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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 June 26, 2020

    10 Things To Remember When Everything Goes Wrong

    10 Things To Remember When Everything Goes Wrong

    Problems and heartaches in life are inevitable. However, there are some things to remember when you’re right in the thick of it that can help you get through it. When everything seems to be going wrong, practice telling yourself these things.

    1. This Too Shall Pass

    Sometimes life’s rough patches feel like they’re going to last forever. Whether you’re dealing with work-related issues, family problems, or stressful situations, very few problems last for a lifetime. So remind yourself, that things won’t be this bad forever.

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    2. Some Things are Going Right

    When things are going wrong, it’s hard to recognize what is going right. It’s easy to screen out the good things and only focus on the bad things. Remind yourself that some things are going right. Purposely look for the positive, even if it is something very small.

    3. I Have Some Control

    One of the most most important things to remember is that you have some control of the situation. Even if you aren’t in complete control of the situation, one thing you can always control is your attitude and reaction. Focus on managing what is within your control.

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    4. I Can Ask for Help

    Asking for help can be hard sometimes. However, it’s one of the best ways to deal with tough situations. Tell people what you need specifically if they offer to help. Don’t be afraid to call on friends and family and ask them for help, whether you need financial assistance, emotional support, or practical help.

    5. Much of This Won’t Matter in a Few Years

    Most of the problems we worry about today won’t actually matter five years from now. Remind yourself that whatever is going wrong now is only a small percentage of your actual life. Even if you’re dealing with a major problem, like a loved one’s illness, remember that a lot of good things are likely to happen in the course of a year or two as well.

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    6. I Can Handle This

    A lack of confidence in handling tough times can add to stress. One of the best things to remember is that you can handle tough situations. Even though you might feel angry, hurt, disappointed, or sad, it won’t kill you. You can get through it.

    7. Something Good Will Come Out of This

    No matter how bad a situation is, it’s almost certain that something good will come out of it. At the very least, it’s likely that you will learn a life lesson. Perhaps you learn not to repeat the same mistake in the future or maybe you move on from a bad situation and find something better. Look for the one good thing that can result when bad things happen.

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    8. I Can Accept What’s Out of my Control

    There are many things that aren’t within your control. You can’t change the past, another person’s behavior, or a loved one’s health issues. Don’t waste time trying to force others to change or trying to make things be different if it isn’t within your control. Investing time and energy into trying to things you can’t will cause you to feel helpless and exhausted. Acceptance is one of the best way to establish resilience.

    9. I Have Overcome Past Difficulties

    One of the things to remember when you’re facing difficulties, is that you’ve handled problems in the past. Don’t overlook past difficulties that you’ve dealt with successfully. Remind yourself of all the past problems you’ve overcome and you’ll gain confidence in dealing with the current issues.

    10. I Need to Take Care of Myself

    When everything seems to be going wrong, take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, get some exercise, eat healthy, and spend some time doing leisure activities. When you’re taking better care of yourself you’ll be better equipped to deal with your problems.

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