Getting or Giving the Silent Treatment

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“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses.” ~ William Arthur Ward

silent treatmentDo you, or does someone you know use the silent treatment when angry or upset? This is a passive-aggressive way to try to punish or manipulate the other person. Whether in a family, a relationship or in the social or work group, it can be very harmful.

Giving the silent treatment is a form of ostracizing. When someone is ostracized it affects the part of their brain called the anterior cingulate cortex.

The anterior cingulate cortex is the part of the brain that detects pain. When you ostracize someone you cause that person physical pain. Simply by ignoring someone else’s existence you can inflict pain on them.

The silent treatment can be a very destructive behavior as it breeds bitterness on both ends and it borders on emotional abuse. If someone is shut out by peers at school, or by those in the workplace the effect can be amplified as the person feels completely isolated, rejected and unworthy. This can lead to depression and even suicide.

Between couples it can really undermine the relationship. Some may go days or even weeks without speaking. This is truly unhealthy, both physiologically and psychologically.

If one is really angry and needs time to think or cool down, that is another matter and is okay so long as this is expressed. Saying one needs a time out and will resume the conversation later can be a good strategy. This is different from the silent treatment, and if a partner expresses the need for a time out, the other should not relentlessly insist they continue the conversation.

Ostracizing at school and work is mean and frankly, childish. Children should be taught not to do this, and adults should know better.

If you or a partner engages in the silent treatment, it is time to develop a strategy as to how you will handle difficult issues without using silence and withdrawal to punish. If this discussion ends with the silent treatment, it is time to get professional assistance.

Copyright © Gwen Randall-Young, All Rights Reserved. Contact us if you would like permission to reprint.
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