Silent abuse is painful and frustrating. Whether someone uses silence to hurt you or teach you a lesson, it is important to understand that no one deserves to be treated this way, no matter the situation. Communication is the lifeblood of relationships, and the withholding of it can give way to manipulation and emotional abuse.
What Is Silent Abuse?
Silent abuse is when one person completely ignores the other. It is a form of psychological punishment and ostracism and can apply to any relationship, whether it’s romantic, platonic or familial. It causes emotional damage to the person experiencing it, just as any form of abuse would, and makes the victim feel powerless, non-existent and insignificant.
Ignoring someone is not only cruel, rude and petty, but it is also incredibly hurtful and frustrating as the other person is left confused and in the dark about what to do or say. It has far-reaching physiological and psychological effects that can potentially traumatize the victim and destroy the relationship, robbing it of the trust it needs to flourish.
One man named Nathaniel experienced the silent treatment in his marriage. He writes, “The silent treatment is emotional abuse – no question about it. The silent one wants to hurt the other but uses it as a way to seemingly take the high road and claim they need silence to heal. Problem: only the silent one matters in that equation.”
How To Deal With The Silent Treatment
The first thing is to maintain your composure and stay calm, as understandably difficult as that may be. You are not powerless and there are ways to respond to silent abuse maturely.
1. Understand why they are giving you the silent treatment. Perhaps the person is trying to blame you for something; perhaps they want to punish you, or maybe they simply have difficulty expressing negative emotions like anger. Whatever the cause, silent abuse is a form of control – something the perpetrator feels like they are losing.
2. Remain calm and speak to the person with empathy. Do not react to the person giving you the silent treatment; that is what they want – to know that it has power over you. Set aside a time to calmly ask why they aren’t speaking to you. If they do not respond, tell them how it is making you feel using “I” statements, that you understand their need for space and that you will be there for them when they are ready to talk.
3. Draw boundaries. If the above method doesn’t work, make it clear what your boundaries are before considering ending the relationship: “I feel hurt and lonely when you don’t speak to me, and I can’t be in a relationship with someone who shuts me out. If this keeps happening, I’ll have to end things between us.” If this behavior keeps happening, make sure you honor your word and follow through.
4. Look after yourself. This is especially true if you are dealing with a narcissist, who likely does not care about how you feel. Preoccupy yourself with friends, exercise or meditation rather than constantly calling the perpetrator if they haven’t returned your messages and calls, for example. Do not give into the lie that this is your fault or that you are responsible for the other person’s behavior.
5. Seek professional therapy. Silent abuse can lead to psychological distress such as anxiety and depression. Make sure you seek professional help if this is the case, with or without the person giving you the silent treatment. BetterHelp offers invaluable advice as well as affordable and private counseling with licensed professionals. They are dedicated to helping you or your partner communicate well and find a way forward to a healthier, happier future – with or without each other.
One woman from Australia had a partner who gave her the silent treatment, but when she realized he was using it to make her suffer, she left him. “Turns out it was a great decision because I’ve been married to a man for the past 20 years who never gives me the silent treatment and we are wonderfully happy together! If a man (or woman) uses the silent treatment as a form of passive ‘abuse’, I see no reason to stick around. Problems don’t get addressed or resolved unless both parties are willing to communicate.”
No one should have to endure silent abuse. But by remaining calm, establishing understanding and boundaries with the other person and seeking professional help when needed, you can, and will, find inner peace again.
This post has been written by Marie Miguel for BetterHelp.com and has been published on this blog with an intention to promote mental health awareness. Our collaboration with BetterHelp.com is aimed at encouraging our readers to reach out for help on issues pertaining to their mental well-being, as well as of those around them.
About the Author
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.