How to Handle Silent Spaces: Being in the Present Moment for Others. Part 3

mountains-3306145_1920 Silent Spaces. Imagine: You are having dinner with friends. There is a much talking, laughing, sharing of stories. Then there is a sudden lull in the conversation, a temporary quiet. How many of us rush to fill this space, even though we do not have much to say? 8008653072_17840de3cc_z

Image: SD Europe. Flickr.

Silent spaces often occur in social situations. How often are we unable to tolerate the silence? It would be really helpful if you, the reader, could leave a comment at the end of this post about how you feel when there is silence, in any situation. And ways you might deal with this……. In Psychotherapy  In psychotherapy, many times, people are afraid of silence and not-knowing. They feel uncomfortable. The therapist can help the patient here by demonstrating a relaxed tolerance of the silent space. The therapist is trained to wait without frustration for something to emerge, rather than rushing to fill the valuable reflective time with superficialities. This is a way of being present for another person, and very much experiencing the present moment. 26641691666_208226ef02_z

     (Quote by Thich Nhat Hanh Picture Quotes on In the Moment

                        (Original photo credit:Symphony of Love. Flickr.)

Living in the present is not easy. It is difficult to stay with the now, without allowing the mind to wander or to worry and be distracted into the past or into an imagined future. Yet silent spaces can be so creative and productive, in our lives and in therapy. Such quiet intervals in psychotherapy allow the patient room to feel free of therapist intrusion and over-activity. If the therapist rushes into interpretation and quick ‘understandings,’ without waiting with the patient to see what might emerge, something valuable may be lost and the therapeutic process compromised. Timing and pace are crucial in every psychotherapy session. Waiting with someone in an atmosphere of acceptance and compassion is crucial in this regard. It involves creative listening, feeling with that person, and thinking in a way that is based on the intuitive, rather than the purely cognitive. Psychodynamic thinking enables this ‘stepping away’ from the fast pace of life outside. Not Knowing The state of mind needed for such encounters and  the ‘not knowing’ state is described by several therapists, across the spectrum of therapeutic approaches. For example, Gestalt Therapy emphasises the therapeutic value of staying with the ‘now,’ focussing on what is happening in the present moment. Many religions also value silence and not-knowing:
‘Then seeing and experiencing over and over again in Gestalt groups, that ‘trusting the process’ and staying with the void of the ‘not-knowing’ allowed the space and time for something new and amazing to emerge. It linked to the Buddhist notion of emptiness or nothing-ness from which springs a new awakening and creative energy. On becoming a Quaker, I discovered the Fertile Void in the richness of shared silence. The meeting for worship is a space where nothing was overtly happening yet there was a strong feeling of connection and communion in ‘silent ministry’. John Leary-Joyce
In relation to psychodynamic psychotherapy, this approach is highly relevant; it is closely related to Bion’s recommendation that each therapy session should be started ‘without memory, desire or understanding’ on the part of the therapist. In reality, there are not answers to everything. Rushing into false certainties is pure folly. Our society is expecting the impossible of us, and therapy should not replicate this false expectation, but challenge it by example. As Stephen Hawking has said:
‘The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.’
What do you feel about silence and not-knowing- in any situation -and how do you handle it? Do let me know in the comments below. ©Linda Berman


  1. I used to find silences very uncomfortable, Linda, but as my self acceptance has developed over the years, silences have now become great spaces of reflection and growth for me.
    Having Asperger’s though, also means that I often have to consciously remind myself it is ok not knowing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Fiona,
      It’s interesting that you feel that silences are less uncomfortable as you’ve grown personally. I hadn’t thought about that but it’s very true. And your information about the concept of not knowing in terms of Asperger’s is again very much something to consider; I appreciate your helpful and thoughtful comments. Best wishes, Linda.


  2. In the past for many years in any social setting where there was a silence I always seemed to be the one who broke the silence on account of my own discomfort; and as a result of projecting my uncomfortable feelings on to others

    It took me years to cease taking on that role and to realise that to always feel that I had to fill in a silence was not my responsibility.

    What a relief!


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