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Silent Treatment Abuse - What is it and Are YOU a Victim?
Do you hate it when your partner gives you the silent treatment and constructively stops communicating with you for days/weeks on end? Until relatively recently, I had no idea that repetitive not speaking/silent treatment could be viewed as a form of manipulative emotional abuse. The silent treatment from my partner happened on a regular basis and this seemingly never ending cycle made me feel a mixture of very damaging emotions such as resentment, depression, unworthiness, anger and more.
If you too experience repetitive extended episodes of silence from your partner (often sparked by trivial matters) you'll benefit from taking a closer look at the what's happening and the consequences of what is a downward spiral.
What is Silent Treatment?
Silent Treatment has a number of other descriptions such as not speaking to someone, or only speaking when absolutely necessary and even then speaking in a monotone, being condescending, sarcastic etc. It can include distancing/isolating from a person; for example walking out of the room immediately after the person enters a room or shortly thereafter. Avoiding eye contact or looking at the person with an air of disgust are other actions which may be incorporated in the perpetration of the Silent Treatment. It might be referred to as ostracism, exclusion, sulking, sending to Coventry. Whatever form this passive aggressive behaviour takes, it is common for both the perpetrator and the victim to be unaware that it is a highly destructive form of emotional abuse. Althouth "not speaking" is a manipulative tool often favoured by narcissists, not everyone that uses silence abuse is a narcissist.
The uncommunicative person may also refrain from showing affection, love and/or respect from their target for an indefinite extended period.
It must be noted that the silent treatment can be distinguished from someone taking some healthy time out or wanting a little space following an awkward episode or disagreement. These latter exercises involve having a reasonable and limited amount of time to cool down and take stock - for example a couple of hours up to half a day - whereas with the silent treatment it continues for longer periods and the victim never knows when the abuser will deign to speak to them again.
Silent treatment emotional abuse can occur in various types of relationships - for example parent/child, teacher/pupil, employer/employee or a platonic friendship, and the abuser could be either party. However with this series of articles we are concerned with such treatment within a marriage/relationship.
How it feels to be on the receiving end of the Silent Treatment
Will it go on for a day, a week, a month or even longer? Not knowing when the silent treatment will end invokes anxiety in the person on the receiving end. In cases where a person can only guess as to the reason for their partner not communicating normally this also induces stress. The longer it lasts, and/or the more separate instances of alienation there are, the more the person on the receiving end of silence is likely to feel isolated, unworthy, depressed, etc.
Some victims describe it as akin to mental torture which leaves them broken and somewhat desperate to find ways to appease their abuser. Often the person on the receiving end will have no idea what they are expected to apologise for as the perpetrator will not actually clarify what they perceive the victim to have done wrong. Stonewalling/refusal to answer questions or discuss a problem can be extremely hurtful. Often, no amount of asking the perpetrator what is wrong will get the victim anywhere. The response they get is simply “nothing” or “I’m fine” when clearly this is not the case. Many victims will even apologise when they believe they have done nothing wrong!
Alternatively a victim may feel angry, frustrated or insulted at such treatment and may be tempted to engage in tit-for-tat silent treatment. This can simply lead to a stalemate situation or at best only limited benefit, and so is to be avoided.
It is not unusual for an extended period of not speaking to emanate from a very petty initial trigger. Nevertheless, when the silent treatment becomes a pattern in the relationship it will lead to bitterness and a slow, subtle weakening of the union which, if left unchecked, could signal the end of it.
The silent treatment can be intimidating and isolating, leaving a person at a loss as to how to handle it and baffled as to the reason why the person they love would want to be so cold and immature as to engage in such passive aggression over the smallest thing. They may spend many hours trying to understand things from the abuser’s perspective in an effort to reason with them and resolve things, often to no avail. As time goes by the victim may well agonise at not being able to find a way to end the silence and get back to normal and wonder just how much longer they can endure such behaviour.
Consequences of this Emotional Abuse
Whether or not they are fully conscious of what they are actually doing, silent treatment is a form of passive aggressive abuse on the part of the perpetrator. Time and time again the abuser uses silence to exert control, dominance and power. Meanwhile, although the victim hates the silence, they may be unaware that they are effectively being manipulated or bullied.
In marriages where there is regular occurrence of silent treatment it makes for a slow but sure path to deep seated resentment and most certainly resentment can be a death knell to the bond the couple initially shared.
Dreading the Silences
So, do you find your partner predictably and frequently stops speaking to you for long indefinite periods (whether it's a petty argument and/or a more serious matter)?
Do you feel increasing or extreme stress, upset, anger and/or frustration at the prospect of yet another episode of silent treatment?
Do you feel a nagging, growing resentment at the unfairness or futility of it all?
If your answers are yes and/or you identify with much of what was said in previous paragraphs, then you may well be a victim of silent treatment emotional abuse in your relationship.
However, please be aware that it is never too late, or indeed too soon, to do something about diminishing and breaking this emotional ill-treatment/abuse. If you are a victim, there are strategies you can use to change your own sensitivity and response so that you can more effectively deal with the Silent Treatment. Please know that it is indeed possible to stop walking on eggshells lest your partner stop speaking to you at the drop of a hat. Know that you can gain peace of mind and become significantly stronger, wiser and happier in the face of silent treatment.
Please go to the end of the page should you wish to add to the comments below, many of which are heartfelt and revealing. Your views are most welcome.
The above article gives you clear, practical explanations of what you need to actually DO to stop yourself feeling so miserable, upset and isolated plus how you can stop inadvertently making it worth your partner's while to habitually give you the cold shoulder. Moreover, in so doing it helps you prompt your partner to modify their own behaviour. It's time for people to realise that they can stop themselves from being so miserable when they are being given the silent treatment. It's never too late to become stronger, wiser, happier.
The Silent Treatment-STOP unintentionally encouraging it!
- 12 Warning Signs of Manipulation
"When you get enough inner peace and feel really positve about yourself, it is almost impossible for you to be controlled or manipulated by anyone else." -Wayne Dyer
© 2012 Ebonny