You've probably all heard of the silent treatment. It's a psychological punishment and manipulation technique that we've all probably used or witnessed at some point, whether we were aware of it or not. This applies to any relationship, including romantic, friendship, familial, coworker, and even interactions with strangers.
In this article, I'll explain why people use silent treatment to avoid people in relationships, how serious the consequences of silent treatment can be, and how to deal with it. When you understand why people do this and how bad it is, you will be able to solve problems in your relationship in a new and positive way.
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What Is Silent Treatment and What Isn't It?
But here's the thing about blatantly ignoring someone: it's not only impolite, immature, inconsiderate, cruel, and petty, but it's also emotionally (and sometimes physically) damaging.
Ignoring someone is not a loving act. In fact, it falls under the category of abuse:
Just because you aren't using your hands doesn't mean you can't cause irreparable harm to another person. Ignoring someone is also not a strategy; it is simply a disregard for another person's feelings.
What I have to say may be difficult to read because it is based on my own experiences and some research on the various effects of the silent treatment. But I'm writing this because it's critical.
There are those who take the silent treatment to its logical conclusion. No one should ever be treated this way or feel obligated to put up with this kind of behavior in others because it is not acceptable. It is also not something you can simply “get over” or “move on” from because it remains with you.
Why Do People Opt for the Silent Treatment?
There are several reasons why someone may choose to ignore you:
They blame you for a problem that is entirely their fault.
Personally, I believe that this is the easy way out. Someone may blame you for a problem and ignore you in order for the “problem” to go away; or they may simply be angry at you (but too immature to talk to you about it)? Ironically, it worsens the situation.
But, in either case, it's just an excuse to avoid caring or dealing with any drama or problem (which, again, is ironic, because it either creates a problem that didn't exist or adds to the drama).
They only want to cause you pain.
Maybe they're trying to hurt or punish you on purpose, or they're too selfish to care about your feelings, or they don't respect you.
It gives them power over you and gives them control of the situation. They may even try to make themselves the victim, or deny that there is a problem, making your feelings irrelevant. This is an example of a typical narcissistic behavior.
They believe it is the right thing to do or that it is good for you.
When someone ignores you, they may be unaware of the harm they are causing. or they do and believe it will make you better. Or maybe they need space but don't bother telling you. They may simply be avoiding a confrontation and are unaware that they have gone about it incorrectly.
To be clear, I am NOT implying that people who ignore others are necessarily bad people. Everyone has their own problems, and life is difficult, so figuring out how to deal with them isn't always easy. Sometimes all it takes is time; other times, people come around, and relationships can heal.
- However, ignoring someone can have serious consequences regardless of the reason.
- The Silent Treatment's Detrimental Effects on You (And Your Relationships)
Here are five ways the silent treatment is more harmful than you realize:
1. It causes emotional distress or trauma
This may seem obvious, but being ignored can result in a wide range of overwhelming emotions. Victims may experience depression, rage, and frustration, as well as restlessness, isolation, and rejection, guilt, loneliness, and despair. Perhaps even a feeling of betrayal or bitterness.
When someone's existence and feelings are dismissed and disrespected, they feel unloved, unworthy, and insignificant. Like an old couch that you get rid of because you don't have enough space for it.
2. It causes mental anguish
This is referred to as ostracism (exclusion, banishment). For some people, the silent treatment can be a mind game, and in some cases, it can be used as a form of psychological manipulation. It erodes your sense of self-esteem and self-worth in addition to the emotional roller-coaster.
It also raises stress levels, leading to increased feelings of grief, loss, misplacement, and abandonment; the victim may feel powerless. The psychological effects of ostracism are more permanent the longer and more intense the ostracism lasts, especially in children.
3. It has the potential to cause serious physical side effects
There is a part of our brains that is specifically designed to detect various levels of pain. The anterior cingulate cortex is activated when someone is subjected to the silent treatment.
You read that correctly: when someone is ignored, their brain informs them that they are in physical pain.
Symptoms may include headaches, diarrhea or constipation, stomach pains, insomnia, anxiety, and fatigue. Eating disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, blood clots, urinary and bowel problems, erectile dysfunction, and cancer are all possible outcomes of various states of emotional stress.
4. It has the potential to alter behavior
What am I doing incorrectly? Is there a problem with me? Are you present? Was there something I said? Am I being too obnoxious?
Ignorance may cause you to act in ways you would not normally? Things like questioning and second-guessing yourself and others, lashing out, or doubting yourself and situations where you would normally not. You may begin to feel as if you are bothering the other person or being overly needy. All of your questions and doubts may cause you to act like someone who isn't you.
Recognizing that you aren't acting like yourself may exacerbate feelings of guilt, loss of control, and uncertainty; because these feelings initiate a sense of threat to your survival, they may amplify any fight-or-flight response you may have.
5. It has the potential to ruin relationships
Communication is frequently a problem in this situation.
One partner may ignore or distance themselves from the other for any of the reasons mentioned above. This action, regardless of the reaction of the other partner, creates a schism. Each partner may believe the problem is with the other, and instead of communicating, they wait for the other to admit they are wrong and apologize.
However, in this situation, each is more concerned with being right than with the relationship. Or one or both partners may believe that by not interacting with the other, they are being the bigger person, when in fact the opposite is true. This reduces intimacy and trust between partners and can result in anxiety and aggressive behavior.
The silent treatment may become a habit, impairing one's ability to communicate effectively. Many people are unaware of the dangers of the silent treatment, which only adds to the problem. The intensity of all of these feelings and side effects is determined by the intensity of the silent treatment, but this does not make it any less harmful or unhealthy.
How to Handle the Silent Treatment
First and foremost, remain calm. Whether you're doing the ignoring or being ignored, let go of your rage and your ego, and simply apologize. Have a proper adult conversation. It's not worth it to keep quiet.
If you're the one being ignored, try to figure out what's wrong; don't give them the silent treatment in return. Establish your needs for space if one or both of you require it. Because, as previously stated, communication is frequently an issue, try to discuss and comprehend the situation. Understanding is essential in this situation. On both sides, patience, the intention to be loving and kind, and the willingness to be understanding are required.
Part of the reason the person doing the ignoring may be irritated is that they aren't getting what they want and see no reason to compromise. Depending on the circumstances, they may be unaware of how much they are harming you. Make it clear to the other person that you care about them and that you will be available to listen when they are ready to speak.
Now, if someone is purposefully attempting to harm you by using the silent treatment and acting maliciously, they may enjoy your negative reaction. He or she may be a narcissist. Keep in mind that this is abuse. Don't keep pleading with them to talk to you? To them, this simply means they are correct. Simply do not contact them. In this situation, don't return the silent treatment, but don't let the situation get to you. It's possible that the relationship is unhealthy and should be ended.
Don't let anyone treat you like an old couch, and don't let anyone ever tell you that you don't matter. No one, regardless of the circumstances, deserves to be treated in this manner. Ignoring a problem will not solve it, and people will continue to exist whether you ignore them or not.
In a nutshell: Don't ignore people, especially those who are close to you. Everyone will benefit if you take the time to assess the situation.
- Relationships Editors' Picks
- Gary Chapman's The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Lasting Love
- David Richo's How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving
- Timothy S. Lane's Relationships: A Mess Worth Making
- Making Your Relationship Work by Matthew McKay, Patrick Fanning, and Kim Paleg
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