When Silence is Not Just Golden but Vital for Emotional Survival: The Use of Personal Diaries as a Coping Strategy in Extreme Contexts

Madeleine Rauch, Shaz Ansari

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


People working in extreme contexts, such as war zones, suffer emotional distress from experiencing unfiltered brutal reality and feelings of helplessness to alleviate human suffering because of resource and infrastructure constraints. However, they may not display their emotions in the field, as these contexts are characterised by a culture of silence, where people are inclined to suppress displaying their emotions in public despite being encouraged by their organisation to share them. How, then, do individuals working in extreme contexts manage emotional distress? We analysed field data from visits to war-torn environments and examined 53 personal diaries and interviews of people working with Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders. We illustrate how actors cope with emotional distress through journaling or writing personal diaries in their own personal and judgement-free space. We develop a model to explain how people manage difficult experiences in extreme situations by being silent rather than being silenced. We contribute by shedding light on a novel coping mechanism to deal with emotional distress and depict how silence in the field can be positive—a voluntary and even a vital self-censorship strategy for emotional survival, health and wellbeing in extreme situations.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2020
Number of pages42
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventWestern Academy of Management (WAM) 2020 Conference - 61st Annual Meeting: Subversive Creativity - Hilton Waikoloa Hawaii, Hawaii, United States
Duration: 18 Mar 202021 Mar 2020
Conference number: 61


ConferenceWestern Academy of Management (WAM) 2020 Conference - 61st Annual Meeting
LocationHilton Waikoloa Hawaii
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • Silence
  • Grand challenges
  • Emotions
  • War zone
  • Extreme context

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