Silent treatment comes in many forms: social isolation, stonewalling, ghosting. Research suggests two in three individuals have used the silent treatment against someone else.
A father stopped talking to his teenage son and couldn't start again, changing his son from a happy boy to a spineless jellyfish. A wife whose husband stopped communicating after a minor disagreement eventually ended when her husband died 40 years later.
Ostracism is not new. Ancient Greeks expelled threats to democracy for ten years. Religions push individuals aside: Catholics call it ex-communication, Judaism calls it herem, the Amish practice Meidung.
Ostracism can also show up in lesser ways: someone walking out of the room in the middle of a conversation, a friend looking the other way when you wave, a person addressing comments from everyone in a message thread except you.
People use silent treatment because they get away with it without looking abusive to others. It is very effective in making a specific person feel bad. It is controlling and prevents both sides from weighing in.
Passive personality types may use it to avoid conflict, while strong personality types use it to punish or control. Some people unconsciously use it because they can't put their feelings into words, so they shut down. However, the silent treatment causes stress. In the long run, the stress can be considered abuse.
Humans are wired to reciprocate social cues. Ignoring someone goes against our nature, and the perpetrator feels forced to justify their actions to keep on doing it. They end up in a continual state of anger and negativity.
The silent treatment can become addictive. It can carry on far longer than initially intended. Many find themselves unable to stop.
Say out loud the exact amount of time you'll be taking a break from the conflict, with a timeline for when you'll pick the conversation back up.
If you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment, voice your pain of being ignored. It may cause a change and open up communication. However, if the perpetrator still refuses to acknowledge your existence for long periods, it might be right to leave the relationship.
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