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The “Silent Treatment”

November 11, 2011

I found a blog on “the silent treatment” (ST) as I was researching ways to overcome my own silence and shutting down in the face of emotional pain. For me, the problem is that ST is crippling my life in a myriad of ways, so I must learn to move beyond it. (I’ll refer to people who commit ST as “STers” hereafter.)


I see in so many posted comments the very reason why the other person shuts down. Many articles only coddle the people on the receiving end.


Let me start here: you are NOT being “abused” because you receive ST; no one is doing anything TO you. The person is simply ignoring you, which is his/her way of controlling him/herself. Got that? Controlling him/herSELF.


I can tell you that there are certain triggers that provoke ST.


I notice the same repeated sentiment among ppl who are ST “victims”: “I messed up, but I apologized.” Really? Now who’s the one being controlling and manipulative here? You cannot merely say “sorry” and think the STer will kiss and makeup. That’s not fair. Most STers are people who process pain slowly. We need time to grieve and heal before we can approach the situation with a level head.


Many posters committed huge violations that, when I read about them, I thought, “I’d probably never speak to you again if it were me.” Why?


Trigger 1: Yelling. Many STers came from homes where people yelled as a form of control. When someone yells at me, for example, I feel like I’m seven years-old and that the yeller is like my mother. I want to hide. I feel threatened and small. IF I can forgive and move forward, I will need time to build my self-esteem back enough to face you again. And the fact that I even have to go through the emotional turmoil makes me resentful.


Rule: Resentment is the STer’s fuel.


Once I begin resenting the other person, it’s easy to slip into this cozy box of prolonged silence as the resentment continues to feed itself. It’s like hiding under the covers; it’s far more comfortable than communicating and possibly being yelled at or criticized again.


Trigger 2: Violations of trust or integrity. One poster said she read her man’s email. Regardless of what she uncovered, the fact is that she had no regard for his right to privacy and their trust in the first place. When people wrong me in ways that are flagrant and disrespectful, it’s difficult for me to tell them what I think they should already know. And if they don’t already know, I grieve more because I know the inevitable split is impending.


Some people may stay in the relationship and keep the charade up for years, but once resentment is firmly rooted, ST can come on at any time, for any (or no) reason further. Essentially, you’ve already burnt your bridge.


Don’t misinterpret me, please. You don’t need to be a “mind reader” to know that you shouldn’t have opened someone’s email or that you shouldn’t use my personal life as community gossip (as one ST-receiving friend of mine did).


Trigger 3: Dramatic, demanding behavior. “Did you just text me ten times in the space of an hour?” You could have texted “please ignore me” repeatedly because that’s exactly what you just provoked. At that point, ignoring you is the only thing I can do to keep from calling you and giving you a piece of my mind for what I deem “crazy” or nagging behavior.


I never want to say something I’ll regret. This is the credo of the STer.


We don’t want to hurt you, even though you’ve hurt us; we do want to wait until you’re calm because we don’t enjoy confrontation with those close to us. Just because I’ve gone toe-to-toe with the surly chick at the grocery store before doesn’t mean I want to have to defend myself around those I love. Say what you want about our passive aggression, overtly aggressive behavior will get you nowhere. (Well, it will get you to Shut-Down City FAST.)


Many posters said they want to sit down and talk with the STer, but you’re not telling us your methods of communication. Nobody wants to sit down and hear a bunch of scathing criticisms. Do you really think I want to show up for that? I’d rather not speak to you at all if that’s where we’re going with this. I’m certainly not going to argue.


So what can you do about ST? One thing is certain: ignoring the STer is NOT your answer. In fact, it lets the STer off easy. “I *never* have to communicate with so-and-so. Good riddance!” is what I think when the other person decides to return the ST favor.


In a perfect world, the person would come to me and say: “I know that I was wrong for reading your email” (or whatever the violation), “I understand if you cannot forgive me right now, but I want to rebuild our trust because you are important to me, and I want you in my life.”


Hey, I just got a little teary typing that because–you know what? No one has ever said anything like that to me. They just continue on with their “me, me, me” ramblings. I’m left feeling like: “Wow. Not only did this person hurt me, but now this narcissist is calling ME ‘abusive’ because I don’t want to sit for his/her BS.”


Almost every blogger talks about what the STer is doing to “me”.

Trigger #4: Nothing shuts an STer down like observing selfishness. Keep up the “me” act while disregarding the STer’s feelings, and you can guarantee resentment will keep the STer quiet.

I hope this helps to better someone’s understanding.

One Comment
  1. Travex permalink

    No offense, but I believe your reasons for why you employ the silent treatment are utter nonsense. They sound like you’re making a lot of excuses for yourself.

    If someone’s giving you the silent treatment, you don’t have to accept it. But in essence, yes, they are abusing you. They are attempting to exert control over you, and manipulate your actions and emotions. Ignoring someone is not a mere action, or a way of controlling yourself. They are withholding the acknowledgment of your existence. That’s a very cruel thing to do. By its very nature, that consititues mental bullying & emotional abuse.

    And just how is the victim apologizing and admitting fault being controlling and manipulative? It may not be enough for the user to open up, but admtting that you may have messed up somewhere down the line is a start from undoing the silent treatment. And though users may process pain more slowly, something in which I don’t believe, that doesn’t mean that the world has to stop and feel your pain, or that you have to attempt and hold others hostage because of it. That’s not fair at all. As a matter of fact, that’s incredibly self-centered, and….well, controlling and manipulative.

    What you deem crazy or nagging behavior can be used as a tactic to get under your skin and to get you to open up. And sometimes, it works. The silent treatment is all about psychological warfare. If you as the user want to go down that route, than the receiver can certainly play their mind games, as well.

    You say that users are so worried about doing something that they’ll regret. And yet they seem completely oblivious to the fact that employing the silent treatment makes things worse, and will ironically be something that they’ll eventually regret doing, if they’re honest with themselves, which most users don’t seem to be.

    You say that users don’t want to hurt receivers, which is laughable. Like I mentioned before, the silent treatment is very cruel. It’s very vindictive and damaging. You say that you want to avoid confrontation and wait until the receiver is calm, but that sounds like you’re making excuses to justify your behavior. What makes you think that the receiver isn’t calm? And if you hate confrontation, then why employ a tactic that only seems to beget more volatile ones?

    Calling out your behavior for what it is is not scathing criticism. It’s the truth. This isn’t directed a you, but just because you’re too emotionally immature or unwilling to take any blame for your actions, doesn’t mean you can’t be called out for it. You’re holding something against someone, maybe because you’re hurt, and rightfully so. But why can’t the receiver do the same?

    In a perfect world, people would do so and so, but the world is simply not perfect. To expect someone to give what you deem the perfect apology is conceited and unrealistic.

    The bottom line is that it seems like you’re defending yourself for employing this tactic. It’s utterly hilarious to hear a silent treatment user accuse others of being selfish and narcisisstic. But make no mistake about it, it’s cruel, abusive, and manipulative. You can’t attempt to resolve an issue unless you’re open and communicative about it.

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