Alicia Berenson won’t say a word – not since she shot dead her husband, Gabriel.
Once a famous painter, now turned notorious, Alicia now resides at ‘The Grove’ – a psychiatric ward. Refusing to speak for over 6 years, when she shot her husband point blank 5 times in the face, Alicia suddenly becomes aware of a new Doctor in the ward.
Psychotherapist Theo, has recently switched jobs – intrigued by Alicia’s case, and desperate to unravel the mystery behind the silent patient at ‘The Grove’.
‘The Silent Patient’ by Alex Michaelides is gripping, from start to finish. Alicia Berenson is an extremely interesting character, providing thought-provoking moments, even in the absence of her voice.
This novel has many twists and turns, partly written from Theo’s point of view, and partly from Alicia’s, in the form of her personal diary entries. There are so many questions, all culminating into a final up-ending.
Without giving away too much, all that can be said is that as the reader, it was easy to become drawn in, invested and intensely mystified – and subsequently de-mystified – all in the space of a few hundred pages.
My only criticism is that ‘The Silent Patient’ ends as quickly as it started, and although that is partly intentional, it left me wanting more – more information, more backstory and more pages.
Discover a new ‘Top Talk’ weekly with The Art of Overthinking!
I’ve been listening to (and watching) a lot of Ted Talks, Podcasts and Lectures recently… And the one thing I realized was that I really wanted to share some of the key points some of these incredible people have to say!
So I decided to start a weekly section on my blog titled ‘Top Talks’, where I can share with you some of the great things I’ve heard and learned from an array of fascinating, intelligent and diverse people.
It is truly mind-boggling to me how incredibly talented our world is, so I thought doing a ‘show-and-tell’ of the speeches I come across would be a fun way to get more people thinking about issues they may not have thought about before, or see things from another’s perspective.
So without further ado:
WHO IS BRENEBROWN?
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, with a PhD in Social Work.
Brené has spent her career studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, as well as being an author of five#1 New York Times bestsellers and giving multiple talks on her research.
Today, I’m writing about Brené’s talk on ‘The Anatomy of Trust’.
This ‘Top Talk’ was all about trust. How it is gained, how it is lost, and what it is. The main ideas I got from listening to this talk were the ‘B.R.A.V.I.N.G’ acronym and her analogy that likened trust to a marble jar. I loved this talk and how true the concepts were to me!
THE MARBLE JAR:
Brené explained trust by comparing it to a marble jar from her daughter’s school. When the class is good, marbles go in the jar. When the class is bad, marbles come out.
In the same way, when people do little things to affirm their trustworthiness, marbles go into our ‘jar’. When they betray our trust, marbles come out.
Our ‘Marble Jar Friends’ are those that have filled our jar over time: people we know we can trust.
So how does Brené define trust?
THE B.R.A.V.I.N.G ACRONYM:
Below are the seven ‘elements’ of trust that Brené goes through (these are on her website, too!):
You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.
You do what you say you’ll do.
At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t over promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share.
I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.
You choose courage over comfort.
You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.
I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.
Dr. Brown shares these ideas not only for trusting others, but for cultivating self-trust. Below are some questions she came up with to assess our level of self-trust:
Did I respect my own boundaries?
Was I clear about what’s okay and what’s not okay?
I was recently gifted something from a friend of mine – a small toy he used to play with as a child, to avoid fidgeting. He knows I have trouble keeping myself from picking, fidgeting and biting at my nails. It looks like this (although mine is objectively much better and prettier):
It was such a small thing to do, and a small toy. But it meant so much to my friend, that he had kept it all these years. And it meant so much to me, that it has been in my pocket ever since.
But I started wondering, while fidgeting with this little gadget – why do we humans like to keep things so much? Maybe it was a silly question, but I felt like I had to find the answer. Because we all do it:
We collect. We upgrade. We hold onto heirlooms. We are always looking for a cool new gadget, or something our neighbour doesn’t have yet – and some of us hoard.
Why are we so obsessed with out possessions? I needed to know the psychology behind it. What drove our possessiveness? Why are we so held by the smallest, most trivial objects? So I did a bit of research, and I found the answer:
We love them.
