When I was growing up I was one of those types of kids that cause parents to turn grey early in life. In fact my mother turned grey by age 29. LOL There were times when I would test my mothers patience to the point that I received what is called the silent treatment. There would be an hour or two or even possibly a day where she would not speak to me. I realized quite quickly that when this happened that I had really blown it that time. Not always is the silent treatment a negative thing. There are times when it is appropriate for someone to take some time not communicating with someone but where do you draw the line between appropriate quietness and abuse? I hope to help you figure out that line for yourself so that you do not end up wounding someone with the this behavior or help you understand that if you are on the receiving end of the someone treating you this way where to say enough is enough and no longer continue in an abusive relationship.
What is the silent treatment?
The silent treatment is the act or behavior of someone who is completely ignoring another person. This behavior is normally associated with the communication of disapproval or punishment of the person being ignored. It is a controlling behavior placing the one doing the ignoring in control of all aspects of the relationship by denying any form of relationship. The term “The Silent Treatment” was first coined in 1947. It is used by a lot of people in today’s society.
Proper way to be quiet when things are tense.
This behavior can, in limited form be a healthy thing for a relationship. There are times in any relationship where during a heated exchange a “time out” is needed to let things cool down. This can last for a couple of hours to at most a couple of days where both parties get their emotions under control before continuing a conversation. The time of silence is being used to evaluate what is going on and to empathize with the other persons perspective. This can be a healthy thing in a relationship. My mother used this technique when she knew she would damage me if she continued without a season of silence.
Improper use of the silence as a punishment.
If the silent treatment lasts beyond a short season then it has gone over the line of a healthy response to a heated situation and into a very destructive and harmful form of emotional abuse. No longer is it about cooling down and trying to figure out a solution to the problem, it has now become a way to punish and control the other person. It is about getting your own way at any cost to the other person. Even if it means the end of the relationship or the way you want to end the relationship. By withholding communication with the other person, the person who is improperly using the silent treatment is withholding love, worth, respect, and value. Many times the silent treatment is used to bully and cow those that disagree with the person into a form of submission.
Common characteristics of those that improperly use the silent treatment.
The silent treatment is used primarily by those that have narcissistic tendencies. That is not to say they are a full blown narcissist but that they have some of the tendencies that are used to diagnose a narcissistic personality disorder. These characteristics are as follows.
- A grandiose sense of self importance. They think more highly of themselves than they ought.
- They live in a fantasy world of some type of perfection or strive to create a fantasy world of their own liking.
- They think of themselves as extraordinarily special and that only special people can understand them.
- They have an intense need for praise and admiration which demonstrates itself in the need to look good in front of others.
- They feel they are entitled to people rushing to their defense, always agreeing with them, or people treating them special.
- They will use people to gain whatever they want to gain.
- They are unable to empathize with others or have a hard time placing themselves in the other persons position.
- They are envious of what others have or think others are envious of them.
- They are arrogant and proud.
The improper use of the silent treatment is a blatant form of emotional abuse from a Christian perspective. The withholding of love, acceptance and forgiveness is plain and simply sin. This sin when inflicted upon the victim of the silent treatment is abusive. Just as rape, murder, and physical abuse communicates the lack of any type of value towards the victim of these sins, so does the silent treatment communicate the same thing. The silent treatment is birthed in the same cesspool of iniquity as these sins. It is birthed in the flesh. It comes from placing self above both the other person and the heart of God towards that person. In all honesty it makes Jesus weep.
What do you do if you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment.
If it has only been a few hours or a couple of days then I would say to give them some time. Let them know they are loved and that you are open to talk when they are ready. Give them some gentle physical affirmation of your love like a stroke of the hand or a pat on the back. Maybe send them a card letting them know that even though you might disagree with them, that does not mean that you do not love them or want to work it out.
If it has been a longer period of time then you need to come to grips with the fact that you are involved with a person that is emotionally abusing you. You need to stop the cycle. Since the desire of the one giving the silent treatment in an abusive way is to punish you and remove approval from you, do things that are just the opposite of what they are trying to accomplish. Reward yourself in some way and do other things to validate yourself. Do not beg this person to stop the silent treatment. To beg is to give them what they are trying to accomplish and you are rewarding their abusive behavior. The silent treatment game is a whole lot less fun when no one is paying attention to it.
Finally but most importantly pray. The person that is engaging in the silent treatment in an abusive way is a wounded and broken person. Pray that God would do what it takes to bring them to a place of brokenness and healing. The same Jesus that valued you enough to die on the cross for you is the same Jesus that valued them enough to do the same. As much as they might be wounding you, they still have value in the eyes of God. Do not fall into the same trap they have by devaluing them as they have devalued you.
I truly hope that you have learned something about the silent treatment and how to deal with those that are using it as a form of control and manipulation. I have had to deal with both the healthy way to use the silent treatment and the unhealthy way some people use the silent treatment. I hope my experiences have helped you.