The Silent Treatment: Why it is abusive and how to respond to it

What is the silent treatment?

Purposely ignoring someone, refusing to listen to them, and icing them out is often referred to as giving them the ‘silent treatment’. While many people purposely go silent after – or even during – an argument, they may do so in order to prevent saying something which they will regret. Having a time-out duriang or after an argument is generally seen as an attempt to improve communication and protect the other person’s feelings. It is important to note that this is not the same as giving someone the silent treatment as while one is intended to improve communication, the other is a form of abuse and control. 

Why is the silent treatment an abusive control tactic?

According to Lisa Aronson Fontes Ph.D., many survivors of abuse admit that being ignored and iced out for long periods of time is worse than being yelled at. The reason for this is that when one shouts at you, they are still voicing their thoughts and expressing their feelings. In contrast to this, subjecting someone to the silent treatment means pushing them away and not giving them access to what is going on inside your head. This can be especially terrifying for victims of abuse as they do not know what their abuser is thinking. With time, to avoid this intense fear and vulnerability, many become submissive and liable to control.

How can you cope with and respond to the silent treatment?

Voice your feelings and thoughts: Make sure that your partner knows that the way they are behaving is making you feel uncomfortable, afraid, and vulnerable.

Be gentle in your approach and try offering ways you can improve communication in your relationship.

Avoid becoming isolated:

It is vital that you have a strong support system of loving friends and family. Being able to confide in other people can help tremendously as you can find more courage and strength to stand up for yourself instead of becoming submissive and liable to control.

Set boundaries and stand up for yourself: 

If your partner dismisses your feelings, be firmer, and set boundaries. Clarify what behavior is unacceptable to you and explain that there will be certain consequences if these boundaries are ignored or crossed.

Seek professional counseling: 

A counselor or therapist can help you manage abusive behavior and control tactics healthily.

Consider ending the relationship: 

If your relationship is causing you more harm than good, you might have to step back and reconsider it.

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