The Silent Treatment
The silent treatment may frankly be one of the most grossly understated forms of psychological abuse and torture. It is characteristic of neglect, depriving the target of much need social engagement, validation, affection, and empathy. To ignore someone is incredibly painful, and studies have shown it to be even more damaging than or at minimum comparable to physical assault. Our brains crave oxytocin, especially from intimate relationships. When that affection is being held hostage, it causes an enigma to occur in our brain when it finally does release. This creates a chemical cycle similar to drug addiction or substance use in our mind.
It is a subtle form of control, an attempt to manipulate the emotions of others. It is almost as if an unspoken duel is taking place, unfolding before your very eyes. How long can you stand it before you snap? How long can you endure the pain until you finally crack? Then that person will easily be able to point all fingers towards you, implying you as the sole instigator of angry outbursts and of violence. Sure, often times ignoring someone or a problem can be a temporary way to put off anger or unnecessary conflict — but in truth, most people do not use it this way the majority of the time.
Why Do People Ignore Others?
Hint: It is probably not because they’re “busy.”
The silent treatment may be a form of anger know as passive-aggressive behavior, and can become a manipulative punishment in cases of emotional abuse. It is used to control the other person through silent, non-verbal cues to express disapproval, contempt, and retaliatory anger against perceived threat to ego.
- They Don’t Want to Face You, Regardless of Reason.
It is true — people may not always be ignoring you out of malice. In fact, sometimes people are just shy or quiet and act this way around most everyone in general. Your perception of their actions may very well be due to hypersensitivity, especially if you have been exposed to psychological manipulative emotional abuse. Try not to be quick to jump to conclusions about how someone is acting, but if they continue to act that way in a clear pattern, then understand you’ve got issues with this person.
There are clear indicators if someone is intentionally avoiding you, ignoring you. It may be to prevent harm, to protect, to avoid conflict or confrontation. There are people who have anxiety or issues with trauma that will avoid any triggers or confrontations will those they are afraid of or have at some point felt intimidated by in some way. The best way to deal with this is to try to peaceful confront the person about it. If they are open and receptive to hearing what you have to say, they will likely be quick to apologize and proclaim that wasn’t their intention. They will actively work with you to discontinue their behavior to work things out with you.
2. They Want to Control or Punish You.
It could also be a form of punishing you, because in their eyes you’ve done something wrong. It could be that they are waiting for the dust to settle without them having to take the rap for some bad behavior that their pride refuses to allow them to apologize for, meaning they are either embarrassed by it or they think their behavior was justified. Know that if they are doing this to you because they think their behavior was justified, refuse to apologize, refuse to address the subject, uses avoidance behavior, ignore you, otherwise “punish” or condemn you, or withhold affection or attention from you — this is incredibly narcissistic and abusive. More than likely they are abusing you. Fact.
How Should I Respond?
In the case of when the silent treatment is a tool of power and control, understand that if someone is intentionally ignoring you by using the silent treatment, their goal is to try to provoke an angry reaction out of you. They want you to feel sad, so that you’ll feel guilty and do things that will beg for attention to be brought back to you and your relationship. Don’t fall for this trap. The more you give in to that person’s schemes, the more they will try to take advantage of your willingness to cooperate. They will continue to push the envelope, with each instance getting worse and progressively intense.
It might go from ignoring you for a few hours in the other room to leaving for days without a text, call, or any indication of where they are — only to come back and act like they did nothing wrong, and will not give any explanation of why they did that. In this case, you’ll be weakened enough by this plight already to not care, which is exactly what they want. They want you to be relieved when they returned, and this is how they feel needed, worthy, and important.
If the person who is ignoring you sees that you aren’t going to give them what they want, they will likely become enraged with explosive anger, and eventually they will seek out validation of their self-importance elsewhere. This behavior is used often by those high on the narcissism neurotic scale, and they will reject any notion that they are not a grand individual worthy of praise. Do not count on them to be responsible for their behaviors, to admit blame or apologize; this is just something that they are not capable of doing.
When to Walk Away
Sometimes, we have to make a difficult decision to walk away from those who are giving us the silent treatment. This is usually regarded as a last resort, as it probably should be. There is always that chance that we are mistaken about how someone else is treating us. If you continue to give people chances, yet they continue to violate your boundaries and feelings, it is clear that they do not have respect for you. Where there is no respect, there is no trust. Where there is no trust, there is no love. Without love, intimate relationships tend to fall apart eventually. Don’t try to build your relationships on top of a cracked foundation, only to have them tumble down over and over again. You are worth more than that.