Probably at one time or another you have been either on the giving or receiving end of a silent treatment, otherwise known as the cold shoulder. What you probably didn’t realize is that the silent treatment is a form of ostracism like the cold shoulder. When someone is ostracized it affects the part of their brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. Do you know what the anterior cingulate cortex does?
The anterior cingulate cortex is the part of the brain that detects pain. When you give someone the silent treatment you are causing that person physical pain. Simply by ignoring someone else’s existence you can inflict pain on them. This is what the ever popular “time out” with a child is so effective. The child feels ostracized, therefore is feeling pain even though no physical pain was inflicted on them, and therefor they want to behave so they don’t have to feel that way again.
The silent treatment can be a very destructive behavior when it involves personal relationships. Let’s say with a husband and wife for instance. The silent treatment breeds bitterness on both ends and it borders on emotional abuse… I’m not making that up to be dramatic. That’s what “they” say. I’d hate anyone to confuse what I’m saying with my own divorce.
Cooling Off And Ostracizing Are Two Very Different Things
Let’s not confuse the silent treatment with something known as “the cooling off period”. The cooling off period is where one person is so angry or disgusted by the other person that they just cannot deal with the situation in that state need time to calm down before they begin to speak to this person. That’s fine and actually that’s probably better than sitting and screaming at each other.
There is a big difference between taking some time to cool down and outright ignoring the existence of the other person. Resulting in someone or both letting go of the relationship. The silent treatment would be more along the lines of you doing something that pisses someone off, they clue you in on it (or not), and then they don’t speak to you, acknowledge you or even make eye contact with you for sometimes days. No good.
To me, this is a form of torture. Nothing positive comes from this type of behavior. What makes more sense…blowing up about something, cooling off a little and then talking about how to resolve it OR not blowing up about something, staying completely pissed and not doing anything to help resolve the situation? If you said the latter… you’re a dick.
When someone is administering the silent treatment they are trying to show that they are dominant over you. The silent treatment (when it becomes a mutual one) is a power struggle in pain tolerance…whomever the winner is, cares less. Hopefully it will never get physical or involve bullying.
When You Are On The Receiving End Of The Silent Treatment
It’s interesting to me that research has shown that woman and men respond to the silent treatment very differently. Woman who are on the receiving end of the silent treatment seem to try anything in their power to win back their good grace with the ostracize where men…don’t. They just deal with it.
But what exactly are the men just dealing with and the woman trying to avoid? The emotional pain associated with being ostracized. Those who have been treated to the silent treatment have reported as sense of loss, of not belonging, of lower self-esteem and a feeling of unworthiness. All of these feelings are the result of someone just not acknowledging them or ignoring them. I find that pretty interesting.
I can say that I honestly don’t ever remember giving someone the silent treatment…not anyone that it would matter to anyway. I don’t think I have it in me to do that to someone. Not even in a passive aggressive silent treatment kind of way either. Why you ask? Because I’ve had it done to me, I know what it feels like and it totally sucks. My friend Micky Ward knows this all too well. I’m more the type of person that would like to blow up about something, probably say some things I don’t really mean, apologize for saying the things I don’t really mean and then move towards resolution. But hey…that’s just me.
Here’s a personal account from a reader who wanted to share her story:
It happens when you least expect it. You are living your life to the very best of your abilities when things just… Change. It felt so sudden, but in reality it was probably building and growing for several months. It occurs in small ways and begins in all the little things that you stop saying to each other. Then the resentment starts. The quarrels, the arguments, the snippy conversations, the single word answer to every question that is asked. And growing use of the word ‘Fine’. I hate that word. I know that hate is a strong emotion, especially to describe my feelings, but it’s the only word that adequately covers how I feel. After I discovered the hidden meaning of that word, I hate it even more now. But it’s the silence that hurts the most.
My name is Kate and I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend Dan for just over 8 years. We started dating in college as sophomores, both being education majors, and hit things off right from the start. It was not long before we were seeing each other exclusively. We found we could sometimes finish each other’s sentences, much to the annoyance of our friends. After graduating, we found work together a few towns away as teachers in the same high school. Our apartment was a hub of activity as friends, still in college, would drop by to visit or just hang out.
Everything changed about two years ago. District budget cuts forced a restructuring of the high school his position was cut. I was able to maintain my job as a Special Education teacher, so we were able to keep our benefits. It wasn’t completely unexpected. We had heard noises about the cuts through the teacher’s union and the school grapevine. Our principal knew about our relationship and tried to keep spots for both of us. He was overridden by the administration. Dan’s position was cut and he was forced to find a job in retail at a local mall to help cover expenses. Dan’s new work meant that his days off were midweek and vacation time was a premium. I still had my weekends and summers off. And I was able to pick-up extra activities that paid over and above my salary. However, this meant more hours after school covering extracurricular activities and tutoring for struggling kids.
At first, things were alright. We made ends meet and kept our apartment. Money was tight, but not overly so. We just joked that this was just another ‘plot twist’ in the narrative of our relationship. Things would be back to normal the next year. When Dan’s contract wasn’t picked up in September was when things began to change. Dan would sleep in on his days off. And little things around the apartment wouldn’t get done. Or he would ‘clo-pen’ as they call it, work until close one night and open the next morning. He would come home and crash on the sofa in front of the TV, I would wake him to get him to bed. As our schedules became more erratic, our chances to do things together became fewer and farther between. Friends dropped by less and less, and then stopped coming by altogether. I still had my peers and coworkers at school, but poor Dan was working with high school kids.
The disconnection between became enormous. And the arguments started around Halloween. We missed our friends and the teaching life we had together. There are periods where we miss each other for 24-48 hours, only to meet exhausted in the bedroom. Things wouldn’t get done, like the laundry or paying a bill on time and we would fight. And though people say you should never go to bed angry, we began to do it more and more. It was the silent treatment after Christmas that really hurt. And the use of the word ‘fine’ became a habit. Its use ended most of our fights. Oh, and the definition of FINE, that word I hate so much? It stands for Frustrated, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. It also stands for how alone and hopeless I feel. We don’t talk all that much, because we are too afraid to we’ll start fighting. And we can’t solve our problems or frustrations if we don’t talk. I’m stuck. He’s stuck. And things are now far too quiet.
Thanks for sharing Kate.