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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 July 8, 2020

    How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often

    How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often

    Do you say yes so often that you realize you aren’t really happy about this, wondering how to say no to people?

    For years, I was a serial people pleaser. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

    But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

    It took a long while but I learned the art of saying no. Saying ‘no’ meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. I started to manage my time more around my own needs and interests. When that happened, I became a lot happier. And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

    The Importance of Saying No

    When you learn the art of saying ‘no,’ you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

    In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

    Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey considered one of the most successful women in the world confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything. It was only when she realized that after years of struggling with saying no, I finally got to this question: “What do I want?”

    Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

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    Warren Buffett views no as essential to his success. He said,

    “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

    When I made ‘no’ a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

    How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

    It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say ‘no.’

    From an early age, we are conditioned to say ‘yes.’ We said yes probably hundreds of time in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work. We said yes get a promotion. We said yes to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

    We say yes because it feels better to help someone. We say yes because it can seem like the right thing to do. We say yes because we think that is key to success. And we say yes because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist like the boss.

    And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we feel guilty we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

    The message no matter where we turn is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

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    How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

    Deciding to add the word ‘no’ to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say ‘no’ but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of ‘no’ that you could finally create more time for things you care about. But let’s be honest, using the word ‘no’ doesn’t come easily for many people.

    The 3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

    1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time especially you haven’t done it much in the past will feel awkward.

    2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

    Remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it, who else knows about all of the demands on your time? No one. Only you are at the center of all of these requests. are the only one that understands what time you really have.

    3. Saying ‘No’ Means Saying ‘Yes’ to Something That Matters

    When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

    6 Ways to Start Saying No

    Incorporating that little word ‘no’ into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

    1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

    One of the biggest challenges to saying ‘no’ is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no reflect poorly on you?

    Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

    2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

    Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because FOMO even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

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    Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better.

    3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say ‘No’

    Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say ‘yes’ because we worry about how others will respond or the consequences of saying no or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose respect from others. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

    Keep in mind that saying ‘no’ can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way. You might disappoint someone initially but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to.

    4. When the Request Comes In, Sit on It

    Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

    Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time, or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say ‘no.’ There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

    5. Communicate Your ‘No’ with Transparency and Kindness

    When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    A clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

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    6. Consider How to Use a Modified ‘No’

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” giving you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a fresh request to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself. If you are the one placing the demand on yourself, try to evaluate the demand as if it were coming from somewhere else.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project but not by working all weekend. Or, tell someone in your family you can’t loan them money again because they never paid you back the last time. You’ll find yourself much happier.

    More Self-Care Tips

    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

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