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Last Updated on October 31, 2018

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 September 12, 2019

    12 Things You Should Remember When Feeling Lost in Life

    12 Things You Should Remember When Feeling Lost in Life

    Even the most charismatic people you know, whether in person or celebrities of some sort, experience days where they feel lost in life and isolated from everyone else.

    While it’s good to know we aren’t alone in this feeling, the question still remains:

    What should we do when we feel lost and lonely?

    Here are 12 things to remember:

    1. Recognize That It’s Okay!

    The truth is, there are times you need to be alone. If you’ve always been accustomed to being in contact with people, this may prove difficult.

    However, learning how to be alone and comfortable in your own skin will give you confidence and a sense of self reliance.

    We cheat ourselves out of the opportunity to become self reliant when we look for constant companionship.

    Learn how to embrace your me time: What Your Fear of Being Alone Is Really About and How to Get over It

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    2. Use Your Lost and Loneliness as a Self-Directing Guide

    You’ve most likely heard the expression: “You have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.”

    Loneliness also serves as a life signal to indicate you’re in search of something. It’s when we’re in the midst of solitude that answers come from true soul searching.

    Remember, there is more to life than what you’re feeling.

    3. Realize Loneliness Helps You Face the Truth

    Being in the constant company of others, although comforting sometimes, can often serve as a distraction when we need to face the reality of a situation.

    Solitude cuts straight to the chase and forces you to deal with the problem at hand. See it as a blessing that can serve as a catalyst to set things right!

    4. Be Aware That You Have More Control Than You Think

    Typically, when we see ourselves as being lost or lonely, it gives us an excuse to view everything we come in contact with in a negative light. It lends itself to putting ourselves in the victim mode, when the truth of the matter is that you choose your attitude in every situation.

    No one can force a feeling upon you! It is YOU who has the ultimate say as to how you choose to react.

    5. Embrace the Freedom That the Feeling of Being Alone Can Offer

    Instead of wallowing in self pity, which many are prone to do because of loneliness, try looking at your circumstance as a new-found freedom.

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    Most people are in constant need of approval of their viewpoints. Try enjoying the fact that  you don’t need everyone you care about to support your decisions.

    6. Acknowledge the Person You Are Now

    Perhaps you feel a sense of loneliness and confusion because your life circumstances have taken you away from the persona that others know to be you.

    Perhaps the new you differs radically from the old. Realize that life is about change and how we react to that change. It’s okay that you’re not who you used to be.

    Take a look at this article and learn to accept your imperfect self: Accept Yourself (Flaws and All): 7 Benefits of Being Vulnerable

    7. Keep Striving to Do Your Best

    Often those who are feeling isolated and unto themselves will develop a defeatist attitude. They’ll do substandard work because their self esteem is low and they don’t care.

    Never let this feeling take away your sense of worth! Do your best always and when you come through this dark time, others will admire how you stayed determined in spite of the obstacles you had to overcome.

    And to live your best life, you must do this ONE thing: step out of your comfort zone.

    8. Don’t Forget That Time Is Precious

    When we’re lost in a sea of loneliness and depression, it’s all too easy to reflect on regrets of past life events. This does nothing but feed negativity and perpetuate the situation.

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    Instead of falling prey to this common pitfall, put one foot in front of the other and acknowledge every positive step you take. By doing this, you can celebrate the struggles you overcome at the end of the day.

    9. Remember, Things Happen for a Reason

    Every circumstance we encounter in our life is designed to teach us and that lesson is in turn passed on to others.

    Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to figure out the lesson to be learned, while other times, we simply need to have faith that if the lesson wasn’t meant directly for us to learn from, how we handled it was observed by someone who needed to learn.

    Your solitude and feeling of lost, in this instance, although painful possibly, may be teaching someone else.

    10. Journal During This Time

    Record your thoughts when you’re at the height of loneliness and feeling lost. You’ll be amazed when you reflect back at how you viewed things at the time and how far you’ve come later.

    This time (if recorded) can give you a keen insight into who you are and what makes you feel the way you feel.

    11. Remember You Aren’t the First to Feel This Way

    It’s quite common to feel as if we’re alone and no one else has ever felt this way before. We think this because at the time of our distress, we’re silently observing others around us who are seemingly fine in every way.

    The truth is, we can’t possibly know the struggles of those around us unless they elect to share them. We ALL have known this pain!

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    Try confiding in someone you trust and ask them how they deal with these feelings when they experienced it. You may be surprised at what you learn.

    12. Ask for Help If the Problem Persists

    The feeling of being lost and lonely is common to everyone, but typically it will last for a relatively short period of time.

    Most people will confess to, at one time or another, being in a “funk.” But if the problem persists longer than you feel it should, don’t ignore it.

    When your ability to reason and consider things rationally becomes impaired, do not poo poo the problem away and think it isn’t worthy of attention. Seek medical help.

    Afraid to ask for help? Here’s how to change your outlook to aim high!

    Final Thoughts

    Loneliness and a sense of feeling lost can in many ways be extremely painful and difficult to deal with at best. However, these feelings can also serve as a catalyst for change in our lives if we acknowledge them and act.

    Above anything, cherish your mental well being and don’t underestimate its worth. Seek professional guidance if you’re unable to distinguish between a sense of freedom for yourself and a sense of despair.

    More About Finding Yourself

    Featured photo credit: Andrew Neel via unsplash.com

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