If you are the one who is delivering the silent treatment, what is your intention? Do you want agreement, an apology, time to think, acceptance, attention? If you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment, what does your partner want from you? Determining motives behind the silent treatment gives us clarity that allows us to shift what's currently going on in our lives to something we'd prefer.
The silent treatment is when one person is intentionally silent around another person rather than speaking with them. Sounds simple enough, right? Then why does it hurt so much? And why is it considered mental and emotional abuse?
Let me give you a bit of background to illustrate my perspective. I had low self-esteem in my 20s and made choices that led to becoming a survivor of two-and-a-half-years of rape and domestic violence. Yep, I was engaged to him and afraid to leave for fear he'd carry out his threats on my life and my family. (Later, I created a self-defense company and taught personal safety (how to avoid becoming a victim) and self-defense (what to do if you do become a victim) to thousands of men, women, teens and kids, in schools, organizations, homes and Fortune 500 companies for twelve years.)
I'm truly familiar with all kinds of abuse (verbal, mental, emotional and physical) and the ramifications of it. The silent treatment is considered manipulation, punishment and mental and emotional abuse. Mental abuse inspires you to think negatively about yourself whereas emotional abuse inspires you to feel negatively about yourself.
Example: Someone (who says they love and care about you) starts giving you the cold shoulder. They stop talking to you even when you attempt to engage them in conversation to clear the air. They won't even explain what they are mad or disappointed about. They either ignore you, or shoot you the evil-eye while refusing to talk — avoiding open, respectful communication that is required in a healthy relationship. They are punishing you and if you don't understand why it makes their destructive game even more rewarding for them. (I'll explain that later.)
You begin to think you did something wrong even if you didn't. Otherwise, why would this person who loves you be so upset that they won't even speak to you? You start to think you are unworthy of their love and maybe anybody's for that matter and that you must not be a good person (thinking negatively about yourself).
These thoughts cause you to feel sad, hurt, angry at yourself, disappointed in yourself (feeling negatively about yourself).
This web of thoughts and emotions will stick with you and rear its ugly head in future relationships because this situation is so emotionally charged. We can't discharge emotions on the surface; it takes deeper work and release techniques to truly clear them and prevent them from holding us back.
The reason someone would use the silent treatment is most often low self-esteem. The feeling of being out of control of your life (or simply not knowing what to say or do) creates a need to control something or someone else to feel powerful again. Even if it is punishing someone into thinking and feeling bad about themselves.
Since this power-fix is short-lived (like a drug fix), controlling behavior is almost always repeated. Does the person who uses the weapon of the silent treatment feel better about themselves? No. But they feel powerful for a period of time (power-fix) and that's the draw to this destructive behavior. This person isn't a good candidate for a mentally and emotionally healthy relationship ...yet.
Keep in mind the person using the silent treatment will not likely acknowledge the motive or self-esteem challenge.
Healthier communication when you're not ready to talk might be to agree to take some time to think things over and come back for discussion. Even writing letters to one another can be a healthy solution. Anything you can do to get the feelings out. Stuffing negative emotions causes physical illness and unhealthy relationships. The silent treatment keeps painful emotions locked up inside.
Someone who accepts the silent treatment is not in a healthy relationship since this isn't the way a significant other, friend, family member or work associate treats someone they care about. Our self-esteem (how we think about, feel about and see ourselves) plays a vital role in how we are treated as well as how we treat others.
The receiver is experiencing low self-esteem or they wouldn't have magnetized an abusive person into their life. (Remember, I did it too in my 20s and to different degrees later on until I learned how to manage my energy.) Like attracts like, whether you realize it outwardly or it is brewing under the surface in a destructive emotional pattern. The way you truly feel about yourself deep down dictates how you are treated and how you treat others.
Talk is cheap. You can say you love yourself and feel confident but those you attract into your life tell the real story. If you are drawing in people who exhibit abusive tendencies, take a closer look at how you really feel about yourself. If you are receiving the silent treatment, think of other people from your life who mistreated you. Are there more than one?
A large part of the solution is to raise your vibration (manage your energy) like my clients and I have done. Sound crazy? That's okay, I wrote an article, "How To Harness The Power Of Vibration To Succeed In Love" to clarify and created a one-page download to help you.
For more info on learning to manage your energy, improve self-esteem and attract a healthy relationship, sign up for my free Life Strategies here or visit PositiveWomenRock.com and click on the Gift page. I'll see you there.
More effective communication advice on YourTango: