Silent treatment is what I would call wordless punishment or quiet aggression, where we are attempting to demonstrate how awful the other person is, of course in an effort to prove our superiority. It might look like us excluding or ignoring someone in an effort to punish or manipulate them.
Interestingly enough, silent treatment might not seem on the outside like physical punishment, yet the brain’s interpretation of silent treatment is incredibly similar.
It may also look like one person trying to communicate and the other responding with silence or emotional distance often ending with each partner often blaming the other for how they are feeling and ultimately, how they are acting.
Silent treatment is not to be confused with taking intentional time to withdraw, reflect and process what is going on for yourself. This use of time would be communicated from a place of love and compassion of self, not from a negative place.
So the question I want to dig into today is why do we use the silent treatment tactic and how do we stop this destructive behavior?
Let me start by being 100% vulnerable in disclosing that I used to be a silent treatment abuser. I often forget about this tactic until I see it being used by others or when it comes up in a coaching session. When I look back at my use of the tactic, along with the process of letting it go, I can clearly see some of the facts for me:
- Silent treatment was a learned behavior
- It allowed me to feel like I was controlling the situation, though in reality the opposite was true
- It kept me feeling protected
- It kept me from being vulnerable and honest
- It kept me from really looking into what was bothering me and learning how to express that
- It limited me from learning how to problem solve
- It allowed me to avoid and resist emotion which kept me from evolving/growing/learning how to love
Mostly I thought it was a way to protect myself.
Let’s start with looking at the possibility of your behavior being a modeled behavior. It’s quite possible that someone in your formative years taught you this behavior and though you didn’t appreciate being the recipient of the behavior, you now find yourself doing exactly what you said you’d never do. If this is the case it will never be constructive for you to blame that person, which will only have you falling back into more actions you don’t want to take. We can acknowledge, use it as data and start the process of unlearning the behavior so you can treat yourself the way you desire, such beautiful news.
Awareness is the first step to change.
It’s also possible that silent treatment seems to have worked for you as a form of protection and a way to get out of confrontation, leading you to use it over and over. Now you’ve created a habit of how to deal with difficult situations that gets you nowhere, never really dealing with the situation. Instead you just add to the pile of unresolved conflict in your mental storehouse.
Here are four steps to stop using the silent treatment as a way to cope with conflict and learn how to become more effective in your love relationships:
Start observing your behavior.
This will start with you assessing what happened after you have fallen into the silent treatment pit. The great thing here is that you have time because you’ve chosen not to talk, so grab a pencil and notebook, go to a room by yourself, shut the door and start processing by asking yourself a few questions:
- What exactly was happening before you decided to use the silent treatment as a way to cope? List all of the facts: what exactly was being said by whom, what time was it, what was happening before the situation. Remember that facts have no drama or emotion, they are exact words spoken, exact actions taken, no adverbs or adjectives.
- What emotion was coming up for you? If you can’t name the emotion then close your eyes and feel what vibrations are going on in your body, describe them in detail.
- Why do you think you were feeling this way? Write down all of the reasons.
- What might you have been thinking during this time?
- What actions did you actually take and why? What words did you speak? What did you do or what didn’t you do?
- Write it all out in your notebook, write down the truth of what is going on in your brain, even the ugly. When you’re done you can shred it.
- What result are you getting from all of the actions you are taking? Write down all of YOUR results as you see them.
All of this is increasing your own awareness of what is happening for you and why, all in an effort to learn, grow and overcome. DO NOT allow yourself to answer with “I don’t know.”, guess if you have to, ask yourself this powerful question: “If I did know the answer, what would it be?” This exercise is not about looking at the other person and why they are causing your state of mind, though you can certainly write that down because it will create more awareness for you, but it is never true. Other people do not create our state of mind, don’t make them that powerful, we do.
How do you want to behave?
After you do the above practice start asking yourself how you want to show up and why. Chances are that you won’t be able to play out your desired scenario in real life yet, this is part of the practice, but know that creating the scenario of how you want to show up in real time will take patience, practice and a lot of vulnerability. Start with one step at a time, by doing this work, and know that you are moving forward. Right now it’s important for you to have a vision of how you actually deal with conflict.
With consistency, you will start to see what is happening in the middle of it, possibly even starting to withdraw from a place of introspection instead of manipulation. Once you start to get to this point it will be good to express to your partner what is happening for you and that you need some time to process. Then go to a quiet space and work through the above questions again, at this point you might even be able to start creating unintentional models of what is happening for you.
Start seeing the scenario unfold in front of you.
The third phase allows you to start watching what happens for you from a place of curiosity. You get to start really seeing your unintentional models and start taking steps towards your ideal intentional models by playing around with some intentional thoughts. These intentional thoughts will create emotions that allow you to start changing old behavioral patterning.
I describe this phase as being in the middle of the river of misery. There will be times when you are feeling amazing with the progress you are seeing, but then there will be times where you unintentionally fall back into old patterning. Sort of like rafting down a tumultuous river, there will be times you think you’ve got this, you’re navigating the river and having fun. Then all of a sudden it appears as though everything is out of control and that you’re going to die, your float topples over while you are forced under the surface. The good news is that as you do this work, and step away from old thought patterning, you will start to see your successes more than your “failure”, you will actually start seeing what you used to call failure as opportunity to grow, learn and improve.
Now it’s time to start moving into your future self.
This is when you will start experiencing true change. You start seeing yourself as the person who you’ve been dreaming of, the person who verbalizes your feelings, sees your thoughts and knows how to think to get the results that align with the person you are becoming. You start talking out loud and problem solving for yourself. You start creating the results that you want to create in your life.
The process of changing from someone who shuts down, tries to control others while only hurting themselves, to one who deliberately chooses how they want to think, feel and act is one of the most powerful things you will ever accomplish. It keeps you from being stuck in powerless states of blame, resentment and lack of control while being able to open up to love and compassion.
If you struggle with not being able to see how to get out of this patterning I encourage you to start by taking the steps in this post. If you want further help with getting out of disempowering emotional states, I would love to share some worksheets to move help you move forward. Another resource is to join me live on my social media channels every week, ask to get coached live or send me your questions and I’ll answer them for everyone to learn.
My Awaken(TheTrue)You program is for women who want to stop hurting in their most intimate relationship. I show you how to stop settling and bring back the love, connection and excitement you crave. Let’s re-ignite your love relationship today!
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