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5 Ways the Silent Treatment Is Really Damaging (And How to Deal with It)

5 Ways the Silent Treatment Is Really Damaging (And How to Deal with It)

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the silent treatment. It’s a method of psychological punishment and manipulation we’ve all probably used or experienced at some point, whether we were aware of it or not. This applies to any relationship—romantic, friendships, familial, coworker relationships, and even interactions with strangers.

In this article, I’m going to explain to you why people use silent treatment to ignore people in a relationship, how serious the consequences of silent treatment can be, and how you can deal with it. When you understand more about the reasons why people do this and how bad it really is, you will learn to solve problems in your relationship in a different and positive way.

Silent Treatment — What It Is and What It’s Not

But here’s the thing about blatantly ignoring someone: not only is it rude, immature, inconsiderate, cruel, and petty, it’s downright emotionally (and sometimes physically) damaging.

Ignoring someone is not an act of love. In fact, it qualifies as abuse:[1]

    Just because you are not using your hands doesn’t mean you can’t irreparably hurt someone else. Ignoring someone is also not a strategy, it’s just a flat out disregard for someone else’s feelings.

    It might be hard to read what I have to say, based on my own experiences and some research on the various effects of the silent treatment. But I’m writing this because it’s so, so important.

    There are people who take the silent treatment to extremes. No one should ever be treated this way, or feel like they have to put up with this kind of behavior in someone else because it is most definitely not okay. It is also not something you can just “get over” or  “just move on” from because it stays with you.

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    Why People Use the Silent Treatment

    There are a few reasons someone might ignore you:

    They blame you for a problem that is really their problem.

    Personally, I think this is the easy way out. Someone might blame you for a problem and ignore you so that the “problem” goes away; or they might just be mad at you (but too immature to talk to you about it) ― ironically, it actually makes things worse.

    But either way, it’s just an excuse for someone to avoid caring, or dealing with any drama or problem (which again, is ironic, because it either creates a problem that wasn’t there, or adds to the drama).

    They just want to hurt you.

    Maybe they’re deliberately trying to hurt or punish you, or they’re too selfish to care about what your feelings are, or they don’t respect you.

    It gives them control of the situation, and a power over you ‒ they might even try to turn it around so that they are the victim, or deny that there is a problem, thus making your feelings irrelevant. This is one of the typical narcissistic behaviors.

    They think it’s the right thing or that it’s good for you.

    When someone ignores you, they might not realize the damage it causes ― or they do and they think it’ll make you better. Or maybe they need space but don’t bother to tell you that. They could just be avoiding a confrontation, and not realize they’ve gone about it the wrong way.

    To be clear: I am NOT saying that people who ignore others are automatically bad people. Everyone has their own problems, and life is hard, so figuring out the right way to deal with things isn’t always easy. Sometimes, all you need is time; sometimes people come around, and relationships can heal.

    But regardless of the reason, ignoring someone can have serious consequences.

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    How the Silent Treatment Sabotages You (And Your Relationships)

    Here are 5 ways the silent treatment is more damaging than you know:

    1. It causes emotional trauma or stress.

    This may be a given, but there is a wide variety of overwhelming emotions that come with being ignored. Victims may experience depression, anger, and frustration, as well as feelings of restlessness, isolation and rejection, guilt, loneliness, and despair ― maybe even a sense of betrayal or bitterness.[2]

    When someone’s existence and feelings are dismissed and disrespected, they feel devalued, unloved, unworthy, and insignificant. Like an old couch you toss out because you don’t have room for it.

    2. It causes psychological stress.

    The word for this is ostracism (exclusion, banishment). The silent treatment can be a mind game for some people, and in some cases can be used as a form of psychological manipulation. Along with the emotional roller-coaster, it tears down your sense of self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

    It also increases stress levels, leading to more feelings of grief, loss, misplacement, and abandonment; the victim may feel they have no control. The longer and more intense the ostracism continues, the more permanent the psychological effects, especially in children.[3]

    3. It may have serious physical side-effects.

    There’s a part of our brains specifically designed to detect different levels of pain. It’s called the anterior cingulate cortex, and it activates when someone receives the silent treatment.

    You heard that right: When someone is ignored, their brain tells them they are in physical pain.

    Symptoms could include anything from headaches to diarrhea or constipation to stomach pains, as well as insomnia, anxiety, and fatigue. Different states of emotional stress could lead to more serious health risks, such as eating disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, blood clots, urinary and bowel problems, erectile dysfunction, and cancer.

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    4. It can cause behavioral changes.

