Yes, The Silent Treatment Is Emotional Abuse — And You Can Stop It

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man ignoring woman

It's no secret that kids generally don't like it when their parents ignore them. When prisoners are punished, guards isolate them, because being isolated is one of the harshest punishments there is — other than physical abuse.

Likewise, "silent treatment" is a form of punishment, a way of attempting to control your partner or others into doing what you want them to do. It's a withdrawal of approval and can generate much fear in people who are vulnerable to this.

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What the 'silent treatment' looks like and why it happens

You're giving people the silent treatment when you shut down to them, closing your heart and refusing to interact with them or acknowledge their presence. You act as if they're invisible, not responding to them at all or giving them a very minimal and withheld response.

Your hope in treating them this way is that they will get the message that they have displeased you. They have done something wrong in your eyes and deserve punishment, deserve to have your "love" taken away.

Of course, what you are taking away is not love at all, since love is unconditional. What you are taking away is your approval, and for approval-dependent people, it is a powerful form of control.

While it may seem to work for the moment, there are huge negative consequences following the silent treatment.

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The consequences of the 'silent treatment'

While your partner may scurry around in an attempt to please you and get you to reconnect with him or her, the fact that you have been so deeply disconnected creates feelings of heartache in your partner that may eventually lead to the end of the relationship. What seems to work for the moment may lead to exactly what you don’t want in the long run.

What goes on inside you when your partner shuts down to you?

Do you tell yourself you must have done something wrong? Do you feel a sense of loneliness and heartache that feels unbearable? Do you feel alone and abandoned inside? Do you feel anxious and scared?

If you feel any of these, it is really because you are abandoning yourself and making your partner responsible for you. It is you doing this that is allowing the silent treatment to work to control you.

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The healthy response to the 'silent treatment'

If you were taking loving care of yourself and taking 100 percent responsibility for your own feelings, here is what would be going on inside:

You would be telling yourself: "My partner is choosing to punish me rather than take responsibility for his or her feelings. Whatever I may or may not have done that he or she doesn't like, I am not responsible for how he or she is dealing with it, and I have no control over him or her".

You would be bringing love inside, letting yourself know that you are a good person and deserving of love.

You would get out of range of your partner's energy — take a walk, read a book, call a friend, or do something else to make yourself happy.

You would keep your own heart open and not harbor any anger or judgment toward your partner so that when your partner decides to open up again, there is no residue for you. You would not punish your partner for trying to punish you. You would just make sure that their punishment doesn't work for them.

You would embrace your loneliness and heartache with deep compassion for yourself, sitting with these feelings for a few minutes, and then releasing them to Spirit.

Eventually, when you are truly taking loving care of yourself, others will stop using the silent treatment since it will no longer work for them.

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Dr. Margaret Paul is a relationship expert, noted public speaker, and educator.

This article was originally published at Inner Bonding. Reprinted with permission from the author.