The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse , a strategy often used by those with narcissistic tendencies as a means of controlling another person; partner, friend, family member, work colleague, employee, even their own children etc.
So what is the silent treatment; Not only does it include behaviours such as refusing to speak to someone, it may also incorporate behaviours such as;
- Not acknowledging what they say
- Pretending that you can’t hear them
- Ignoring their needs
- Distancing yourself from someone you were close to
- Avoiding their company
- Ignoring their invitations
- Refusing to go to a social gathering if that person is going to be there.
- Alienating the person from your circle of friends
- Blanking them or using looks of distain when you come into contact with them.
Use of the silent treatment implies that there has been a prior conflict and therefore the abuser sees fit to withhold interaction with their victim/target. However, the target of the silent treatment isn’t necessarily aware of the abusers perceived prior conflict or more accurately their bruised ego,because it has not been openly expressed.
The abuser uses this form of abuse to;
- Assert control over their target; thus leaving the target feeling unsettled, unsure of what is wrong, wondering what they have done wrong and generally confused.
- To punish the target for whatever they deem to be a threat to their fragile ego.
- To stop the target from asserting themselves or in any way having a different opinion, thus the abuser remains in control.
- The abuser may think they are using the silent treatment so they can educational their victim, “it’s for their own good”, teach them a consequence of stepping out of line. It is not a tool for education it is abuse.
- As a means of avoidance of both conflict resolution and personal responsibility; If the abuser ignores the target they don’t have to engage in any discussion about the issue. By not discussing the issue they avoid resolving the conflict, having to explore their part in the conflict (They don’t want to take any personal responsibility as they see the conflict as the targets fault alone)
Those with narcissistic or controlling tendencies, whether consciously or subconsciously tend to seek out friends or partners with empathic qualities. As these empaths are able to see a situation from another’s perspective they will want to talk through the conflict, understand what went wrong, to reach a compromise that works for everyone and generally to engage in an adult way.
Unfortunately, the abuser on the other hand has very low emotional intelligence, functions emotionally more like that of a young child, and has a total lack of empathy.They are unable to put themselves in the shoes of another and understand how it might feel for the target. They can only see things from their own perspective and everything else is blocked. They are right, they have to win, they have to be on top, their ego is so fragile that they could not cope if their behaviour is called into question, and so this isn’t going to happen, the abuser isn’t going to allow it by engaging in this way and the silent treatment is their weapon of blocking a resolution.
The abuser at this stage feels in a position of control over the target, the target may just want an end to the awkward uncomfortable silence and now the abuser can agree to this by demanding an apology from the target, and this is how they maintain the control. Sadly the target will often do this blindly not knowing what the apology is for or why they should apologise but they just want peace to resume.
What the affects of silent treatment are on the target;
- The silent treatment can cause high levels of distress and emotional trauma for the victim. They may not understand why this is happening, what it means, why it is continuing and why they can’t resolve it.
- A victim of this form or abuse can feel worthless and that they don’t matter which in turn lowers self esteem.
- It can lead to feelings of great sadness and depression.
- If this is a recurring abuse the victim can be constantly walking on eggshells, afraid that they may say the wrong thing, but also have no idea what that might be, and be plunged into silence again.
- Victims can feel as if they have no control over their own lives as they are punished for making any choices or asserting their own minds.
- They may feel angry at their abuser followed by guilt and feelings that they are to blame for the silence.
- As with other forms of abuse it can cause physical symptoms to occur such as; headaches, stomach cramps, high blood pressure, fatigue, insomnia and confusion.
The silent treatment is abusive, controlling, unhealthy, damaging for the target and no one should tolerate it.