RADIO SHOW/AUDIO PODCAST
Solutions...with Courtney Anderson! (SwCA)
Episode 177 -
Originally aired 8/27/2014 9:00 AM -
HELP! SITUATION SPOTLIGHT series -
"I am being subjected to 'The Silent Treatment' from someone. How do I handle it?"
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TALK SHOW EPISODE NOTES
In our HELP! SITUATION SPOTLIGHT™ series, we shine the light on challenges that community members have shared. This episode is, “I am being subjected to ‘The Silent Treatment’ from someone. How do I handle it?”
This is a challenging subject as many of us would prefer to remain silent about “the silent treatment” (ouch). Yet, we cannot do so. We prefer our aggression served out loud so that we are able to hear it. When we are confronted with aggression masquerading as innocent activity, it is slithery and elusive. When exactly did it start? Are we imagining it? Is silence really deafening or are we simply too sensitive?
In this show we discuss ‘the silent treatment’ at work and in our personal lives.
These two questions will be our guides irrespective of the setting:
1) How much are you invested in the person?
2) How much are you invested In the relationship?
A) What is ‘the silent treatment’? Maybe I am simply imagining it? Or, perhaps I am confused and mistake a quiet person for an act of aggression?
The silent treatment is a form of aggression. It is not your imagination. It is not you being too sensitive. It is not that some people are quiet (as quiet people are not entirely silent, they simply speak less loudly and less often).
Specifically, this behavior is passive-aggression. “Passive aggression is aggression by “not doing” — and deliberately not communicating or giving someone the “silent treatment” is one of the more common forms of it. And passive-aggression can be one tool in an arsenal of weapons that people use to manipulate and/or abuse others.” (http://askthepsych.com/atp/2010/09/09/is-the-silent-treatment-a-form-of-abuse/)
B) Why does a person use ‘the silent treatment’?
In general, because they want to and they are allowed to (please access Episode 114 where I discuss this issue). Specifically, “The silent treatment is a passive-aggressive action where a person feels bad but is unable to express themselves. Their being 'silent' is never a silent act. It generates what the sulker wants. Attention and the knowledge others are hurt. Plus a feeling of power from creating uncertainty over how long the ‘silence’ will last. Some therapists see this kind of social rejection purely as poor communication. Others are more concerned by it, viewing it as a form of control or even abuse. […]
Whether they have learned this in the past or present, if they repeatedly engage in this behaviour as an adult this is something they are making a deliberate choice to do. Even if they feel like they have no control over their feelings or actions. This is particularly important to remember if you are prone to try and ‘fix’ things in the relationship or if you feel you have done something to cause them to withdraw. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/10020662/Silent-treatment-how-to-snap-him-out-of-it.html)
C) How do I handle ‘the silent treatment’?
As I share in this show, you don’t. I have dealt with being a victim of aggression via the silent treatment and it is very effective (in getting attention for the aggressor and for inflicting pain on the victim). As the victim has no relationship to the behavior (we didn’t cause it, we don’t control it, we can’t fix it), all we can do is identify it, acknowledge it and accept it. It is like if we see a snake while we are out hiking. We didn’t cause the snake to exist, we don’t control it and we can’t fix it (i.e., make it not be there, change it from being poisonous to nonpoisonous, etc.). Denying that it exists is useless. We are only able to identify it as an actual snake, acknowledge that it is there and accept it. We can then decide if we are going to engage further with it or simply leave the area and let it continue on with its life as we will do with ours.
“In theory, dealing with this kind of behaviour is simple. You disengage and carry on your life as normal. […] If they continue with this pattern of behaviour you may decide that you can manage by focusing on your own needs and ignoring their stonewalling until they decide to re-engage.[…] Your focus is on your needs, confidence and reactions. Everything else is down to them to fix. You can support them in that if you feel able, but ultimately the responsibility for any freezing out is theirs.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/10020662/Silent-treatment-how-to-snap-him-out-of-it.html)
D) How do I know that this is ‘the silent treatment’ or if I am simply imagining things?
