While I do not profess to be an expert on Navy submarines, in my military travels I do recall several Navy friends talking about the silent running of the submarines. This is a term used when a submarine goes into a silent mode of operations. In the mode of silent running, the purpose is to evade attacks from the enemy and requires those aboard to stand down; let there be a stillness. Speed, movement, and noise from the propellers are drastically reduced, and for good reason. The intention is to allow for safety along a stretch of a journey that poses potential harm. Silent running can be summed up as a tactic to maximize safe passage and minimize destruction. Communication and relationships are in themselves a journey that can be, at times, overwhelming and impact wellness. Just as the commanding officer of the submarine must analyze the impact of an encounter, we too can be the commanders of our journey.

Prepare for impact: size and strength of negativity

I recall, in an episode of the Lucille Ball show, poor old Lucille Ball on the candy conveyor belt line, unable to keep up with sorting and placing of candies neatly in the packages, thus leaving her to shove abundant amounts of candy into her mouth. Information is much the same, the amount and type have an influence on us; how much negativity can we take in before it becomes unhealthy? This concept is not new or novel to this generation. We can find research regarding the retaining capacity of the brain in late 1950 and probably even further back than that. Miller (1956) correlated the input stream of information, and the capacity to manage it, as decreasingly effective as speed and amount of information input increased. Capped with the idea that the amount of information can possibly impact us, we must also consider the type of information, and influences on well-being.  A study by Lincoln (2000) suggested that the holistic view of well-being includes that of how negative interaction or relationships can potentially be more harmful on one end of the spectrum than social support is helpful on the other end of the spectrum. Thus, the type of information becomes relevant as well.

Collision Course Identified

Given all relationships tend to hit their peaks and valleys, and at times, one person carries more of the load, we can still consider these types of relationships healthy when there are common goals, and the attitudes and behaviors towards one another are healthy. However, in some relationships one or both of the parties come under attack by being dismissed or ridiculed; mental torpedoes.  In these situations where a person is caught in a limbo of fight or flight, there is a value in considering silent running; standing down and allowing the torpedoes to zoom by and drift into the abyss, thus leaving the psyche undamaged by the intended blow. It is not a bad thing to cloak ourselves from the world for a period while we heal from the damage or purposely avoid subsequent attacks.

Permission to chart a new course ma’am

It is interesting, that in the field of Positive Psychology, we are asked to refocus on the positive yet sometimes focusing on the positive includes focusing on what negative influences we have in our lives. As the above-mentioned study, Lincoln (2000) the idea of understanding the positive outcomes from good and healthy relationships is important. Reciprocally, just as important recognizing the negative outcomes of relationships that are less than healthy and can, like a torpedo, take a chunk out of our ship. One of our best defenses against such influence is to guard ourselves, to appreciate and love ourselves enough to know when enough is enough and to make ourselves unavailable for negative engagement.  Silent running, or simply protecting our ship is not a movement of weakness, but a tactical movement of strength; saving our resources and casting clarity onto a much more desirable charted course.


Miller, G. A. (1956). “The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information”. Psychological Review. 63 (2): 81–97.

Lincoln, K. (2000). Social Support, Negative Social Interactions, and Psychological Well‐Being. Social Service Review, 74(2), 231-252.

About the author: Dr. Lynn Soots-Gaiser has been teaching psychology at the higher education level for over fourteen years. She is proud to integrate Positive Psychology applications in each of her courses to support growth and student goal attainment. She specializes in higher education online course room design, adult learning, and diversity appreciation.


‘We are the Positive Psychology People’

Share This