I hope – and don’t think I am – evangelical about ‘the talking cure’. Keeping shtum I’ve found vitally protective at times. For example, when I’ve tried talking and that has been damaging, having not been ‘received’ in that communication. The big risk with openness and sharing is exposure. Shame – the possible fallout from such exposure – is, I think, one of the dastardliest emotions that we feel as humans. So, I understand and respect the need to avoid communicating at times: when not talking is key. This may particularly apply in toxic relationships where boundaries are crucial; when not engaging is self-preservation.
Let me now assume an alternative scenario, not one of toxic relationships. When I work with pairs of people – including family members, friends and couples, I see my role as facilitating each person to speak honestly without having to leave the room. And before it’s too late. At the ripe old age of 36 too many times have I seen crestfallen faces before me – individuals or pairs – mourning the tardiness of honest conversation. And it takes all parties to want to engage in dialogue. I realise that talking may be terrifying, gruelling, and marathon-like. Still, I urge you if there is enough love between you and the other, to commit to exploring. To get yourself in a position where you are able to have those conversations; able to say what you want and able to really hear the other. If that is too unappealing, and you are willing to risk the consequences of not communicating, then that could be information too? Fear of talking aside, there may be other reasons you want to step away?
Even if the motivation is there, the utility of such communication may be limited. I can only hear, empathise, and communicate with others as much as I have worked through myself. For example, I’ll struggle to take in the loneliness in another if I haven’t come to terms with similar feelings in my world. If I’m pretty clear and sure about me, there’s relatively little in others that will shake me in the long term. Including the scary possibility of the other not being able to ‘get’ me, even vaguely empathically when I attempt to share. I would hope that as a listener, I can remain – or manoeuvre to be – open to listening when it is my turn to do so, however hard – even if in that moment I am being told to fuck off.
What about talking, communicating, even if only to oneself? The cost of not doing this can be beastly: bodies yelling in panic attack prose. Anxiety in this form is often thought to be the outlet for buried, unspoken experiences and emotions. Sad and scary perhaps, but our bodies are also trying to communicate and restore equilibrium during an episode. And perhaps the biggest risk of all in not honouring our own voices is as the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard (1849) describes: one’s ‘deepest despair’ is to choose to be another than herself.
For the most part, I’m pro talking then. Surprise! I can’t knock communicating inwardly and outwardly. And neither, I don’t think, could my favourite great Dane.
Kierkegaard, S. (1980). The Sickness Unto Death (H. V. Hong & E. H. Hong, Trans.). Princeton: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1849).