Skip to content

More on The Silent Treatment

Much of the whining about ST is completely selfish nonsense. It always makes the person who wants to do all the accusing into the saint with the person who is done with all the hoopla made out to look bad. Good for those people and their psychotic psychologists who tell them this nonsense, but has any of it brought your loved one closer? Of course not. Know why? Being a bully doesn’t solve problems. Forcing someone to talk to you or demeaning them for not wanting to speak to you is bullying.


When I was raised, I learned, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That is what I do. When I’m ready to be calm and speak rationally, I will talk to you, but if I’m angry too, you will probably not want to hear what I have to say. I’m not avoiding your silly accusations and judgments of me; I just don’t care what you have to say.


Some of you say “tell them you’re leaving”; I say “Perfect! Leave, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out (or do, if you like)!” What you fail to realize is that people who give ST do so because of their OWN abandonment and communication issues. Your disappearance is only going to justify how right they were about you in the first place, so the lesson you’ve taught them by leaving? Exactly. Fail!


Instead, why doesn’t the other person take any responsibility and try to calmly talk to the STer or even change the topic to something pleasant that brings the STer in. I know most of my silent periods were broken by a joke that was mutually shared or a graceful gesture of goodwill. Usually, we just want to know that our feelings are considered. People shut down because they believe people aren’t listening to them anyways. A lot of times, people ask me what’s wrong, but I’ve told them about the same issue six times already. How many times do I have to keep telling you that it bothers me when you do X? If I must deal with you still (instead of giving you the boot, like I usually do when people get on my nerves), then I won’t be saying anything to you because you haven’t listened before, and I don’t have any more time to waste, repeating myself.


Instead of heeding my advice, most of you will do what you typically do: defend your right to shout at and verbally condemn people and then demand that they answer you (aka bullying). As if! What are they supposed to say to you? “Oh, yes, you’re always right, grand master.” I mean, what are you going to do when the person tells YOU what YOU don’t want to hear? You’ll do what you do here and on other blogs: start defending your behavior and making it all about you again.


Here’s the nugget you’re missing, and I’m going to give this to you straight: many STers (not all) see 90% of people as disposable. That’s hard to say as much as it is hard to accept. Put it this way: if I’ve been disposable (and perhaps it was YOU who treated the person this way), why should I think of you as being any better than I’ve been taught to think of myself? Got it?


What I notice on boards is that there is a lot of room for people to sling mud at STers for being so abusive but there is ZERO empathy on your parts for the pain that the STer may be feeling for not being able to communicate his/her feelings.  Interesting how you want so badly that which you’re not willing to give…


What’s worse is that people who call themselves therapists and counselors participate in the tomfoolery and offer ZERO suggestions for STers on how to open up or resolve their feelings (which is how I landed on this page). This says to me that they don’t truly have a successful outcome in mind. They are merely fanning the flames of anguish. As for me, I prefer to let people argue with themselves if I’ve listened once and said what I had to say on the issue.

Best advice for STers so far:

 A different perspective:


The Inner Cry

I typically feel as if there is a block inside of me, an emotional wall that I know I cannot climb. My physical stairclimbing is a metaphor for the mental climb I must make to overcome myself. I know that, like at the stairs, if I just go forward steadily and rhythmically, I will prevail. But the mental climb seems so much more daunting to me. I start heading upward, but I get to a resting area, and I use the exact opposite logic as I would during a physical ascension. On the stairs, my rule is: never stop, not even at the resting area,where others may be taking a break, because I know I will become accustomed to the rest, and it will be more difficult for me to continue; but if I stay the course… I’ll make it.

The philosophy works so well for my legs, not so much for my brain and definitely not for my “heart”. In fact, the issue with which I presently grapple is the fact that there is no such thing as a pain-free relationship. I want to accept that people WILL hurt one another, and the hurt will not always be inadvertent. I’ve learned to hike the bottom of my emotional stairs, but I’m exhausted by the middle. And unlike the physical stairs, both my mind and body will not allow me to continue. I’m confined to this portion of the climb, trapped in a series of starts and stops.

In many other aspects of my life, I take a “just do it” approach. Communication, however, I just don’t do. And the irony of that, of course, is that my jobs have been in communications or fields in which I must be an effective and perpetual communicator. Arguably, however, the stakes aren’t as high with strangers. In public relations, I don’t feel the same rejection from a reporter as I would with a family member. In teaching, I communicate with students mostly, and I find it easier to tackle even the difficult interactions because there is a premise that I have the upper-hand as the professor.

But among colleagues in jobs I’ve held, my personable character is hollow because I am too nervous to speak to anyone beyond quick greetings and chance meetings. There are some people in the workplace with whom I let down my guard because they have engaged and shared with me. Even then, I share with each individual what I want him/her to know about me. It is not that I hide some terribly shocking information from them, but I do conceal my emotions, even when I think it may benefit the “team” for me to share. I see relationships as a dance, and my goal is not to have fun and let loose while cutting a rug; it is primarily to keep my feet off of others’ toes.

You deserve to know as well that I hyper-analyze everything, and I imagine that others who dispense the silent treatment are at varying degrees of being cerebral as well. When I teach, I try to impart with students that we must always consider the perimeter and what is outside of it. Why? I think of everything inside and outside of the circle’s circumference.

For every conflict in my life, I ponder more bases, scenarios, and solutions than even I can count.  Example of how this applies to my life: When my husband (now ex) was out late, I would consider any and every reason why he was delayed and didn’t call. Was he in an accident? Screwing the receptionist? Picking up a present for me or the kids? Abducted by aliens? This comprises 5% of the questions I would ask, and the amount of energy exerted on the mulling and overthinking and rethinking and…

People who have suffered from the silent treatment that their partners have inflicted say that they feel tortured. I offer that the “torture” is mutual. Already, the mind of the person who cannot easily express emotion is in torment. Even seemingly minimal hurts are enough to provoke cocooning because the mere thought of further pain, in and of itself, hurts.

For someone to call the suffering person an “abuser” only adds insult to injury, such that the STer will merely dismiss the charge. I speak not for sociopaths who have a perversion for inflicting pain; I speak for those who use the silent treatment to protect themselves. No, we are not cowards; in our minds, we are somewhat heroic because we are saving both the affected and ourselves from further pain.

“Saving ME from pain by ignoring me?” you exclaim. Yes, that is how I think. I am helping the person/people with whom I don’t communicate because I am not arguing with them or verbally abusing them. Often, I follow the rule that if I don’t have anything nice to say, it is better to say nothing at all. I think before I speak, and my words are calculated. Every now and then, words get by me that I don’t actually mean, usually for lack of word, or in dialogue, when I don’t have the time to overthink my expressions. For this reason, I also avoid interpersonal relationships because it is too difficult for me to contrive each sentence. I usually walk away from conversations, thinking to myself, “I wish I had said…” this or that.

I am especially prone to foot-in-mouth disease as well as an impaired ability to control what I say when I am upset, hurt, anxious, nervous, or angry. I am nervous around most of my family members, for instance; my solution is to avoid seeing them altogether for fear that I’ll either say something or do something that meets their disapproval. The rejection would be too great for me to bear. And I understand that, while I have my issues with fear and avoidance, I so inflict on my family the same rejection I seek to avoid. If I feel hurt by someone close to me, forget it. Though I am cognizant of the effect my withdrawal and isolation has, I remain immobilized. The thought of, for example, going to sit at a friend’s house in the living room for an afternoon with her family terrifies me. There are too many opportunities for rejection, and the stakes are too high. I would rather not fully lose someone than to have the person remain on the outskirts of my life.

The “Silent Treatment”

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.