Dispelling The Myth Of The Strong Silent Type: How Are You Really Doing?
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Dispelling The Myth Of The Strong Silent Type: How Are You Really Doing?

"I'm good," I say. Then I get a curious look, a softer yet more searching tone, and another question that asks "Ryan, how are you really doing?"

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Dispelling The Myth Of The Strong Silent Type: How Are You Really Doing?

We see the trope often in Television and movies of the strong, hard, stoic man, the model of masculinity and the model of unspoken and quiet toughness is the standard to look up to. Reinforced by cultural norms and our peers, in some way, the "strong silent type" is part of what every person has, in some way, embodied. It is the type that suppresses emotions instead of expressing them. But Beau Denton of The Allender Center tackles dispelling this archetype in an article titled "Enigmas, Shame, and the Myth of the Strong Silent Type."

Denton acknowledges that when was younger, when he was a teenager, in particular, he was quiet and "struggled to formulate spoken sentences without long pauses." Before reaching this awkward stage of his life, he anticipated being an "outgoing, charismatic man," but once it didn't work out, he gravitated toward the "strong silent type," like "Gary Cooper hunched over a cigarette" or a cowboy looking for his love.

Since he struggled with depression and social anxiety, Denton "often worried others saw me as awkward or strange," so he reflected his quietness as "something of strength and intrigue." For him at the time, "the man of few words was wise stoicism incarnate, a perfect shield for my insecurities and what felt like internal voids." He guarded himself by seeing his silence as belying substance and power.

When he first went to college, Denton's silence made people label him an enigma, and "it thrilled me because it was said with a tone of curiosity by someone I found attractive." For a moment, his childhood ideal came true: being the "strong silent type" gave him what he wanted. But even people he loved started to call him enigmatic, his dad asked him "what am I not seeing," as if Denton's father didn't know him at all, and therapists often asked him "where did you go?" And lastly, in his relationships, his girlfriends always sighed and told him: "I just never now what you're thinking."

For Denton, he had to rethink his previous misconceptions and came to this realization: to be forever an enigma, I realized, is to remain unknown."

Now, he has learned that "my ability to know myself is inextricable from my ability to know others, to be known in turn. Another myth of the strong silent types is that they're the type that is introverted anyways, and doesn't need the presence of others in their lives. "The truth is that we are, all of us, relational beings, with the need for connection wired into our DNA." He realized then that being a quiet and puzzling enigma was no longer satisfying, that to relate to others, he had to finally be known.

Then comes a meditation on the past, that even as a teen, he must have known this all along. "He...knew something about abandonment, and something of the fear that whispers about being unlovable, whispers about the need to hide from the rejection of others." The strong silent type that Denton fit into became a refuge and escape rather than who he really was, and so many of us do the same thing.

Denton came to think about the topic and how he personally related to it after hearing Dan Allender and Rachael Clinton's series on "Not Doing Well," a moving series that I wrote extensively about. For Denton, when we're not doing too well, we all respond differently to cope. "Some...myself included -- start to disappear. We withdraw and isolate, or vanish into our work, so no one else will be exposed to what feels broken and unsafe inside us." Despite going through extensive therapy and spiritual formation, he, time and time again, withdraws and finds himself going into a "shallow promise of silence."

For Denton, working in the Allender Center, a community that prioritizes vulnerability, is that "it makes my disappearing act more difficult." Often, he'll have encounters where he'll share something that made his day hard or difficult experience and then minimize it by saying "it'll be okay." Someone who knows him, however, and cares to look beneath the surface, will respond with "the look," which is a message that says "I hear you, and I don't have to pry, but I'll just let my face acknowledge that we both know there's more going on."

Having someone else have that insight about you can be extremely jarring. Recently, people who are close to me and know details that have made my emotions and personal life absolute turmoil have asked me how I've been doing. "I'm good," I say. Then I get a curious look, a softer yet more searching tone, and another question that asks "Ryan, how are you really doing?" And as much as I sometimes want to escape that question, there are times that I can't and have to finally be honest with myself and my friends. Denton almost speaks for me when he says that "distance and solitude were a coping mechanism...perhaps the only one I knew to feel some level of control in a large, often chaotic family." When someone asks me "how are you really doing," it feels like layers of my armor are being peeled, and "nakedness, when shame is a close companion, feels like a death sentence."

Beneath the isolation and withdrawal that accompany being a strong silent type, the hesitance to admit when we're doing terribly, is shame at the center. As Denton has started exploring and navigating the question of shame more and more, he's come to realize "that nakedness and terror do not have to go hand-in-hand."

But he holds no illusions: "that belief is still a process." When he wrote this essay initially, part of it felt unfinished, and he left it untouched for several weeks. But he realized it felt unfinished because he wrote most of it in the past tense, "while the shame that drives me toward silence is still very much in the present." But then he heard Rachael's line in the third and final part of "Not Doing Well": "Look what God can do with dust." After he heard those words, he found, once again, "the wonder that comes when the fear of being exposed gives away to the relief of being seen."

In that moment, he remembered that to surrender to God, to surrender his constant need to control, he had to let others peer beyond his armor, "to be met not with judgment or shame but with intimacy and care -- that is a gift greater than the strongest silence of the world." Yes, vulnerability met with compassion and care is so much greater than the heaviest episodes of silence we experience - now, tomorrow, and always.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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