The cause? The Silent Treatment.
Did you know that giving someone the ‘cold shoulder’, ignoring them for reasons [known or unknown to them], or otherwise ostracizing them [either individually or within a group] actually triggers a reaction in the pain center of the brain?
So when you give someone ‘The Silent Treatment’ and go out of your way to ignore any attempts to communicate with them, you are actually causing that person physical pain even when you haven’t laid a finger on them.
Studies in social psychology have shown that even the most secure person can respond with a range of negative emotions when on the receiving end of ‘The Silent Treatment’.
The degree of pain varies based on the emotional durability and presence of precursory rejection sensitivities of the individual and can range from mild to extreme. The recipient may experience symptoms that include anxiety, loss, embarrassment, sleeplessness, weight loss, frustration and intense anger, leading eventually to depression, despair and feelings of worthlessness.
Mind you, a “time-out” or “cooling-off” period is a perfectly acceptable and normal response to issues or crises in interpersonal relationships. Time-outs are often recommended as a parental tool for a child who is behaving badly where, for a short period of time, the child is made to sit alone while the parent pays them no attention. The premise here is to teach a lesson that a particular behavior is unsatisfactory and help the child learn that continuing it results in a feeling of being “left-out” so the child will choose not to repeat that behavior to avoid having the feeling of being ostracized again. In this example, the withholding of attention is meant to instruct and not inflict harm and is used in small increments of time, typically followed by a discussion that welcomes the child back to the group or activity.
In it’s destructive form, social rejection, a.k.a., ‘The Silent Treatment’ is a common tool used by passive-aggressive types to gain control in a relationship or push someone away when faced with uncomfortable (not always bad) emotions, breeding bitterness and crossing the line into emotional abuse. If you’ve been on the receiving end of it, you know just how maddening and upsetting it can be and the feeling of emotional torture can effect you for weeks, or even months if the silence continues unabated.
Ironically, it also causes undue stress to the one giving the cold shoulder, as the cause or “reason” for the behavior is also being neglected and it does require a level of cognizant participation to continue actively ignoring a person who was formerly in your life, no matter how deep the emotional attachment. If both parties play the game tit-for-tat, it becomes a power struggle to determine who will ‘cave’ first.
Studies have shown that men and women respond differently to this sort of social rejection. Men typically respond with aggression and rage, while women tend to exert much energy to “win back” positive attention from the person ignoring them. It’s interesting to consider that men are more likely to become stalkers and women are more likely to stay in emotionally abusive relationships.
Once I became aware that it was, in fact, The Silent Treatment being used on me, the many silent weeks that had passed suddenly stacked up and hit me like a mime with a sledgehammer, leaving me completely stunned and wondering and thoroughly annoyed. I admit to having a particular sensitivity to it since I grew up in a household where there were dramatic and physical arguments followed by extended periods of angry silence. It shook me down then and it shakes me down now and I have to work hard to stamp out all the negative thoughts that it inflicts. Whether or not you’ve had this type of precursor, when someone won’t acknowledge that you exist and walks out of your life for no apparent reason, it hurts. A lot.
When there is a problem, most people do want to work it out and are willing to listen. If you are the cold shoulder giver, did you ever think that maybe you are overreacting to or misinterpreting something the other person said or did? It could just be a simple misunderstanding but, by not informing the other person of your thoughts and feelings, or granting them the opportunity to respond, you block the way toward any chance at resolution and hurt someone while you’re probably trying to avoid hurting them. If it’s the case that you just need some time to think or devote to other things in your life, don’t puss out and create a communication breakdown-own it and just fucking say so. A little “I need some space” disclaimer goes a long way.
The reason for an abrupt silence is often a mystery to the person on the receiving end and is truly the cruelest and most selfish thing one person can do to another. The only exception being if that person did something truly heinous, like deliberately murder your dog or something, then The Silent Treatment may be justified, but usually people resort to it out of fear.
If you’re currently getting ignored, try reaching out if the relationship is worth it and announce your willingness to talk it out and apologize if you think you genuinely did something to offend the person. If the silence continues after you’ve reached your hand out in an effort of resolution, try not to spend too much time on “stinking thinking” and work toward gaining your own closure because you are likely dealing with an extremely insecure and insensitive person. It won’t be easy and you definitely don’t deserve it, but becoming angry or depressed won’t help you any. Do what you can do to help the situation and if you get no response, then you eventually have to walk away, sad though it may be. Perhaps they’ll get it one day and find you again.
If it’s you who uses cruel and deliberate silences, isolation or withdrawal as a regular part of your social or dating repertoire because you’re afraid or can’t deal with your own emotions, knock it off cause it’s a fucking dick move. Leaving someone hanging or to “get the hint” while you figure yourself out is immature and selfish and completely unnecessary. If you say what you need or what you think, you’re off the hook since the other person’s reaction is not your responsibility if you’ve been honest.
Listen, we’re all just humans rolling around on this rock with who knows how much time before we all melt into globally warmed stains or someone’s kingdom comes. It’s time that everyone admit feelings are important. We all have them. Duh. And unless you’ve consciously adopted egomania as your formula for living and are content in your chosen prickdom or cunthood, you, as a human with some intellect, also have to acknowledge that caring about each other makes a difference in the day.
None of us gets it right all the time, yet we have these five senses and enormous brains to process a ‘feeling’, chemical existence. That levels the emotional playing field for everyone, doesn’t it? To relate to this world for the purpose of finding the best experience, we make choices, first about ourselves, so who do you want to be? When you are focusing on a positive experience, positive people can come into your life and then you can make each other better.
This moves you both past fear and into a world where nobody has to feel guilty, everyone feels cared for and you can stick to the simple good stuff and enjoy each other. I’ve seen honesty and forgiveness work wonders, and I’ve forgiven people for far worse things than drifting off on purpose. Be careful with how you deal with The Silent Treatment, whichever side you’re on-there may be something you haven’t considered. At the end of the day, do you really want to be the Jerk?
The bottom line is this: nobody deserves to be treated with deliberate cruelty. It’s a lot easier to be kind to people [and yourself] than we let on, so don’t let a chance to practice pass you by. We’re grown-ups now and should be able to own our emotions and communicate like adults, even if the subject matter is hard. I believe it’s much healthier to have some respect and that it’s never to late to start talking but, who cares what I think?