Have you ever had a disagreement with a loved one and ended up having to hear half words, dry answers or just nothing? If so, it is likely that you have already been the victim of the silent treatment. Often applied with the term “freeze”, the silent treatment is a strategy to offend the other or to escape from an argument without abdicating your own opinions. The victim tends to feel invisible and manipulated. That's why it's important for her to claim her power over the situation. To do so, it will be necessary to adopt a more efficient communication style, improve self-esteem, and cut down on any ongoing emotional abuse.
Method 1 of 3: Breaking the Incorrect Communication Pattern
Step 1. Stop showing reaction
Although many people practice the treatment of silence without realizing its harmful effects on the relationship, there are those who do it with the explicit intention of hurting. In either case, the fact that the victim starts apologizing – not even knowing what he did wrong – or begging for attention, will only strengthen the perpetrator's behavior.
- Instead, enjoy the silence to take time for yourself. Don't show anger; don't act in a passive-aggressive way in order to try to get the other to talk to you again; and don't create discussion. Just give them both time to calm down.
- When you're around someone who's giving you ice, stay relaxed and positive. Even if you are suffering, don't let it show.
Step 2. Take a moment to talk about it
Generally, those who need to use the silent treatment are not able to communicate their wants and needs clearly, so they try to do it through signs. It may be that your friend or partner's goal is not to make you suffer, perhaps they just want time to recover from the hurts of an argument. In any case, take on the role of the adult in the relationship and do what he can't do: have a rational conversation about the problem.
- Say: "Right now, we're both shaken up, how about taking a few hours to think and meeting again at 3pm to finish this conversation rationally?"
- Such an attitude will automatically end with the silent treatment, as the two will be agreeing to take a few hours to think and resume the conversation later, when they have a cool head.
Step 3. Try to see the other side of the story
Remember that communication is a two-way street. If your partner has chosen to avoid contact with you, it means he may be hurt. So try swapping places with him and seeing the scenery from his perspective.
- Try to remember what happened between you before the ice started. What did he say? What was your answer? If you were in his shoes, how would you feel?
- For example, let's say your goal was to get permission to go to a party. For this reason, you decided to pressurize your mother persistently until she couldn't take it anymore and put the silent treatment into practice. Now, see the situation from her point of view; wouldn't you also be upset about your behavior?
- If you're still uncomfortable with the ice you've been getting, talk to a trusted friend or family member – but remember to choose someone who is sincere and knows how to listen.
Step 4. Use phrases that start with “I”
This whole situation can end up sparking passive-aggressive behavior in you too. But, don't try to pay back by ignoring the other person; prefer a more punctual approach, communicating your message clearly, so that it can break the barrier of silence and be understood.
- Phrases in which the subject is the “I” tend to be practical and avoid blaming the problem on the other. The ideal would be to say: “I feel very small and powerless when I am ignored. I wish we could share our feelings more and not drift apart. If this happens again, could you ask for a break instead of ignoring me?”.
- When talking, try to set an example, always responding with kindness, humility, respect and self-control. Avoid trying to guess the other's intentions and accusing them.
Method 2 of 3: Focusing on Yourself
Step 1. Identify your role in the cycle
Take advantage of the quiet time and recognize - without blaming yourself - what communication patterns brought you to where you are now. Once this is done, work on fixing them.
- Try going back in time and observing your behavioral patterns during conversations. Did you, for example, interrupt the other whenever he was about to say something you already thought you knew? In this case, the frustration of not being able to speak may have led him to want to express himself through silence.
- The solution to minimizing its role would be to learn to actively listen. Don't cut him off anymore, give him time to fully express himself and then respond.
Step 2. Decrease anger so as not to make the situation worse
Feeling manipulated is not good, and it can take an already unpleasant situation to a worse – even dangerous – path. Recognize that showing anger will not improve your relationship at all. So use your reflection time to calm your nerves.
- Try some relaxation techniques such as guided imagery, breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and gentle stretching.
- If you need more time to calm down, try taking a break for an hour or postponing the conversation until the next day – just don't put it off too long.
Step 3. Set some personal boundaries
Doing so will increase your chances of living relationships according to what you expect and, therefore, defending your feelings in the face of harmful behavior – which may come from your own parents, best friend or partner.
- To establish boundaries, first reflect on how you want to be treated in a relationship, sorting out what behaviors you're willing to accept or not. Then expose them to the people you love. Be aware that people who have been emotionally abused in the past have a harder time determining what to expect from a relationship. Therefore, it will be necessary to have a frank conversation about this with a trusted person.
- A good way to communicate your limits to someone might be: “I like you and your company a lot, but it saddens me so much to see you suddenly stop talking to me. If I keep doing this, I will be forced to distance myself so as not to end up hurting me too much”.
Step 4. Take care of yourself
No matter what reasons someone may have had for treating you this way, the important thing is that you don't let yourself down. Try to do things to cheer yourself up and counteract the negative effects of the silence treatment.
Get some exercise, call a trusted friend, go to the park or an exhibition. All of these are activities that do you good and improve your emotional health
Method 3 of 3: Overcoming Emotional Abuse
Step 1. Know that there is a link between silent treatment and narcissism
Narcissism is a personality disorder that leads its bearer to take advantage of and manipulate those around them for their own benefit. Therefore, if a person has a habit of giving people ice on a regular basis, he may have narcissistic traits.
- If you find yourself apologizing a lot for things you didn't do or begging the other person to talk to you, your reactions may just be giving more and more control of the relationship to the abuser.
- It can be emotionally draining and confusing to relate to a narcissist. However, there are some techniques that help to deal with this type of person. Individual therapy can be of great help in learning them.
Step 2. Improve your communication skills with therapy
You can do it individually, as a couple or as a family – as long as everyone involved is interested. During therapy, the practitioner will identify the roles each person plays in the cycle of emotional abuse and help stop it.
- For example, the therapist will teach the victim of silence to find better ways to express themselves, using more “I” phrases, interspersing criticism with praise, and setting aside times to talk and resolve differences.
- On the other hand, he can also teach the perpetrator to verbalize their thoughts and feelings more and to manage frustration better.
Step 3. Surround yourself with people who communicate well
Being often under the control of silence can have a negative influence on health and well-being. Therefore, in addition to dedicating yourself to improving your communication with the perpetrator of silence, try also to relate to good communicators.
- Always be with people and family who value you as a person. Tell them that your relationship with another person has been cold and that you would like to invite them to spend time with you.
- Another alternative is to try to find and join a support group for those who have been a victim of narcissistic abuse – ask your therapist for recommendations.
Step 4. Terminate the relationship if the handler refuses to change
Silent treatment makes the victim feel intimidated and helpless, but it is just one of the tactics used to perpetrate emotional abuse. If you've tried to improve your communication and the other person still refuses to acknowledge your part in the abuse, it's best to end the relationship.
- You can say something like, “I can't continue our relationship anymore because I feel controlled and powerless. As much as I try to solve the problem, you refuse to change. So I need to do what's best for me."
- To become more self-confident when you're done, practice speaking with a friend or therapist.