The Silent Treatment – Making Changes to Break the Silence
Interpersonal communication is a learned skill. Children learn their communication skills mostly from watching their parents. Conflict resolution and problem-solving skills are developed by observing how parents interact. Some schools teach how to resolve problems and conflicts but the situations are peer-based. Children view their parents as teachers in how to behave in an intimate relationship. If the learned skills are amiss, and not corrected, the cycle of abusing or becoming a victim, will continue.
The Silent Treatment
Emotional hijacking happens too frequently in many relationships. For some, the abuse is infrequent, for others the abuse is consistent and it erodes the victim’s well-being.
The silent treatment may last anywhere from hours to weeks. Ironically, the recipient ultimately gives power to the abuser by begging for the silence to stop. Even though the silence may cease, further damage is inflicted on the victim due to unanswered questions that fill the head with frustration and confusion. The victim internalizes negative feelings in fear that expressing his thoughts will ignite verbal abuse or another round of silent treatment.
Manifestations of emotional abuse can deepen to include: anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, drug or alcohol dependency, and eating disorders. In time, the tension in the home becomes unbearable. Life with a person who inflicts emotional abuse affects the nerves and this has a ripple effect on children, who are exceedingly intuitive. These learned skills can ultimately cause them to become an abuser or to become a victim.
Stop the Abuse
Stopping abuse is easier said than done. In many abusive relationships, the victim still loves her partner, but not his actions. Setting the scene for change is difficult and time-consuming. If children are involved, this makes the task even more onerous.
- Keep a journal and record everything. Journaling on a computer is not safe, but handwriting a journal and keeping it in a safe location is highly recommended.
- Develop a support network of family members or friends.
- If there is no one who can be implicitly trusted, call a helpline or crisis line as often as needed to get the anger out. In the journal, log the date and time when each call is made and to what helpline. After each call to a helpline, hang up and dial any another number. This is important in covering tracks.
- Create a backup plan should violence erupt. Talk to family members and friends to ensure there is an available bed and if this is not possible, know what shelters are close by. It’s more important for men in having a backup bed with family or friends as shelters for men are rare.
- When a plan is in place for the worst case scenario, choose a moment when the partner is in a good mood. Start off the conversation with positive points about the relationship. Slowly, and with taking ownership of feelings, let the partner know how “I feel changes need to happen in order for me to stay in this relationship.” While in conversation with the partner avoid using “you” as much as possible.
Letting a partner know the seriousness of the situation has three possible outcomes:
- The partner will be receptive to getting help and making positive changes.
- The partner might become violent.
- The partner may walk out and ignore the conversation.
If the partner walks out, let a day or two go past, then using effective communication, revisit the talk. If there is no progress, then following through with action will speak louder than words.
Healing is not easy and will take time. No matter the outcome, if getting professional help is not a financial option, there are many web sites that can assist with self-help. Local libraries have many books that can also assist in the journal to healing.