Updated: Apr 7
A few weeks ago, on a particularly frigid winter day, I threw on my jammies, set some logs in the fireplace and curled up on the sofa, alone. My afternoon plans did not involve other people because I was going to watch a movie that
no one in my orbit would want to join me for. You see, my “people” gravitate toward action, adventure, and comedy. They want to be entertained, uplifted and feeling better about the world when the credits roll. The slow-paced, artistic film I had selected about women in a religious colony titled “Women Talking” would surely not make their cut - even if it had received an Academy Award!
For the next two hours, as the wind howled, and the wood crackled, I sat completely mesmerized by the beautiful images and the tender dialogue that took place between the handful of women who were grappling with a situation too difficult for most of us to imagine. Drawn into a world I knew very little about, I wanted desperately to get to know these simple but thoughtful heroines a little better. They were openly wrestling with enormous questions of faith, eternity, violence, gender roles, voicelessness, and power. Some of the women were angry and defiant, some more practical and realistic. They yelled, cried, smoked, prayed, sang, and listened to each other in the midst of their pain. Young and old, they encouraged each other to share their opinions and their experience, remaining focused on their deepest desire to protect their children and still be aligned with God’s will.
As they pondered their future, I could not help but think about the frustration and pain caused by their voicelessness in the greater community. Had they been allowed to express their outrage at the harm being inflicted upon them, to share their perspectives and experiences or even just to speak the truth without fear of repercussions, how different the outcome might have been. Instead, they were forced to work through their own fears and pain and consider severing themselves from the colony and the families they loved.
Silencing others is a technique not reserved for religious groups like the one in this film. It happens in our own families and communities as well. We can be prone to shut other people down because we:
· want to control a particular narrative at all costs
· are embarrassed by someone else’s words or ideas and see them as a reflection of our own self-worth
· fear a loss of control in a power-struggle
· esteem ourselves more highly than other people
· are tired, frustrated or unhappy with our own lives
I should pause to say that most of us have indulged in these kinds of behaviors from time to time. Sometimes we openly and overtly “shush” someone by refusing to listen to them or simply telling them to be quiet. A child who has been whining for 15 minutes might be told to zip it. A colleague who drones on and on about their misfortunes might be asked to stop. A parent who continually belittles us might be asked to leave.
But occasionally losing our temper or setting healthy boundaries around someone else’s unacceptable behavior is not the same thing as habitually stifling someone’s voice or exerting our dominance in a way that diminishes their worth. Consider the impact of these other techniques:
· ridiculing, shaming, gossiping
· withholding love and affection
· negating or distorting someone’s feelings
· threatening rejection or abandonment
· withdrawing financial or physical support
· threatening or inflicting physical harm
Being on the receiving end of these behaviors can be crushing. Lack of agency or control over our lives, coupled with feeling irrelevant or invisible, can lead to future mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and rage.
I can certainly still remember times in my past where I felt voiceless or silenced when a family member called me names or my classmates spread untrue rumors about me. I can recall the hurtful and confusing accusations from my late husband as he blamed me for his alcohol addiction and the demise of our marriage. In each of these situations, I felt ashamed, unworthy and incapable of defending myself.
Perhaps you have a story to tell about being silenced?
You might be in a relationship right now where you feel defeated or diminished and want to gain back your voice (or find it for the first time). You might feel insignificant or unable to stand up for yourself. Or you might be a “silencer.” Perhaps you have been led to believe that controlling others will keep you safe or protect you from painful experiences.
In either case, there is hope for change! With some professional help and a bit of time, you can challenge your old ways of thinking, examine your relationships and take steps toward a healthier you. Don’t let fear be the obstacle to a better, more content life!
The women in the colony make a courageous decision that will affect not only their lives but those of their children as well. They weigh their options and together decide to remove themselves from a situation that was no longer tolerable. One reviewer put it so well:
When you are silenced, you must manifest your own doctrine, your own set of principles that will cultivate an open world where your voice will be heard. When you’re empowered, then your children will be empowered, and their children will be empowered—and so on. The generational effect of taking charge and demanding change is astounding. You can’t be too scared to fight, as the lives of so many for generations to come are on the line. (Colossus, Travis)