Dealing with people who give you the silent treatment

‘But I didn’t say anything!’ So many arguments start.

Not all silences start arguments or make arguments worse. Some silences between people can be comfortable companionship between people who know one another well, where nothing needs to be said. Where talking isn’t needed and just being there is enough. Sometimes there can be a difference in how these differences are experienced – one person might find it comfortable, another person might find it boring and empty. We may guess what the other person is thinking and feeling – rather than asking them…then when the other person behaves in way which doesn’t meet our assumptions there may be conflict.

Beyond comfortable silence there is another way which in which people use it – which can be immensely destructive: silence that controls or is used as a weapon to hurt, frighten, bully or defeat. It is impossible not to communicate. Every behaviour is communication – so staying silent is a way of communicating that can be incredibly powerful.

So silence can be damaging to a relationship – look at the effects of ‘ghosting’, common in our social media world today. Ghosting is having someone that you believe cares about you, whether it be a friend or someone you are dating, disappear from contact without any explanation at all. No phone call or email, not even a text. Ghosting isn’t new—people have long done disappearing acts—but years ago this kind of behaviour was considered limited to a certain type of villain. Despite ghosting’s commonality, the emotional effects can be devastating, and particularly damaging to the self-esteem of those on the receiving end of it. It can result in feelings of being disrespected, used and disposable. If you have known the person well then it can be even more traumatic. When someone we know, like and trust disengages from us it feels like a very deep betrayal.

So, back to the more general use of silence in relationships. Silence is ultimately damaging to a relationship if is used to punish or exclude. Not being acknowledged, not having our entreaties responded to, being left to mull over and try to imagine what we have done to ‘deserve’ this; these are all techniques in manipulation – and, ultimately, emotional cruelty.

The important thing to remember is that when someone uses silence against you, it says nothing about you or your worthiness for love and everything about the person doling out the silent treatment. It shows he/she doesn’t have the courage to deal with the discomfort of their emotions or yours, and they either don’t understand the impact of their behaviour or worse don’t care. In any case they have sent you an extremely loud message that says: I don’t have what it takes to have a mature healthy relationship with you. Be the better person, retain your dignity, and let him/her go peacefully.

Counselling can help you deal with the psychological bruising and scars from being left in the ghost or silence zone. It can encourage you to keep  your vulnerability and keep your openness to other relationships. It can remind you that if you are someone who treats people with respect and integrity then the silent ‘friend’ or ghoster simply wasn’t on your wavelength and someone better is coming your way, as long as you keep your heart open and your focus forward. Contact me and let’s have a chat.

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