    What am I doing wrong? Is something wrong with me? Are you there? Was it something I said? Am I too annoying?

    Being ignored could cause you to behave in ways you might not normally― things like questioning and second-guessing yourself and others, lashing out, or doubting yourself and situations where you normally don’t. You might start to feel like you’re bothering the other person, or being too needy. All the questions and doubt might cause you to act like someone who isn’t really you.

    Realizing you aren’t quite acting like yourself could further feelings of guilt, loss of control, and uncertainty; since these feelings initiate a sense of threat to your survival, this may heighten any fight-or-flight reaction you may have.

    5. It can destroy relationships.

    Often the issue here is with communication.

    For any of the reasons mentioned above, one partner might ignore or distance themselves from the other. No matter the reaction of the other partner, this action causes a rift. Each partner might feel the problem is with the other, and instead of communicating with each other, they wait around for the other to admit they’re wrong and apologize.

    But in this situation, each cares more about being right than they do about the relationship. Or one or both partners might feel they’re being the bigger person by not interacting with the other, when in reality the opposite is true. This decreases intimacy and trust between partners, and can cause anxiety and aggressive behavior.

    The silent treatment may become a pattern, which hinders the ability to communicate effectively.

    Many people don’t realize the dangers of engaging in the silent treatment, which only adds to the problem. The intensity of all these feelings and side-effects depends on the intensity of the silent treatment, but that doesn’t make it any less unhealthy or damaging.

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    How to Deal with the Silent Treatment

    First off, stay calm. Whether you’re doing the ignoring or being ignored, forget about anger, forget about your ego, just apologize. Have a conversation like a real adult. It’s not worth it to keep the silence.

    If you’re the one being ignored, do your best to find out what is wrong; do not give them the silent treatment back. If one or both of you needs space, establish that. Since, as mentioned, communication is often the issue, try to discuss and understand the situation. Understanding is key here. You need to have patience, the intention to be loving and kind, and the willingness to be understanding—on both sides.

    Part of the reason the person doing the ignoring might be irritated is because they’re not getting what they want, and don’t see why they should compromise. Depending on the situation, they might not see how much they’re hurting you. Make sure the other person knows that you care about them, and that you’ll be ready to listen when they’re ready to talk.

    Now, if someone is purposefully trying to hurt you through the silent treatment and acting out of malice, then obviously they might enjoy your negative reaction. He/she could be a narcissist. Remember, this is abuse. Don’t keep begging them to talk to you―to them that just means they are right. Just don’t contact them. Don’t return the silent treatment in this situation either, but don’t let the situation get to you. It’s possible the relationship is unhealthy, and needs to end altogether.

    Don’t let anyone treat you like an old couch; don’t ever let anyone tell you you don’t matter. No one deserves to be treated that way, no matter the situation. No problem can be solved by ignoring it, and people still exist whether you ignore them or not.

    In a nutshell: Just don’t ignore people, especially those closest to you. Everyone will be better off if you take the time to sort through the situation.

    Featured photo credit: finda via finda.photo

    Reference

    More by this author

    Devin Gackle

    A writer of novels and novellas, plus a handful of short stories and poems.

    5 Ways the Silent Treatment Is Really Damaging (And How to Deal with It)

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    Last Updated on February 11, 2021

    Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

    Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

    How often have you said something simple, only to have the person who you said this to misunderstand it or twist the meaning completely around? Nodding your head in affirmative? Then this means that you are being unclear in your communication.

    Communication should be simple, right? It’s all about two people or more talking and explaining something to the other. The problem lies in the talking itself, somehow we end up being unclear, and our words, attitude or even the way of talking becomes a barrier in communication, most of the times unknowingly. We give you six common barriers to communication, and how to get past them; for you to actually say what you mean, and or the other person to understand it as well…

    The 6 Walls You Need to Break Down to Make Communication Effective

    Think about it this way, a simple phrase like “what do you mean” can be said in many different ways and each different way would end up “communicating” something else entirely. Scream it at the other person, and the perception would be anger. Whisper this is someone’s ear and others may take it as if you were plotting something. Say it in another language, and no one gets what you mean at all, if they don’t speak it… This is what we mean when we say that talking or saying something that’s clear in your head, many not mean that you have successfully communicated it across to your intended audience – thus what you say and how, where and why you said it – at times become barriers to communication.[1]

    Perceptual Barrier

    The moment you say something in a confrontational, sarcastic, angry or emotional tone, you have set up perceptual barriers to communication. The other person or people to whom you are trying to communicate your point get the message that you are disinterested in what you are saying and sort of turn a deaf ear. In effect, you are yelling your point across to person who might as well be deaf![2]

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    The problem: When you have a tone that’s not particularly positive, a body language that denotes your own disinterest in the situation and let your own stereotypes and misgivings enter the conversation via the way you talk and gesture, the other person perceives what you saying an entirely different manner than say if you said the same while smiling and catching their gaze.

