Silence in the course of an analytical session, whether it comes from the patient or the analyst, has constantly posed problems for the theorists of psychoanalytical technique.
According to certain authors, silence is to be interpreted as a resistance (Karl Abraham, Sándor Ferenczi, Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich, Otto Fenichel, Anna Freud, Stephen Weissman). Edward Glover was the first to emphasize the counter-transferential positions involved in it, and noted the role of the super-ego. Karl Abraham, Sándor Ferenczi, Edmund Bergler, Ella Sharpe, Robert Fliess and Kata Levy make of it a particular mode of instinctual expression, while Rudolph Loewenstein and Leo S. Loomie approach it as the translation of a distortion of the ego. Silence has also been studied as an object relation by Jacob Arlow (defense or discharge) and by Ralph Greenson (resistance or communication), as an object relation properly speaking (Carel Van der Heide, Meyer A. Zeligs) and as a particular mode of object choice (Robert Barande).
According to Freud ("The Dynamics of Transference," 1912b, p. 101): "If a patient's free associations fail, the stoppage can invariably be removed by an assurance that he is being dominated at the moment by an association which is concerned with the doctor himself or with something concerned with him. As soon as this explanation is given, the stoppage is removed, or the situation is changed from one in which the associations fail into one in which they are being kept back." And elsewhere, in "The Theme of the Three Caskets" (1913f, p. 295): "in dreams dumbness is a common representation of death." He also says in "Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through" (1914g, p. 150) that when the patient "is silent and declares that nothing occurs to him," this, "of course, is merely a repetition of a homosexual attitude which comes to the fore as a resistance against remembering anything," while Sophie Morgen-stern, in "A Case of Psychogenous Muteness" (1927), gave us the first work known in France to use drawing, in place of speaking, as a method of child analysis.
Other authors have added to these views: silence is "a state of restoration of primary narcissism, it is the realization of desire" enabling one to "re-experience narcissistic omnipotence" (Pierre Luquet, Béla Grunberger), or a sign of "good maternal care that provides the ego with a silent but vital support" (Donald W. Winnicott). The sense of the ego's inability to mask instincts from the super-ego in discourse may explain the very frequent silences that are encountered in child therapy. In the analytical couple, of whatever kind, "the support of the amorous exchange as the patient lives it is indeed silence [. . .] It's within the crucible of the therapist's silence that the patient's spoken words will be revealed as fantasy" (Robert Barande).
Luisa de Urtubey, in her report on the "work of the counter-transference" (1994), sets out the theories of a great number of authors who discuss silence. For her, "silence—as well as speech, its interpretations, its emphases, the links it weaves—is the expression of counter-transference in this analytical space and at this precise moment." Pearl Lombard expresses an aptitude for the silent maternal counter-transference: "speech is silver, silence is golden" ("The Silence of the Mother, or: Twenty Years Later", 1986). She remarks that "a succession of images wells up in the analyst's mind as she or he accompanies a silent patient: astonishment, anxious questioning, an experience of depression and an obligation to imagine if we are to survive, but also if our patients are to survive psychologically. There are long periods in which the exchange between patient and analyst, although it is very intense, happens in both directions, in the mysterious depth of silence. The way these analyses evolve depends to a large extent on the existence of counter-transferential movements that are sufficiently intense to arouse representations of highly personal images or things, related to the analyst's narcissism—representations that can invigorate the treatment only insofar as they can be linked and bound to a moment in the patient's history, either in narrative form, or in the shape of images visualized on the basis of that narrative. Thus the vital bridge between word representations and thing representations is created or recreated in the analyst himself or herself. This bridge is highlighted by interpretation, the invigorating effect of which fulfils the silence and makes it speak."
The evaluation of "silence" is possible only if each case—patient and analyst—is taken on its merits.
See also: "Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria" (Dora/Ida Bauer); Listening; Nacht, Sacha Emanoel; Stone, Leo.
Barande, Robert. (1989). Parcours d'un psychanalyste, son esthétique et son éthique. Paris: Pro-Edi.
Freud, Sigmund. (1912b). The dynamics of transference. SE, 12: 97-108.
——. (1913f). The theme of the three caskets. SE, 12: 289-301.
——. (1914g). Remembering, repeating and working-through (Further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis II). SE, 12: 145-156.
Green, André. (1979). Le silence du psychanalyste. Topique, 23, p. 5-25.
Lombard, Pearl. (1986). Le silence de la mère ou vingt ans après. Bulletin de la Société de psychanalyse de Paris, 9, p. 33-48.
Nasio, Jean-David. (1987). Le Silence en psychanalyse. Paris: Rivages.
Urtubey, Luisa de. (1994). Le travail de contre-transfert. Bulletin de la Société de psychanalyse de Paris, 31, p. 147-148.
si·lence / ˈsīləns/ • n. complete absence of sound: sirens pierce the silence of the night | an eerie silence descended over the house. ∎ the fact or state of abstaining from speech: Karen had withdrawn into sullen silence she was reduced to silence for a moment. ∎ the avoidance of mentioning or discussing something: politicians keep their silence on the big questions. ∎ the state of standing still and not speaking as a sign of respect for someone deceased or in an opportunity for prayer: a moment of silence presided over by a local minister. • v. [tr.] (often be silenced) cause to become silent; prohibit or prevent from speaking: the team's performance silenced their critics freedom of the press cannot be silenced by tanks. ∎ [usu. as adj.] (silenced) fit (a gun or other loud mechanism) with a silencer: a silenced .22 rifle. PHRASES: in silence without speech or other sound: we finished our meal in silence.
silence is golden proverbial saying, mid 19th century; a general warning against unwise or hasty speech, an abbreviated form of the earlier speech is silver, but silence is golden.
silence means consent proverbial saying, late 14th century; translation of a Latin tag, ‘qui tacet consentire videtur [he who is silent seems to consent]’, said to have been spoken by Thomas More (1478–1535) when asked at his trial why he was silent on being asked to acknowledge the king's supremacy over the Church. The principle is not accepted in modern English law.
See also tower of silence, two-minute silence.
So silent XVI. — L. prp.