The email that goes unanswered for several days. The phone call that doesn’t get returned. What do you project into the silence? They don’t love me. They hate me. They’re mad at me. They think my idea is stupid. I’m bugging them. Maybe they didn’t get it? No, they got it, they just don’t like my idea. I asked too much.
Does any of this sound familiar?
It is so tempting to project our own story into the silence. Isn’t it interesting that we often project the most painful scenario? The one that hurts us and diminishes us the most?
I recently had an awkward conversation with a friend and became convinced later that day that she was mad at me. I texted her an apology, a general one since I wasn’t quite sure what to apologize for, and then felt really vulnerable. I checked my phone obsessively for the next hour. Nothing. The silence became incredibly agitating. I decided to call her and got her voicemail. Crap. Then I left another message on her voicemail, telling her I was worried that she was upset with me.
Nothing. No call back.
I spent the rest of the day distracted, not able to work, sobbing intermittently. I was convinced, not only that she hated me, but that I was a horrible person. That whatever I did or however I was being was totally unacceptable to other humans. I wondered if anyone would ever love me considering I was such a horrible and unlovable person. I was in a total shame spiral!
But this time I did something new. I called a really wise friend, right in the white hot heat of that fire. I sobbed like a crazy person, intermittently choking things out like, “I think she’s mad at me but I don’t know what I did. I’m afraid everyone is going to go away…” She listened and then asked me something with so much compassion. “Can you simply be with the possibility that she is upset with you? Just sit with it?”
I considered it for a moment, and then responded through more tears, “No… I don’t think I can! Not even for five minutes. I think it’s one of the hardest possible things for me to be with.”
Then she said, “So that’s your work then! You’re being with it now though. You’re doing it. It’s painful but you’re being with it in this moment. You’re growing your capacity…”
The friend called the next day and it turns out she wasn’t mad at me at all. She had been having a rough and busy day and just wasn’t able to call back. It wasn’t personal and I hadn’t done anything wrong. I had worked myself up into a froth for nothing!
Do you ever do this?
Our woundedness can creep up at unlikely moments. For me, something as minor as someone being irritated with me can send me into a really dark place, and fast. I am so grateful I was able to reach out this time, right in the thick of it, and get support.
This is what wisdom is– Creating even the smallest bit of consciousness around our responses so that we have some room to breathe, to choose, to see things for what they are. And if we can’t do it ourselves, the most loving choice is to reach out to a friend. Someone who can nod their head and say, “Oh honey, I’ve been right where you are… It’s so painful.”
Is there anywhere in your life you are projecting into the silence? Are you making up a story about the person who hasn’t called? the friend who hasn’t emailed back? Did you go out on a limb and got left hanging? What story are you telling yourself?