One of the tactics that makes ‘the silent treatment’ so effective is that it is intended to make the victim question their sanity (did I imagine this?). There are no bruises, no written words, no overheard shouting, etc., to confirm the overt and intentional abuse. So, the aggressor will deny the existence of the abuse and thereby add an extra layer of cruelty and injury for the victim.
Note, “Ostracism, like the silent treatment and cold shoulder, are very common for two reasons, Williams says. "First, they're powerful," Williams says. "And second, you can get away with them. If people are physically or verbally abusive, they can be punished. But it's hard to punish someone for not making eye contact or ignoring another person. If the person is confronted by asking, 'Why are you not talking to me?,' the person can easily deny the accusation.”” (http://www.purdue.edu/uns/html3month/2005/050727.Williams.exclusion.html)
E) What about ‘the silent treatment’ at work? Is it different from having it happen in our personal lives?
No. It is abuse and a form of workplace bullying.
"Excluding and ignoring people, such as giving them the cold shoulder or silent treatment, are used to punish or manipulate, and people may not realize the emotional or physical harm that is being done. Some purposely hurt others by not inviting them to a party or ignoring them at work, and others may not even realize they are ostracizing someone when they ignore a new temporary employee or a friend after a disagreement.”(http://www.purdue.edu/uns/html3month/2005/050727.Williams.exclusion.html)
“The Silent Treatment. Often a bully and his or her "inner circle" will ostracize victims to the extent of completely ignoring them - refusing to even acknowledge their presence. In other instances, the bullies will stop talking when the victim enters the room, but perhaps continue talking in hushed tones with furtive looks at the victim, giggling and/or making disapproving grunts. You know, the same kind of tactics used in the schoolyard.” (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201002/workplace-bullying-applying-psychological-torture-work)
F) Are humans the only species that uses ‘the silent treatment’?
“Lions, primates, wolves and bees are just some of the animals that use ostracism as a punitive device or to make their groups stronger.
"Ostracism is present in the animal kingdom and is often used to increase a group's chance for survival by basically excluding the weakest link," Williams says. "For example, if a lion is hurt and holding the pride up, then that lion may be pushed away.” (http://www.purdue.edu/uns/html3month/2005/050727.Williams.exclusion.html)
G) It is so painful to acknowledge and accept that someone that I thought cared about me would intentionally engage in such an intentionally abusive tactic to hurt me. Perhaps the person who is using ‘the silent treatment’ does not fully comprehend the damage that it is doing to me?
I wish. They do fully understand the incredible damage it inflicts. By ignoring you the person is actually denying that you exist. They are erasing you from life. They may be in pain themselves (like any abuser), yet their decision and choice to strike out with silence and hurt you is inexcusable. Whether with fists, foul language or a fortress of silence, you are being destroyed and are in danger. You must put your safety first and save your life.
Consider, “Silent treatment is one of the worst forms of emotional abuse possible. By not responding at all, the other person treats you like you don’t exist. And, you feel totally alone. You won’t get rid of your loneliness by waiting it out, hoping your partner will start to talk to you. If your self-esteem depends on what someone decides to do for you, perhaps on a whim, you’re then put where you're almost begging for feelings of self-worth. That’s on a lower status than a family pet. A family pet may beg for food at the table, but its basic needs, are usually provided in its own food bowl.” (http://www.lib.sk.ca/WP-Silent-Treatment-Is-Severe-Abuse)
Regarding the silence after a job interview you may read this article (http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2014/02/17/post-interview-silent-treatment/). For a specific spousal relationship, this Wall Street Journal has some tips (http://online.wsj.com/articles/how-and-why-to-ban-the-silent-treatment-from-your-relationship-1402958807)
H) How long may ‘the silent treatment’ continue? Maybe I should wait it out?
Anything is possible. “In one case, a woman was given the silent treatment by her husband during the last 40 years of their marriage.” (http://www.purdue.edu/uns/html3month/2005/050727.Williams.exclusion.html) Do you have 40 years (or more) to be abused? No. You don’t have one more second. Get to a safe place. Now.
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