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Sweet Silence

  • Eating

Many posts on the message boards I advise on ( and lament situations in which family members insist they are being caring and supportive, but instead are unsympathetic, critical, and even unkind to the person with an eating or weight problem. You can recognize when people are being hurtful by paying attention to your emotional reaction to their words, not to their stated intentions. In such instances, it’s all too easy to get into an argument or abuse food. The truth is that sometimes the only way to stay sane is to keep silent, a difficult task. When we are silent, inner turmoil builds, others up the ante to provoke us into responding, and we feel an intense desire to defend ourselves. The choice seems to be engaging in unhealthy dialogue or swallowing our misery and taking it on the chin.

There is another kind of reaction that you might think of as sweet silence. It doesn’t come from holding your tongue because you’re afraid to speak up or from a frustrating inability to get your point across. It’s not about what is being said by another person, but an internal conviction that it’s okay not to respond. I frequently tell clients and students who insist that can’t not become embroiled in arguments and debates that common decency only truly requires that we respond to another person’s questions. What I mean is that it is polite to answer a question, but that there is no need to respond to a statement. For example, if someone asks, “Why are you eating that junk food?” it is reasonable to reply (unless, of course, you’ve repeatedly asked this person not to comment about your eating and they willfully ignore your requests). However, if someone states, “You shouldn’t be eating junk food,” I see no reason why you need to say anything because they’ve asked you nothing.

That is where sweet silence comes in. It is sweet because it comes from a place in yourself that is taking care of you. Sweet silence says you know your limits, that you are under no obligation to please anyone but yourself, that you will not purposely engage in any activity that will upset you, that it’s time for other people to be a little uncomfortable while you look out for numero uno. And, to be sure, other people will get uncomfortable when you don’t respond to their comments. But better them being distressed than you! After a while your sweet silence will give others the message to move on to another topic or simply leave you alone. Initially sweet silence will feel awkward, but gradually it will leave you with a sense of peace and inner control. And that peace and control will make it easier to not abuse food.