In our eyes, our possessions represent our extended selves. In other words, our possessions tell a story of who we are, where we have been and what we value. We are emotionally attached to these objects because they are essentially a part of who we are. And an object doesn’t have to have a material value to be valued emotionally – take my earlier example.
This is why sometimes, when we’re cleaning out our closet, or trying to de-clutter before a move, we can find it difficult to part with some of our ‘stuff’. We’re emotionally attached:
That hat we haven’t worn in 5 years may have a memory of a fun day while we were on vacation attached to it. Or the pot you still have from a long-dead pot plant might have been bought and planted with someone you cared about.
That old teddy bear you’ve had since you were a kid. That school senior shirt that you wouldn’t be seen dead in brings back memories of your final year of high-school… the list is endless, and we are all attached to something.
Where does this possessiveness come from?
This attachment to objects is built early on, from childhood all the way through to adolescence. Childhood possessiveness stems from envy, according to some psychologists (such as Jean Piaget) – who even found that babies did not want to share their toys – flying into a rage when they were taken off of them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, older children also expressed outrage at sharing their beloved toy, especially a favourite, such as a ‘teddy’ or ‘blankie’.
Interestingly, these children refused to take a ‘copy’ or ‘double’ of their toy home, rather than their original. Their most common reaction was horror at the thought of a replacement to their original possession.
As we mature into adolescence, this is where possessions increasingly become an ‘extended part of self’. As adulthood approaches, our possessions give us identity and start to embody memories and emotions within us.
But what about minimalists?
So I completely understood the concept of emotionally attaching to certain things. The psychology of that made sense. But then I remembered those minimalists.
Those people whose houses were practically empty – the ones who had one knife, one spoon, one fork type of deal. How did they overcome this seemingly embedded emotional attachment?
According to many minimalists, the idea of minimalism is to find freedom – from worry, fear, guilt, depression and the trapped lifestyle of consumer culture. Which actually doesn’t sound that bad.
There are plenty of reasons for wanting to be free of attachments and memories that may restrain you, depress you or make you feel guilty or unhappy.
But the problem can sometimes end up being – ‘I want an uncluttered, empty house – but how do I feel when I sit in that empty house?’
We have memories and emotional attachments for a reason – that’s all part of our identity.
Is it unhealthy to deny ourselves our full identity? Where we can have an extended part of ourselves through the things that we own, and sometimes give, or pass down to our children or friends? Are people scared to have things, in case someone takes them away?
Balance, Balance, Balance.
There are people who hoard. People who live as minimalists. People who are environmentally conscious. People who enjoy collecting certain things – stamps, magnets, dolls – you name it, someone collects it.
There are people who probably could use a de-clutter of their house. But at the end of the day, people will do what they feel comfortable doing. Perhaps balance is key – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with being a little unbalanced at times.
We are all our own people, and our possessions (or lack of possessions) paint a picture of who we are, what our fears are, what brings us joy, what our values are, and what and we we love.
I asked the psychologist once, why I couldn’t feel anything.
She said to me that it wasn’t that I couldn’t feel anything, it was that I had to feel like I was in a safe enough environment to let my walls down before I could allow myself to feel something. Because I had spent so much time not feeling to survive.
I thought about what she said and I still think about it now. Sometimes I can feel my walls slowly crumbling when I’m around certain people, and it makes me nervous.
Surely, any day now, safety will come and I will feel something again.
There are so many things that I want to say, and yet, most of the time, nothing comes from my mouth but a wry smile.
How am I meant to say the things I desperately want to, without revealing how incredibly broken I am?
I watch you all day, think about you, talk to you. And yet the things that I so desperately want to scream, are stuck inside my lungs, weighing me down like cement, instead of air.
I want you to look into my eyes and understand, so I don’t have to say the things I feel. I want you to hold my hand, until I don’t have a reason to let go. I want you to hold me together, because I feel like I’m falling apart.
I know you can see the flicker of what’s haunting me, behind my eyes. I know you can sense the things I don’t say.
Look closer. Believe me when I say I want to tell you. But understand me when I say I can’t.
Because my lungs are filled with cement.
And the more I gasp for air, the harder the cement sets. The heavier I feel. The harder it is to let the words escape.