The silent treatment has been classified as both bullying and abusive behaviour. The person receiving the silent treatment can end up feeling frustrated, confused, angry and disrespected. Kipling Williams explains that giving someone the silent treatment is a common form of social punishment because unlike physically or verbally assaulting someone it is very hard for the person who is giving the silent treatment to get in 'trouble' for not speaking to someone. However, this does not diminish its power. Andrea Schneider explains that the silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse that people use to feel in control, avoid conflict and punish someone for a slight against them.
The silent treatment is a mind game and it is not to be confused with taking a time-out from someone. Taking a time-out is constructive and beneficial for both parties and is not a punishment for either. The website Out of the Fog, explains that the silent treatment is used to create fear, obligation or guilt. It explains that a time-out is time bound whereas the silent treatment is indefinite. Time-out is disengaged whereas the silent treatment is engaged. A time-out is mutually agreed upon whereas the silent treatment is imposed by one person. Time-out is used to find solutions whereas the silent treatment apportions blame.
The target of the silent treatment can repeatedly try and reach out to the person to try and resolve the inflated situation only to find that it is met with continued silence (A. Schneider, 2014). This is frustrating and upsetting for the victim. A fascinating facet of the silent treatment is that even though the perpetrator feels that they are the victim, once they indulge in giving someone the silent treatment they actually turn into the abuser (T. Cooper, 2013) .
If you are being given the silent treatment, there are steps you can take to deal with it:
- Accept the person is making a poor choice in their communication.
- Confront the behavior. Explain to the person how their behavior appears, for example - controlling.
- Invite them to speak to you when they are ready.
- Understand that you are not to blame for their choice of communication and it is normal to feel hurt and frustrated about what is happening.
- Understand that you cannot control another person's behavior only your own.
If you want to give someone the silent treatment but are now feeling bad after reading this article, the best thing to say is "I can't talk about this now but would it be OK if we talked about it tomorrow?" or something like that.