The silent treatment goes by many names: shunning, social isolation, stonewalling, ghosting. Although psychologists have nuanced definitions for each term, they are all essentially forms of ostracism.
The silent treatment is a particularly insidious form of abuse because it might the victim to reconcile with the perpetrator in an effort to end the behavior, even if the victim doesn’t know why they’re apologizing.
“People use the silent treatment because they can get away with it without looking abusive to others,” Williams explained, “and because it’s highly effective in making the targeted individual feel bad.”
“In the short term, the silent treatment causes stress. In the long term, the stress can be considered abuse.”
In serious cases, ostracism can take a heavy toll whereby victims become anxious, withdrawn, depressed, or even suicidal.
But the silent treatment ultimately harms the person causing it, too.
Worse, the silent treatment can become addictive.
One way to prevent a conflict from curdling into ostracism is to say out loud the exact amount of time you’ll be taking a break and to establish a timeline for when you’ll pick the conversation back up.
But when someone is using the silent treatment to exclude, punish, or control, the victim should tell the perpetrator that they wish to resolve the issue.
If the perpetrator still refuses to acknowledge the victim’s existence for long periods of time, it might be right to leave the relationship.
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