What You Need to Know About the Silent Treatment

The silent treatment also known as ghosting, stonewalling or even ostracism can be an emotionally painful experience. It has been used since the beginning of time. If a person did not act how society wanted, this person would be sent off to live in isolation and die. Yes, it was and still is this cruel. Exclusion creates mental health distress and symptoms, which can linger for years.

People use the silent treatment when they are angry with someone. It is a passive aggressive way to control the situation. Those with narcissistic personality disorder use the silent treatment to have power over others in relationships.

The silent treatment is a manipulation tactic to blame the other person and create a feeling that he or she is 100% at fault. This person often wants an apology from you, yet he or she does not clearly communicate this. Instead of taking responsibility for their own feelings and initiating a talk, people who act like this withdraw and withhold all communication. The silent treatment is an act of emotional abuse, in which one person feels superior and in control, while the other feels guilty and confused.

When you are the giver of silence

Those who give the silent treatment, often have received the silent treatment. It is not unusual, if you have learned this technique from your family. Dysfunctional patterns of communication can repeat over multiple generations, until you decide to stop the behavior and heal. If you are the person giving the silent treatment, it is important for you to learn how to communicate better and seek a resolution. Be aware that the person you have hurt may not want to continue a relationship with you because of this behavior.

It is important to heal from a silent treatment because you do not want to continue this or attract this type of energy into your life again. Psychotherapy is one way of uncovering, these patterns. If you do not want to have a relationship with someone, communicate this honestly and then walk away. The only time this would not be wise is in cases of extreme abuse. In this instance, just leave. You do not need to communicate or explain.

I got overwhelmed

I understand people feel overwhelmed but it cannot be used as an excuse to hurt others. Sometimes I hear, “I got overwhelmed this is why I cut someone off.” Since overwhelm is a temporary state; did you express your overwhelm in the moment or shortly after that? Did you ask for a break to connect with your feelings and tell the person when you would contact them again? When the overwhelm lessened; did you re-engage and apologize?

Silence that lasts for weeks, months and even years, has gone beyond a case of overwhelm. If this is you, I suggest talking to a professional who can help you look deeper into yourself.

A cut off harms both parties

A cut off harms not only the person being given the silent treatment but also the abuser. As humans, we are social beings and have been hard wired to connect with others, when we are not connecting as biology intends, it causes damage within. This affects all of your relationships, the ones you are talking with and those you are not. 

Whether you have been given the silent treatment or you are the giver, know this is an unhealthy way to communicate and creates toxic relationships. I know how painful the silent treatment can be because I have had various family members do it to me. I also know how happy you can be once you process the experience and let it go for good. You do not need to make someone talk to you to heal yourself and move forward in life.

What can you do when someone gives you the cold shoulder?

  1. You can attempt one more round of communication.
  2. Recognize it is not your fault and you do not deserve this treatment from anyone.
  3. Remember this is about them; their lack of communication skills and their emotional immaturity.
  4. Don’t chase them or try to make them talk to you.
  5. Move on.
  6. Find healthy relationships.

You may also like to read: How to Recognize Emotional Abuse & Rise Above It

Lisa Hutchison LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist and writing coach. She works for caring professionals, who want to prevent or treat compassion fatigue. Her specialty is teaching stress management, assertiveness and boundary setting. Lisa is the Amazon bestselling author of I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers and the kindle book Setting Ethical Limits for Caring & Competent Professionals. Get a FREE 10 page E-book; Why Compassionate People Run Out of Energy and What You Can Do About It at http://www.lisahutchison.net

Check out my YouTube Channel: Lisa Hutchison LMHC

17 thoughts on “What You Need to Know About the Silent Treatment

  1. I hear lots of times in Canada when somebody in family isn’t communicating with others, like they totally cut them off.
    It was something completely new for me. I believe it might be not that characteristic only for North America, but I had to wonder because I never heard about that or experienced something like this while in Europe which was many decades, like past middle age.
    I think it comes from families which somewhat have misunderstand what a family is or former friends who never were friends.
    great post outlining interesting issues. I’m lucky not to ever experience them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Many families who have not learned to communicate in a mature way resort to the silent treatment. The good news is people can learn to express themselves better and keep the lines of communication open. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Inese. Many Blessings

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Lisa,

    This topic hit home because of ghosting happening in my extended family, but fast forward where apologies have been said and a relationship mended. So, all is now good. Maybe this is a situation where time heals. I also had never heard of the term “ghosted” before, silent treatment yes, but not ghosted. Now I have and it’s not a pretty word.

    Anyway, thank you for touching on a topic that I’m sure many people have dealt with – a topic that is very hurtful, especially when it invades a family.

    Hugs and blessings,
    Lauren 💞

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lauren,

      I am happy to hear your family is healing from the silent treatment. Time, trust, consistency and integrity will be the building blocks to health.

      You are welcome and thanks for sharing your experience from your extended family.

      Lisa xoxo

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh I know this well. My family slithered out of my life and make like it’s my fault. Talking? I tried it once, apparently, ‘there’s nothing wrong’. That’s how my family communicates – erm, can’t communicate. After decades of the merry-go-round. I chose to leave and do the same instead of beating up my brains about, ‘what on earth did I do to deserve the treatment’. I knew the answer, it’s an inherited trait from my mother. There is no cure for that so I packed it in. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is currently happening with my wife. She has been giving me the silent treatment for the last three weeks, but this has been happening for years on and off. I am sick and tired of her not taking responsibility and letting me know what the heck is going on with her. Every time I try to talk to her she shuts me down even more. I’m afraid of bringing it up because she might say that she just wants to divorce me. Don’t know what to do. We have a 16-year-old son still living with us. Him and his older sister would be devastated if we don’t work this out. Considering counseling or support group or something.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Noel,

      It is upsetting and frustrating to be with someone who withholds and shuts down communication. This effects the entire family.

      I know you are thinking about it, I would recommend counseling. If your wife does not agree to couples counseling, individual counseling or a support group can be helpful to you.

      Many Blessings,


    • Hi Katie,
      There are many reasons why people respond with a silent treatment. Have you considered therapy? It can be helpful to uncover why but also learn new ways to communicate.
      Many Blessings,


      • Thanks Lisa, I have a therapist but I’ve been with her so long I’m afraid to disappoint her. I know I avoid my real diagnosis, I’m just so scared of what it means for my life and future.


        • The best therapeutic relationships are where you feel safe to express your feelings and thoughts to your therapist. I hope you will consider doing so. I do understand, it can feel scary to be vulnerable with another person and I don’t know your therapist. I can say we therapists have heard a lot. I can’t recall any times in the past 20 years, I have felt disappointed with a client. I may have felt perplexed and curious as to why they have done something but not disappointed. Facing whatever your diagnosis may be, is the best way to grow stronger and healthier. I know many clients with severe illness living happy and healthy lives. I wish you healing on your journey. Many Blessings Lisa


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s