A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

The meaning of silence — and how we respond to it

in the world I am recovering from, silence means anger; but as healthy friends have taught me, sometimes silence means busy or other issues took priority, or they thought the conversation ended and they’re fine. I’m still learning to feel comfortable expressing my thoughts with even small disagreements to people — I’m getting there, and learning to experience the discomfort when I don’t make someone happy.

One of our readers said this in an email recently and it prompted me to write this post. In the world of injustice and abuse, silence almost always means anger. Or rejection. Silence can hurt. Silence is used as a weapon by abusers.

It is also used by church leaders who want to sweep things under the carpet.  Yeah, they may mouth platitudes about how they will deal with the matter, but when they just never get round to it, you know that their lack of resolution is really a big fat NO. And it’s hard to confront them about, because they can easily hide behind process . “We’re going to address that at the next elders meeting.”   “We have discussed that and taken it on board” (euphemism for “we decided to do nothing”). “Thank you for your letter, we have forwarded it to Mr Kafoops.”  “The Presbytery is looking into it.” “We are going to be forming a committee to evaluate that idea and write a report.” etcetera.

But as someone whose inbox is always over-full and who is unable to answer all the emails she receives from survivors, I can testify that sometimes, in fact very often, my silence simply means I’m too busy to answer just yet. If at all (sigh . . . sob. . . my apols to any of you who’ve gone unanswered or who I said “I’ll get back to you” but never did.)

Sometimes some of our readers get upset when we don’t reply to them promptly. If we don’t publish their comment pretty quickly, they may submit another comment (or an email) saying “Why didn’t you publish my comment?” And they can liken us to spiritual abusers. We know why this can easily happen. The silence, the lack of response, is a trigger. And survivors are doing their best to recover and learn effective ways of assertively dealing with problems, so they may be practising their assertiveness skills when they write to us that way. That’s great! But it’s not great if they assume that we are being necessarily abusive just because we may not have dealt with their issue or their comment as quickly as they might have wished.

Question: am I hiding behind process when I say this? I don’t think so. We do our best. We are all volunteers on this blog. We give no guarantees that we can deal with everything, or do it as promptly as we might like. You know the deal. . . we’re human. And sometimes we get triggered too! Yeah. When that happens, we try to deal with it by chewing things over with the back-of-blog team, and then working out the best way for one or more of us to respond front of blog or by email to the reader. We may not always get it right.

But I’m going on too long here. The main point of this post is for you, dear readers, to talk about the meaning of silence for you and how you are handling silent responses from others as you make your journeys of recovery. And of course, that can include the journey of recovery that you are making even if you are living with your abuser.


  1. Brenda R

    My silence response trigger right now is not from an individual, my church leaders or a blog. You guys are great and I love you for all that you do. I don’t think I would have made near the progress that I have without the Lord’s guiding me here. You are allowed to have lives too. Not that you needed my permission. But, my health insurance company is getting my dander up. You’d think a problem could be resolved in 6 months or the contact person that is assigned to my case could call me back without my having to wait equally as long to hear from him and having the same issue 2 years in a row is unacceptable. Way off track here.

    Since I closed the email account X was allowed to contact me in, my email is under control. I don’t have a lot of expectations as far as people getting back with me. I will eventually be on a quest to gain answers on my own. I did have issues when I first left X. Everything seemed to bother me then. I felt completely unloved, unlovable and was not comfortable in my own skin. I don’t cry nearly as often now. I have this week for a variety of reasons including the 2 cortisone shots I got in my foot yesterday.

    Silence from X spouse always meant anger. My silence towards him was keeping myself safe from his anger. That was a vicious cycle. If I kept quiet, it made him angry. If I spoke up, that made him angry. There was no winning that game.

  2. Cindy Rapstad

    Great point here. Often we filter things through our own experiences and if someone uses something to abuse we tend to look at all instances of that as abuse. For example I have a dear friend and we were on the phone having a great chat and all of a sudden the phone disconnected. When I tried calling back it was busy and then I tried again and got her. She had thought I got mad at her and hung up because that is what her abuser would do. I said we were having a great conversation and I would not do that to you if I got upset with something I would talk to you and not hang up on you. So after that we were able to laugh at the situation.

    Funny how after all these years I have found things that are triggers for me but I recognize them and then I can remove the abuse fog lenses and see clearly.

  3. Ellie

    ” I’m still learning to feel comfortable expressing my thoughts with even small disagreements to people — I’m getting there, and learning to experience the discomfort when I don’t make someone happy.”


    This has been huge HUGE for me. There is so much freedom that comes in realizing that not one person is happy because of me. They are happy because they choose to be. I can’t manage anyone’s environment well enough to ensure their happiness. So much freedom in that!

    And getting comfortable with disagreements is new too. I am practicing this on a young thunderpuppy at my church. He is in seminary and he has lots of opinions and we disagree and dialog respectfully. It’s wonderful!

  4. debbie

    Silence…When I finally shared with the leaders of the Christian organization that my husband (ex) and I worked for about the abuse, their main intent was to get us back together and continue our mission work. It didn’t work. But then there was silence…no one in the leadership reached out to help me find the resources for healing from sexual abuse in my marriage. No one asked how they could help. No one. Silence.
    Thanks to the national Christians, several of them pastors, I received the support and resources I needed to start my healing journey.

    • I’m so glad those nationals listened to you and responded well, Debbie (hugs)

  5. Still Scared( but getting angry)

    This was so timely. I don’t mind silence in my home or in my car but when I don’t hear back in a timely manner from my lawyer I immediately assume the worst, not that he is busy. Didn’t even realize this trigger. Thanks!

    • Oh boy do I relate to that! I had that feeling often when I was going thru legal stuff.

  6. G. F. Mom

    I don’t like silence. The devil uses it to play his mind games. Even responses that withhold a sense of compassion. I do like quick and to the point responses but not after sharing something that reveals my human flaws. My ex friend abuser pretended to be a lover of Christ that just lost faith in God’s people because of her church abuse. Then before discarding me she told me how pathetic I was.

  7. IamMyBeloved's

    I am very late in replying to this, but I find this post very interesting. I find it interesting, because I believe that abusers know the “tricks” and use them as much as possible on their victims. Silence, is one of those tricks, to me. When I was seeking counsel from an abusive pastor and his wife, they would often just not respond or answer me. I would ask for help or counsel from them. After long periods of time giving me their silent treatment, they would then treat me as if I was thinking more of myself than I ought; that I was behaving selfishly; that there was something wrong with me, etc., when in fact, I now believe they did it all on purpose, just to trigger me. This was a common form of abuse at the hands of my abuser, but I did not recognize it in them. Great post!

  8. Finding Answers

    Sometimes silence is a trigger for me, whether my perception of someone’s silence to me, or my perception of my silence to them. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I can often process through it.

    My entire life has been filled with ominous silences.

    For me, silence is never golden.

    • I remember when I first realised that I do not have to respond to a person’s question, and I do not have to fill ‘awkward gaps’ in conversation just to make the other people feel comfortable. So, I learned to be comfortable with remaining silent. What a liberation that was!

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