In many instances, the silent treatment is just a phase. Someone did something wrong, hurting another person, making that person ignore the other for days. Eventually, the silence between them will fizzle out, and the relationship goes back to normal as if nothing happened.
In other cases though, the silent treatment can be like an inescapable limbo, with family members not speaking for months on end. In situations taken to the extremes like this, family counseling experts from The Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Health in Westport, Connecticut say it’s worth unpacking what silent treatment does to a relationship.
Why the Cold Shoulder
Often, the reason family members have been giving you the silent treatment for months is to send a message. As much as there are no words said, silence is a powerful communication, but can be misused. The silent treatment is to impress upon you that what you did is wrong and that by ignoring you, they would want you to feel guilty about it.
Many people think this is an effective tool for discipline or instilling respect, but when taken to the extremes, this can be a form of emotional abuse. It’s a manipulative way of gaining control over you, leaving you feeling intimidated and powerless. There’s also that creeping feeling of being insignificant or devalued since your existence is ignored.
What to Do
Before the silent treatment stretches on for months, stop it in its tracks. When you see the first signs of someone giving you the cold shoulder, the first thing to do is to stay calm. This would mean letting go of negative emotions, like frustration or anger.
It’s also important not to retaliate. For many people, there’s that tendency to give the silent treatment back. Since communication is the main issue here, even if it hurts, reach out to the person. Also, don’t forget to give them the space they want. When they’re ready to talk, explore the problem.
Silent treatment, when taken to the extremes, damages relationships. If you’re at the receiving end of this treatment, seek the help of family counseling specialists.