they need their money in case they have more medical catastrophes down the road, etc. He was trying to talk off his feelings of guilt (they live in a HUGE house, and are very wealthy). And wanted me to affirm his position. I was blank and silent. That will be my strategy.xoxo CS


    • Hi CS,

      Your dad’s behaviour was judgmental and in some small way he then (maybe) justifies his opinion because he had helped them out. The two sentences are separate and yet tied together. It is something I see often in my FiL (still today I am amazed at how similar specific behaviours are in each of our experiences with each other’s families). FiL will judge someone (anyone, like his best friends spending habits) and then tells the story of how he helped them out financially at one point. And it is like a latent corrector to their judgment before. It seems when DH nor I agree or support his opinion he seems to come back to an ‘image’ corrector. The more and more I interact with my in-laws the more and more I see a delayed correction to something they said earlier.

      We can’t really know for sure what your father’s intention was, I think that his behaviour of a judgment and no agreement for it from you after may lead him to correct the wrong doing to re-correct his image. This pattern is something I’ve realised with many of my friends and families. Instead of, okay, I made a harsh judgement and I was wrong – it is instead, I made one because I am entitled to.

      Hugs, TR


    • And a good one too. I remember a voice teacher I had at least 10 years ago. She was an opera singer, and from the Metropolitian Opera Company in NYC. She had a fabulous voice (mezzo) and when she went home to her mother in Boston, she was so nervous. Her mother was another narcissist. She would bring with her


  7. numerous scores just to disappear behind so she could remember that she had “Made It” in the opera world. Something her mother apparently gave her trouble with. She used music, another form of Silence for her with the old mother….but silence is a great wall to hide behind in your visits with these familial narcissists.


    • Hi Lady Nyo,
      That is a great idea that she brought scores with her to remind her of this and not be taken in by their hurtful words. Having a space to disappear to is an excellent tool you and CS bring up – I hadn’t realised that I did this too (or why) – I often would just go to the mall nearby my in-laws; I would walk around and not buy anything.

      CS, the shore sounds wonderful; picking shells sounds like fun.

      Hugs, TR


  8. Pingback: The Physics of Narcissism | In Bad Company


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s