    The solution: Start the conversation on a positive note, and don’t let what you think color your tone, gestures of body language. Maintain eye contact with your audience, and smile openly and wholeheartedly…

    Attitudinal Barrier

    Some people, if you would excuse the language, are simply badass and in general are unable to form relationships or even a common point of communication with others, due to their habit of thinking to highly or too lowly of them. They basically have an attitude problem – since they hold themselves in high esteem, they are unable to form genuine lines of communication with anyone. The same is true if they think too little of themselves as well.[3]

    The problem: If anyone at work, or even in your family, tends to roam around with a superior air – anything they say is likely to be taken by you and the others with a pinch, or even a bag of salt. Simply because whenever they talk, the first thing to come out of it is their condescending attitude. And in case there’s someone with an inferiority complex, their incessant self-pity forms barriers to communication.

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    The solution: Use simple words and an encouraging smile to communicate effectively – and stick to constructive criticism, and not criticism because you are a perfectionist. If you see someone doing a good job, let them know, and disregard the thought that you could have done it better. It’s their job so measure them by industry standards and not your own.

    Language Barrier

    This is perhaps the commonest and the most inadvertent of barriers to communication. Using big words, too much of technical jargon or even using just the wrong language at the incorrect or inopportune time can lead to a loss or misinterpretation of communication. It may have sounded right in your head and to your ears as well, but if sounded gobbledygook to the others, the purpose is lost.

    The problem: Say you are trying to explain a process to the newbies and end up using every technical word and industry jargon that you knew – your communication has failed if the newbie understood zilch. You have to, without sounding patronizing, explain things to someone in the simplest language they understand instead of the most complex that you do.

    The solution: Simplify things for the other person to understand you, and understand it well. Think about it this way: if you are trying to explain something scientific to a child, you tone it down to their thinking capacity, without “dumbing” anything down in the process.[4]

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    Emotional Barrier

    Sometimes, we hesitate in opening our mouths, for fear of putting our foot in it! Other times, our emotional state is so fragile that we keep it and our lips zipped tightly together lest we explode. This is the time that our emotions become barriers to communication.[5]

    The problem: Say you had a fight at home and are on a slow boil, muttering, in your head, about the injustice of it all. At this time, you have to give someone a dressing down over their work performance. You are likely to transfer at least part of your angst to the conversation then, and talk about unfairness in general, leaving the other person stymied about what you actually meant!

    The solution: Remove your emotions and feelings to a personal space, and talk to the other person as you normally would. Treat any phobias or fears that you have and nip them in the bud so that they don’t become a problem. And remember, no one is perfect.

    Cultural Barrier

    Sometimes, being in an ever-shrinking world means that inadvertently, rules can make cultures clash and cultural clashes can turn into barriers to communication. The idea is to make your point across without hurting anyone’s cultural or religious sentiments.

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    The problem: There are so many ways culture clashes can happen during communication and with cultural clashes; it’s not always about ethnicity. A non-smoker may have problems with smokers taking breaks; an older boss may have issues with younger staff using the Internet too much.

    The solution: Communicate only what is necessary to get the point across – and eave your personal sentiments or feelings out of it. Try to be accommodative of the other’s viewpoint, and in case you still need to work it out, do it one to one, to avoid making a spectacle of the other person’s beliefs.[6]

    Gender Barrier

    Finally, it’s about Men from Mars and Women from Venus. Sometimes, men don’t understand women and women don’t get men – and this gender gap throws barriers in communication. Women tend to take conflict to their graves, literally, while men can move on instantly. Women rely on intuition, men on logic – so inherently, gender becomes a big block in successful communication.[7]

    The problem: A male boss may inadvertently rub his female subordinates the wrong way with anti-feminism innuendoes, or even have problems with women taking too many family leaves. Similarly, women sometimes let their emotions get the better of them, something a male audience can’t relate to.

    The solution: Talk to people like people – don’t think or classify them into genders and then talk accordingly. Don’t make comments or innuendos that are gender biased – you don’t have to come across as an MCP or as a bra-burning feminist either. Keep gender out of it.

    And remember, the key to successful communication is simply being open, making eye contact and smiling intermittently. The battle is usually half won when you say what you mean in simple, straightforward words and keep your emotions out of it.

    Reference

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