Types of Emotional Abuse – The Silent Treatment

The silent treatment can be like dynamite to relationships. But, fortunately, there are ways to deal with it. This post explores what the silent treatment is, why people use it, when it becomes abusive, and how to deal with it if you’re a victim. 

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse is a form of psychological violence that involves harming someone’s mental and psychological well-being. It can take various forms, including humiliation, criticizing, isolating, threatening, blaming, or gaslighting. It can also involve withholding affection from someone or making them feel guilty or ashamed for their feelings, opinions, and choices. 

Unfortunately, emotional abuse can have severe and lasting adverse effects on the victim’s self-worth and mental health. People who have experienced emotional abuse may be at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, stress, and suicidal ideation. They may also experience chronic pain, insomnia, headaches, and health problems associated with trauma.

What is the silent treatment?

The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse where a person stops speaking to another person in the context of a close relationship. For instance, a spouse might stop talking to their partner after an argument.

The silent treatment is a form of “passive aggression.” A person behaving this way may feel angry or resentful but does not confront the other person directly. Instead, they use the silent treatment to cultivate negative emotions in the other person and signal their disapproval of something they did. 

Unfortunately, the silent treatment can be highly destructive. It may increase stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and relationship dissatisfaction, and damage trust and intimacy. Most professionals consider it an unhealthy and disrespectful way to deal with problems.

Why someone might use the silent treatment

People use the silent treatment in relationships for several reasons:-

  • To avoid confrontation. Some individuals may prefer to remain silent in social situations because they worry the other person may escalate a conflict. 
  • To punish or manipulate. A more worrying cause of the silent treatment is the desire to punish or manipulate the other person. Withholding communication may be a way to evoke an apology or get the other person to meet demands. 
  • To assert control. Some people may use the silent treatment to show their power or authority over the other person or make them feel inferior. By ignoring the other person, they hope to engender frustration, helplessness, and desperation for their approval. 
  • To protect themselves from emotional harm. Lastly, some people may use the silent treatment to shut down communication because of personal sadness, fear, anger, or shame and to avoid rejection, criticism, or judgment from others. 

Some reasons are aggressive, but others may indicate personal distress or the desire to protect oneself. That’s why it is critical to understand the motivations behind the silent treatment and what it means. 

Warning signs the silent treatment may be abusive

While the silent treatment can be innocent, it is often abusive. It is not the same as taking a break from a heated argument or setting boundaries. The abusive version occurs when the instigator remains deliberately silent to generate negative emotions in the other person. 

Occasional disagreements and conflicts in relationships are normal. However, the silent treatment becomes harmful when people use it intentionally, excessively, and frequently to hurt or control the other person. 

The following are some situations in which the silent treatment becomes abusive:-

  • It comes with other forms of abuse, such as physical violence and threats
  • The instigator is using it to punish or coerce the other person into doing something they don’t want to do
  • It goes on for a long time without any attempt to resolve it (such as several days)
  • It starts to affect the victim’s wellbeing

Usually, you’ll know instinctively whether the silent treatment is abusive because of how you feel. If your partner makes you feel insignificant, helpless, or depressed, it could be a sign of a deeper issue in your relationship.

How to respond to the silent treatment

The silent treatment is an unpleasant but common feature of many relationships. However, there are healthy ways to respond to it. 

Set Healthy Boundaries

The first step is to set healthy boundaries.  You have the right to be treated with respect and dignity, even if the other person is upset with you. Let them know you are willing to talk when they are ready, but you will not tolerate being ignored or manipulated.

Practice Self Care

The next step is to practice self-care. When you feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster ride, take a step back and do something you enjoy or love doing. Relax and take time out to reflect on how to approach the problem productively. 

Created A Structured Conversation

When the other person is ready to talk, engage in calm and respectful conversation. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs, such as “I feel hurt when you don’t talk to me” or “I need you to communicate with me when something is bothering you.” 

Don’t Take It To Heart

It’s also good practice to remember that the silent treatment isn’t necessarily a reflection of your shortcomings. It’s more about the unwillingness of the other person to express and deal with their emotions.

Stay Calm

Lastly, stay calm while experiencing the silent treatment. While frustrating and upsetting, don’t let it get the best of you. Avoid the temptation to react with sarcasm or your version of passive aggression. 

When to seek therapy

If the silent treatment isn’t stopping despite your best efforts, you may need professional help. Most people can overcome their desire to use the silent treatment as a punishment, but some cannot. In these situations, therapy is essential to help save the relationship. 

Reach out to us today

If you feel like the silent treatment is denying you the opportunity to have a healthy relationship with your partner, get in touch with our team. Our professionals can help you unpick what is driving the behavior and provide alternatives for expressing feelings and resolving conflicts. 

Medical Disclaimer: Peaks Recovery Centers uses fact-based content about recovery treatment, addiction medicine, and behavioral health conditions to improve the quality of life for those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction or mental health disorders. This information is not intended to replace professional medical guidance, diagnosis, care, or treatment. This information should not be used as a substitute for advice from a qualified healthcare provider and/or your physician.