6 Signs You Were Given The Silent Treatment As A Child — And It's Affecting You Now

The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse.

Woman looking at reflection in mirror JESSICA TICOZZELLI / Pexels

Childhood experiences and memories are meant to be looked back with a fondness of love and joy, but for others, they can hold an undercurrent of pain and uncertainty.

For those who have experienced silent treatment from their parents as children, there may be hints of residual aftereffects carried into adulthood. Some of those silent treatment acts could have included avoiding discussions, treating you as if you were invisible, and withholding love and affection.


Most, if not all, of these punishment tactics can have a deep impact on someone's ability to form healthy relationships and how they choose to handle conflict in their lives.

Here are six signs that you were given silent treatment as a child.

1. You're aware of everyone's energy.

In a TikTok video, Liz Tenuto, a pilates instructor who specializes in rehabilitative exercises, explained to viewers that someone who was on the receiving end of the silent treatment as a child may be more aware of people's emotions and energies.

"You notice every energy change in the room when someone is slightly annoyed or upset," Tenuto wrote in overlay text.




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2. You may suffer from joint pain.

Tenuto noted that children who have been given the silent treatment by their parents may often feel pain in their shoulders and neck as an adult.

"You probably have constant shoulder and neck pain," she claimed, adding that there could also be tension in the shoulders as well. According to Psych Central, a 2012 study showed that the silent treatment stimulates the area in the brain that registers pain. This means that people not only feel emotional pain when given the silent treatment but also a certain level of physical pain.


3. You are a people-pleaser.

In Tenuto's video, she explained that one of the repercussions of being forced into receiving silent treatment as a child may manifest into becoming a people-pleaser when you enter adulthood.

"[You] find it hard to say no when people ask you do to something," she pointed out. 

The silent treatment can evoke a fear of abandonment or rejection in children, as they struggle to understand why their parents suddenly withdraw affection and communication. As adults, they may engage in people-pleasing behaviors to avoid perceived rejection and maintain connections with others. They may prioritize the desires and wishes of others over their own, leading to a lack of assertiveness and boundary-setting.

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4. Difficulty in expressing emotions.

Someone who may have experienced the silent treatment from their parents during childhood could struggle with articulating their emotions when they become adults or find it challenging to communicate openly about their feelings due to the lack of emotional validation during their upbringing.

In an interview with USA Today, Vaile Wright, senior director of healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association, explained why the silent treatment can affect someone's ability to communicate how they feel.

"I think it's probably, to a certain degree, a defense mechanism related to not being able to articulate ways in which somebody feels hurt. Instead of using your words, you act out in behaviors that aren't particularly adaptive, but may feel protective," Wright told the publication.

5. A need for constant reassurance.

A constant need for validation and approval from others can stem from the various emotional wounds and insecurities someone may have developed during the years they were being given the silent treatment by their parents or caregivers.


Per Psychology Today, growing up without consistent emotional validation due to the effects of being ignored during conflicts can lead people to rely heavily on external validation to feel secure and valued. They may have never learned to validate their own feelings and worth, leading to a perpetual need for others to do it for them.

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6. A tendency to replicate similar patterns in adult relationships.

It can be extremely common for individuals who experienced the silent treatment in childhood can unconsciously replicate similar patterns in their adult relationships, either as the person giving the silent treatment or as the one receiving it.

In an interview with ABC Every Day, Australian practice specialist Kerri James explained that adults who have been ignored or invalidated as children may use the same approach in their adult relationships for security.


"It stays in your mind that you suffered as a child this way. You couldn't reach your parents and you felt lonely and abandoned," James said. "Having [learned] that [silent treatment] is the way you get the best response from somebody when you feel hurt or upset, you know if you withdraw the other person will pursue you."

The silent treatment in childhood can have profound effects on a person's emotional well-being.

Being subjected to the silent treatment can create deep emotional wounds, leading to feelings of rejection, abandonment, and unworthiness. 

The impact of the silent treatment can vary from person to person, depending on other life experiences, resilience, and support systems. However, the effects highlight the potential long-term consequences of such emotional abuse during childhood. It is essential to remember that healing is possible.


By working through these issues, whether it's with a professional or with yourself, and developing healthier coping mechanisms, it is possible can gradually rebuild their sense of self-worth, learn to trust others and cultivate healthier relationships.

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Nia Tipton is a Chicago-based entertainment, news, and lifestyle writer whose work delves into modern-day issues and experiences.