Is It The Silent Treatment or Emotional Survival, Part 6: “Losin’ All Your Highs and Lows”

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

A segment of the lyrics to the old Eagles’ tune, “Desperado,” that I listened to again, recently, speaks to the topic of this series. These words: “You’re losin’ all your highs and lows; ain’t it funny how the feelin’ goes away”  speak  to withdrawal from another person, needed or not, and how that can damage one.

RE needed: there comes a point, a day, perhaps, or a series of days or longer where due to the erosion of trust and safety in a verbally abusive, or other kind of damaged relationship, one closes in, closes off, cocoons himself or herself emotionally in hopes of sustaining some kind of homeostasis and insulation from pain. Others may call this the “silent treatment.” Survivors call it “emotional survival”.

RE no longer needed: but of course, we are not made to lose the highs and lows of relationships, at least not for long, without permanent damage. But it’s hard to “come back,” as it were, to “come down from the fences,” as that song writer put it, and open the gate to relationships again.

This brings to mind another completely different kind of “insulation”.*

Recently I had an old, partial crown replaced.  Molar number 19 had started to show a tiny bit of decay just at the edge of the existing crown. When the dentist removed the old one and before he prepped the tooth for the temporary, he showed me on the overhead photo display how it looked.

I was shocked at two things: how much decay there was on the remaining tooth that had, nevertheless, not caused me pain all those years and how the tooth’s nerve was barely perceptible. It appeared as only a thin, small line tracing asymmetrically upward from the root as contrasted with the thick, vertically aligned nerves in the teeth nearby. I asked the dentist how come I hadn’t had any pain with all that decay present!

He explained that it had to do with the history of the tooth. Teeth have history. Who knew? And they have, as it were, a defense mechanism, a way to shield against the pain. For a while.

When there has been trauma to a tooth (in mine, stemming back so long so as to have necessitated the first crown) the tooth will form a kind of insulating thickening around the nerve which dulls the pain one would otherwise feel. This reminded me a little of how the body can experience other injuries without feeling pain, at least not right at the moment of injury. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. I offered a mental prayer of thanks to God for His thoughtful engineering.

That said, I had to take care of #19 in its current condition, paining me or not, because, the dentist also explained, it would have soon necessitated much more than just a new crown. Those little nerves are tough and adaptable, but they can only adapt so much.

Kind of like damaged emotions.

We can tough it out in the face of verbal and other abuse, close off for emotional survival, for awhile, but pretty soon the natural defenses will fail. Thin out, if you will. Pretty soon, break down. And then pain.

And the hardest part, perhaps, comes afterward when the choice to remain injured or to heal presents itself because it’s all too easy to remain straddled atop those safe fences, as the lyricist suggests. Whatever they are.

For me, when faced with mean people, cynicism is one of them because, as my sister Nancy says, cynics are always right. Why not just distrust all human beings who too often prove distrustful? Why put faith in the too-often faithless? That is, of course, unless cynicism as in “definition b: skepticism,” is warranted because the other one is cruel–physically, mentally, verbally, emotionally, and/or spiritually. In which case, it needs to be game over unless and until true reconciliation is pursued. (But even then, definition b still applies.)

Here is where friends help. They encourage us down off our fences and through the gate.

I am reminded of this little gem from a Valentine’s Day sentiment I posted in 2013:

“Life is mostly froth and bubble,

Two things stand like stone.

Kindness in another’s trouble,

Courage in your own.” (Adam Gordon)

And I reminded of these lyrics to another song: “God is our refuge and strength [mighty and impenetrable], A very present and well-proved help in trouble” (A Psalm of the sons of Korah, set to soprano voices, Psalm 46:1, AMP translation).

For it is very tempting and all-too human to remain on the fences, whatever they are, in the depth–or denial–of some pain, and it can be even harder to step down off of them and open the gate to another–and Another.

But that’s what helps keep us soft in a world that can get real hard. Fast. Or painfully slow. And, like that little tooth, at some point we need tending to preserve what is left.


*Normally I wouldn’t mix metaphors but sometimes you just gotta.

This entry was posted in abuse, IS IT THE SILENT TREATMENT OR EMOTIONAL SURVIVAL?, most recent posts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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