The silent treatment is a manipulative tactic most people tend to overlook. However, it is a powerful strategy that allows the person using it to control the minds and the actions of their victims. Therefore, this simple act of remaining silent is capable of creating immense emotional damage.
What is the silent treatment?
The silent treatment is when your partner is clearly upset about something but refuses to talk things through. It is when a co-worker intentionally hesitates from saying out loud what their problem is with you, creating toxic tension at your workplace. It is when a friend ignores you for days after you said something they disagree with. In general, the silent treatment is an approach manipulators use to instill an unbearable feeling of guilt in you in order to make themselves seem superior in the situation. They present themselves as the victim, without even giving you an explanation of what did you do to trigger their distress.
The emotional damage this mind-controlling strategy can cause could be detrimental. Instead of openly expressing the reasons why someone has made them feel uncomfortable, some people choose to ignore the other person’s presence to make them suffer. What they fail to realize is that this way, they are putting their relationship at great risk. A connection where one of the partners is constantly abusing the other one mentally is far from healthy. Eventually, the trust, loyalty, and love fade away, and all that remains is fear and unease.
What makes the silent treatment so abusive?
In some extreme cases, the silent treatment could be so severe that it could inflict actual physical pain. That’s because the act of intentional avoidance triggers the same area of the brain that is activated by physical pain.
According to Kipling Williams, professor of psychological sciences, “Being excluded (…) can be excruciating.” In his research regarding the connection between the silent treatment and physical pain, the psychology specialist explains:
“Being excluded is painful because it threatens fundamental human needs, such as belonging and self-esteem.”
Indeed, being given the cold shoulder can make you feel miserable. It can make you feel guilty without knowing what you did to deserve such treatment. And, as it turns out, it can result in actual physical pain, which should not be overlooked.
How to deal with the painful emotional distance the silent treatment creates?
No matter how hard you try to cut this emotional distance, pleasing someone who is not mature enough to face their problems is an impossible task. The neverending efforts you put into satisfying needs you don’t even understand, as they refuse to explain themselves, are just not worth the struggle. If you know in your heart you did nothing wrong, you shouldn’t feel any guilt.
When someone is angry with you but intentionally avoids the subject or makes you figure it out yourself, let them be angry. Trying to make them feel better when you don’t even have the slightest idea why they are so upset is a dead end.
In case that person is valuable to you, try to tell them how their behavior makes you feel. Let them know that the silent treatment they are putting you through severely affects your mental health. Hopefully, they would consider your feelings and will come to their senses. But if they continue manipulating your emotions in such an abusive way, you may need to distance yourself from their toxic influence. A person who loves and cares about you will never force you to go through hell only to please them and make them feel good about themselves.