by: Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Research indicates that children would rather be yelled at than ignored.
When prisoners are being punished, they are put in isolation, because being isolated is one of the harshest punishments there is – other than physical abuse.
The silent treatment is a form of punishment, a way to attempt to control children and partners into doing what you want them to do. It is a withdrawal of approval, and can cause much fear in people who are vulnerable to this.
You are giving people the silent treatment when you shut down to them, closing your heart and refusing to interact with them or acknowledge their presence. You act as if they are invisible, not responding to them at all or giving them a very minimal and withheld response. Your hope in treating them this way is that they will get the message that they have displeased you. They have done something wrong in your eyes and deserve to be punished, deserve to have your “love” taken away.
Of course, what you are taking away is not love at all, since love is unconditional. What you are taking away is your approval, and for children and approval-dependent adults, it is a powerful form of control.
While it may seem to you to work for the moment, there are huge negative consequences following the silent treatment. Children feel unloved and unlovable, developing deep beliefs about their inadequacy. While they may comply to avoid your withdrawal of approval, inwardly they are likely to feel lonely and heartbroken – feelings that they can’t handle – so they become angry and resistant to manage the feelings. Their anger and resistance may show up in others areas that cause problems for them and for you.
While your partner may scurry around to try to please you and get you to reconnect with him or her, the fact that you have so deeply disconnected creates feelings of heartache in your partner that may eventually lead to the end of the relationship. What seems to work for the moment may lead to exactly what you don’t want in the long run.
What goes on inside you when your partner shuts down to you?
* Do you tell yourself you must have done something wrong?
* Do you feel a sense of loneliness and heartache that feels unbearable?
* Do you feel alone and abandoned inside?
* Do you feel anxious and scared?
If you feel any of these, it is really because you are abandoning yourself and making your partner responsible for you. It is you doing this that is allowing the silent treatment to work to control you.
If you were taking loving care of yourself and taking 100% responsibility for your own feelings, here is what would be going on inside:
* You would be telling yourself: “My partner is choosing to punish me rather than take responsibility for his or her feelings. Whatever I may or may not have done that he or she doesn’t like, I am not responsible for how he or she is dealing with it, and I have no control over him or her.
* You would be bringing love inside, letting yourself know that you are a good person and deserving of love.
* You would get out of range of your partner’s energy – taking a walk, reading a book, calling a friend, or doing something else to make yourself happy.
* You would keep your own heart open, not going into anger or judgment toward your partner, so that when your partner decides to open again, there is no residue for you. You would not punish your partner for trying to punish you. You would just make sure that their punishment doesn’t work for them.
* You would embrace your loneliness and heartache with deep compassion for yourself, sitting with these feelings for a few minutes and then releasing them to Spirit.
Eventually, when you are truly taking loving care of yourself, others will stop using the silent treatment, since it will no longer work for them.