Honoring Silence……….

What happens when we can’t write? When the ability to write abandons us? How can we make sense of this and explain the not-writing periods?

Selective mutism is a response to trauma where people stop speaking (Celie, the heroine of Alice Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple is rendered mute by the abuse she suffers, eventually writing helps her break the silence). Harriet Shawcross explores the phenomenon of selective mutism in her book Unspeakable, part memoir, part investigative journalism. It happens all over the world.

Yet when writing isn’t happening it’s called Writer’s Block which suggests an external wall rather than an internal response to the inexpressible. Anais Nin, the 20th century feminist diarist said:

We write to taste life twice, once in the moment and in retrospect.

so it seems to make perfect sense that we should not want to taste out trauma twice and that writing would desert us in order to protect us.

There have been two significant periods in my life when I couldn’t write – in my teens and just the last few months (slowly now the ability to write in coherent sentences is returning, but not yet the ability to write story). Both times it was after a major trauma. Yet each time I felt frustrated because the very means by which I make sense of the world and process experience had deserted me.

Having been a journal writer since I could make marks on the page, it was extremely distressing to have a period in my teens when I could not write—I literally could not write—a neurological event utterly disrupted my mental and physical processes. The re-learning was slow. I was unlanguaged and felt cut off from my very self when I could not write.

(Thompson K. & and Wright J. 2015 Honoring Silence in  Adams & Thompson (eds)Expressive Writing  Counseling and Healthcare: Rowman and Littlefield)

I see over and over again that some clients who have suffered childhood abuse find it possible to write before they can speak about it. But this is a slow and tender process, one that must be broken down into small and contained parts. Traumatic memories are stored in the non-verbal parts of the brain and restoring the narrative requires access to words.

Prompt: If writing has become hard or seems to have disappeared then remember that one word counts, that a phrase or an image contains much more than itself. So, write the word  and without context. Do not try to put it into a story. Do not yet try to tell the story of your trauma. Story time will come later. And for once, do not re-read, do not reflect, leave your marks on the page and come back to them when time has passed.

Above all, be gentle with yourself.

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Honoring Silence……….”

  1. Lovely blog post. I hope your writing is coming back to you.

    I’m getting the heat from Barry & Ping to see who’s in for the April LA Summit. Can you come this year? Mary cannot — her mum is simply too unstable and she’s not planning ahead for discretionary events. Ingrid is in again this year, and Sandi Marinella. Carolyn Koehnline has declined.

    Let me know if you’d like to present — and if so, what? I’m asking everyone to do half-days (3 hrs).

    Best, Kay

    Kathleen Adams LPC Founder, Center for Journal Therapy Inc. 303-986-6460

    On Tue, Jul 23, 2019 at 6:15 PM Therapeutic journal writing wrote:

    > Kate Thompson posted: “What happens when we can’t write? When the ability > to write abandons us? How can we make sense of this and explain the > not-writing periods? Selective mutism is a response to trauma where people > stop speaking (Celie, the heroine of Alice Alice Walker’s ” >

    Like

  2. Kate,
    I am sorry to learn that you have been unable to write in these past months, and your explanation. I hope that whatever it is that has silenced your pen, that the thoughts of caring people will give you strength to get through. I also hope that this post is the beginning of the passage through. I am holding you in my thoughts and prayers.
    You have left your fingerprint on my heart and I am eternally grateful to you.
    Sarah Birnbach

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you Kate. Very supportive. love, jackie

    On Tue, Jul 23, 2019 at 6:15 PM Therapeutic journal writing wrote:

    > Kate Thompson posted: “What happens when we can’t write? When the ability > to write abandons us? How can we make sense of this and explain the > not-writing periods? Selective mutism is a response to trauma where people > stop speaking (Celie, the heroine of Alice Alice Walker’s ” >

    Liked by 2 people

  4. What a gift, thank you Kate.

    Linda W. Peterson-St. Pierre Ph.D
    Emeritus Professor, University of Nevada School of Medicine
    Marriage and Family Therapist #0025
    Office: 775 324 6501
    Web Site: http://drlindawpeterson.com/
    African Proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; If you want to go far, go together.”

    Liked by 2 people

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