How many times were you told as a child, "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all"? While I understand the sentiment behind this precept, I do believe that staying neutral (saying nothing) can be devastating. But what does this mean?
When I started chewing on this concept, the first image that came to mind was actually a scene from a movie. The movie is Where the Heart Is with Natalie Portman. The plot is this: A pregnant teenager leaves home with her boyfriend. He eventually deserts her in a Walmart, where she takes up residence, until her baby is born. But the scene that popped in my mind takes place while she is driving in the heat of summer with her baby daddy. She is obviously uncomfortable as she attempts to move her feet without putting them through the large hole in the floorboard, that exposes the scorching pavement, just below. Suddenly, her discomfort turns into excitement as she feels their baby move. She reaches for her boyfriend's hand and asks him if he'd like to feel the baby too. He makes no gesture. He does not feel their moving child. He does absolutely nothing. He chooses to NOT participate in her excitement. She made a bid for connection and he refused it.
I remember being so heartbroken for her the first time I experienced this scene. I believe I connected with that young girl so deeply, because I was that young girl. How many times had I reached out to my husband in an attempt to connect? And how many times had a response of neutrality been expressed? Too many times!
The thing is this: Connection is the key! Connection is what brings people together. Being neutral is like giving someone the heisman: your hand is gesturing stop. Your body language is letting your partner know you are not interested. There may be no words or actions saying, "No," but the message is clear. The person is not verbalizing "No," but rather is saying "No" with their actions, or lack-thereof.
Connection is the direct opposite. Connection is a look into someone's eyes; it's a smile; a nod; it's stopping what you're doing and giving this person your full attention. Connection is a move towards someone, not a move back. Connection is the basis of love. Think about it! Isn't this the love story of Jesus and His children? He made a bid for connection. We have a choice to accept the bid or reject it.
Far too many times those of us who have experienced abuse (especially emotional abuse) have dealt with this feeling daily. It's one of the reasons we remain in the fog for so long! Our bids for connection were not met with bitter anger or disgust, which would have signaled a problem. Instead our bids were met with nothing. They were met with a sense of neutrality, a "I don't care" notion. What you are saying is insignificant! You are not worth my time or energy. So...he just stands there and remains neutral!
But how do we change the script? How do we move towards connection, when we were told as children to say nothing if we can't say anything nice. I believe that we don't have to be in agreement to find connection. But rather, we can validate what is being said. Simply reiterate or mirror what the person has voiced in your own words. Say something to them in the same tone they have just expressed. If it's sadness, then hang your head low and speak from the heart. If it's excitement, then jump up and down, high five them, or simply say, "I'm so thrilled for you!"
Connection is not hard. And yet it makes all the difference in building a healthy relationship. I choose connection over neutrality!