Silent Treatment - Is it a sign of Self-Respect or Torture?

Ever been through prolonged silence of no phone calls or texts after a breakup? Ever felt neglected or ignored after a fight when actually you would have wanted to talk things out and communicate better again?! Welcome to the world of the Silent Treatment!! 

Silent Treatment refers to the refusal to communicate verbally to another person who is willing to communicate. The treatment is used by the person to punish someone who according to them has done something which is unacceptable. Though the use of silent treatment can reflect one’s own emotional pain, there is also a profound psychological cost for the receiver. The silent treatment can damage relationships, sometimes irreparably. When it becomes part of a pattern of behaviour, it can be abusive, especially when it includes other toxic behaviours such as threats or insults or when the intent is to control.

Why is the Silent Treatment used?

People use silent treatment for a number of reasons. Some of them being:

  • Avoidance: In some cases, people remain silent in a conversation because they do not know what to say or want to avoid conflict
  • Communication: A person may use the silent treatment if they do not know how to express their feelings but want their partner to know that they are upset
  • Punishment: If an individual uses silence to penalize someone or to exert control or power over them, this is a form of emotional abuse

How it affects the relationship

In most cases, using silent treatment is not a productive way to deal with a dispute. It is said that both men and women use silent treatment in relationships. However, clear and direct communication is needed for strong relationships. Using silent treatment prevents people from helpfully resolving their conflicts. If one partner wants to talk about a problem but the other withdraws, it can cause negative feelings such as anger and sadness. People who regularly feel rejected also report lower levels of self-esteem, belonging, and meaning in their lives.

Because of this, silent treatment can have an impact on the health of a relationship, even if the silent person is trying to avoid conflict. A person with a partner who avoids conflict is more likely to be a source to continue a conflict because they have not had a chance to discuss their grievances.

A person may be using silence in an abusive way if:

  • The person intended to hurt another person with their silence
  • The silence lasts for extended periods of time
  • Their silence only ends when they decide it does
  • They prefer talking to other people but not to their partner
  • They attempt alliances with others
  • The person uses silence to blame their partner and make them feel guilty
  • They use silence to manipulate or “improve” their partner, or to pressure them to change their behaviour

Silent Treatment and Self-Respect:

The silent treatment is also used in a relationship to protect one’s self-respect. This happens when the person feels that he or she may have been disrespected by their partner. The person chose to be silent than talk to the other person as they feel that’s how the other person will understand the mistake that they have made and apologize for that. Partners also give silent therapy to each other in some phases of their relationship to show their worth to the other. It happens in the relationship when people stop giving attention to their partner, because of which the other person starts feeling ignored and that’s when they decide to give the silent treatment to make them feel your absence.

The silent treatment is an unproductive way of communicating within a relationship. It can sometimes be a form of self-protection, but at other times, it indicates emotional abuse. People who regularly use or experience silent treatment should take steps to address it. If there are other signs of abuse, it may be necessary to seek outside support to stay safe.

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