Silent Treatment is about two things.
Power and control.
In healthy relationships, taking time out to diffuse anger or process information can be helpful. However, self-absorbed, manipulative personalities use silent treatment to make you feel worthless, abandoned, invisible, and to make you jump ever higher for their attention.
And it works.
Silent Treatment is, ignoring, leaving the room, laughing and joking with others while being stony- faced with you. Huffing, puffing, pouting, and refusing to eat, sleep, or be in the same room with you. Ignoring texts, calls, emails or messages on social media. It may last hours, days or weeks making you feel invisible, abandoned helpless and unable to change the situation.
Here are a few examples –
“It started on on honeymoon. I couldn’t believe it. It was so out of character. I thought it was something I’d said or done. When I asked him, he just looked away and snubbed my advances. It lasted 3 days. I was distraught. I pleaded with him to talk to me but he just stormed off, leaving me alone in the hotel room. I cried for days. I was devastated. He did this throughout our marriage and would only stop when I broke down in tears and apologised, even though I knew I wasn’t in the wrong. ( Mel 47)
“John, my ex, who I now believe was a Narcissist, used to shut down emotionally for weeks on end for no apparent reason. He’d laugh and joke with the kids. When we had guests, he’d act as if everything was normal, and then as soon as they left he’d ignore me again. After 2 years of this I left” I don’t regret it. (Kim 45)
“Jason would give me the silent treatment for days. He wouldn’t answer his phone or texts. He would make a point of posting photos of himself in clubs with new friends on Facebook and ignore my private messages. I never knew what I’d done to upset him. When things were good between us I’d try to talk about it, but he’d tell me I was just being too sensitive. (Colin-38)
Gordon and I never really argued. He would just go into his office and close the door. He wouldn’t eat with us but would lie in bed next to me in a stony silence. I’d plead with him to tell me what was wrong, but nothing I said or did seemed to work. I blamed myself and tried to change myself to make him pay attention to me. I couldn’t take it in the end. I was so lonely.(Cathy 64)
Initially you feel confused.
And tell yourself
Maybe if I’m more loving, giving, thinner, fitter, sexier, more entertaining, talk less, eat or drink less, or stop asking too many questions then maybe they’ll love me like they did before. Maybe if I make him feel good enough to open up emotionally, we can sit down and have a heart to heart honest adult conversation.
And maybe we can get to the root of this once and for all.
But this doesn’t work.
The truth is that toxic people have an innate need to feel in control which can only be achieved by making you focus on you, to make you feel guilty, ashamed and believe that you are the cause of their problems. Because if you did focus on them, you may just see behind their mask. You may uncover the level of their toxicity. And you may come to realise that they are living a lie.
So they point the finger of blame at you.
The truth is that toxic people don’t want to ‘sort it out’ or ‘get to the root of the problem’. They fully intend to confuse, punish and make you responsible for their feelings.
So what can you do?
Emotional abuse or passive-aggressive behaviour?
- Know the difference. Silence is often used as a passive aggressive behaviour in normal healthy relationships. When one partner is unable to assert themselves by having a fear of anger in themselves or others, they may shut down and use distance to process their feelings or to let the other partner know they’re upset. By gently encouraging the person to talk and letting them know that they’re safe to express their feelings, this trait can usually overcome.However, if after several attempts to let them know how distressing their behaviour is towards you, and how much damage it’s causing to the relationship, and the person still persists with the silence then you know that the behaviour is toxic and is indeed emotional abuse.
- If you are unable to leave the relationship, stop trying to break the silence. Trying to draw them out by continually asking what’s wrong only deepens their resolve and tightens their grip of control over you. There is nothing wrong. They are using the silence to have power over you. Get on with your day, your week and your life. Leave the room and get as far away from them as possible.
- Occupy yourself as much as possible, even though your heart feels like breaking or you feel like exploding with frustration. Try not let them see your pain, this will only increase the abuse.
- Leave the relationship. Go No Contact/ Minimal Contact– Silent treatment is emotional abuse which contaminates relationships. Many victims have spent years with a someone who flicks the silent switch rendering them invisible, abandoned and alone.
- Get support from family, friends, online forums or professional therapy.
Silent treatment has a debilitating long term effect on both our physical and mental health. When we live our lives walking on eggshells, unable to express our true feelings, we are prone to seek escape routes through alcohol, drugs and other addictive behaviours. Also being unable to freely express yourself makes you feel powerless. You lose spontaneity and a sense of who you really are. You become invisible to yourself and others and isolate from friends and family which gives the abuser more control.
What about you? Have you experienced Silent Treatment? Please feel free to comment below.
From the heart x
Jacqueline Groves is a counsellor and coach specialising in helping people reclaim their lives from emotional abuse in toxic relationships.