Something that the Internet has created for us (in addition to many wonderful things) is full-time availability to people, ideas, and relationships that are toxic to us. Even when we don’t add someone on Facebook, we encounter their demeaning comments on a mutual friend’s status. We have well-meaning friends who may try to keep us in the loop when someone else is saying or doing negative things to hurt us.
For those of us who maintain blogs, we may see other bloggers writing horrifically awful things about us. And we want to react. We want to shout back. We want to write a scathing post in exchange for what they wrote about us. We want to post a status disparaging what has been said or done to hurt us. We chat about it, we tweet about it, we email about it. And we never seem to escape it.
We return the anger – the poison – and we try to defend ourselves. Ironically, it doesn’t help. In fact, we find ourselves thinking about it even more. We obsess over how best to respond, how best to defend our ideas, how best to shame, humiliate or expose the wrongness of another person or group.
It consumes us.
Though it is very difficult to do, and though it requires an internal wrestling match, sometimes the most powerful thing we can do is ignore what others are doing around us. When someone hurls an insult, don’t return one. When someone tries to make you a laughingstock, let them and then walk away. Even though we fear it will be perceived as weakness, what will happen instead is surprising. Through our intentional silence, we will shrink the platform of the person who is spouting abuse toward us. We will also free ourselves from a toxic, co-dependent relationship.
Intentional silence quiets the voices of those who want to harm us, and it makes peace possible in our lives.
When someone hurts us, irritates us, or shames us, we have to spend time reflecting on what our response will accomplish. For me, this often means I need to wait to respond. Someone does something that really devastates me? Time to wait a day or two before I do anything. The worst thing I can do is lash back out at them. Not only will it perpetuate the cycle, it will also fill me with shame and regret about the way I’ve behaved.
Sometimes we need to respond. Many other times we do not. It is a matter of discernment and reflection. But, we need to remind ourselves of the power of our intentional silence. Ignoring something is not the weak response. Often it is a more difficult response. Saying or doing nothing in response means acknowledging that we don’t have to be seen as right in the public square. What matters is that we are at peace within ourselves.
When we’ve been wronged and we lash back in retaliation, we establish a relationship of co-dependence between ourselves and the person who has wronged us. We need them to continue wronging us in order to feel validated and have a purpose. Intentionally disengaging from this is immensely difficult, but if we are ever to have our own identity apart from the toxic relationship, it is necessary.
Though it seems counter-intuitive, our silence will actually quiet the voices of those who want to hurt us. When we engage with them, we are allowing their platform to speak through ours. Intentional silence cuts off that avenue for their behavior. Our silence will quiet them. And eventually, we won’t even hear them anymore.
Intentional silence also brings freedom and peace inside of us. Opting out of the co-dependent relationship of drama and pain gives us the space to find our own identity apart from what others might say or do. There is freedom in choosing to not retaliate, and though intentional silence is difficult, it becomes an easier choice over time.
Others may continue to try and find their own identities by pointing out the flaws and foibles of others, but we do not have to join them.