Mental Health

Dealing With Silent Treatment

Silent treatment is usually the last resort to conflict and can be considered as a subtle form of abuse. It can harm both victim and perpetrator, as it can affect relationships. Keep reading to learn more.

By URLife Team
05 Dec 2023

Have you felt the weight of silence? Silence is not just the absence of words or speech, rather it is a story of hidden feelings and unresolved conflicts. Silence is its own language and can convey a lot of meaning in different situations. 

Silent treatment is a form of social ostracisation, especially when it's happening to a single person in various group settings. It can often arise during conflicts when one person is giving the ‘cold shoulder’ to another. It is a behaviour where someone deliberately stops communicating with someone.

We spoke to Shreya Chakravarty, Psychologist at Apollo Health City, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, regarding the consequences of silent treatment. She says, ‘Silent treatment is a form of passive aggression, which is intentional and the reason behind this could be emotional manipulation to gain control over your partner, to avoid further conflict but not as a form of healthy disengagement or when someone is emotionally overwhelmed.

In this article, Shreya gives solutions to deal with someone who is giving you a cold shoulder and  also gives suggestions about what you can do. Her advice includes adjusting communication styles, introducing a more organised conversation approach and maintaining patience and composure during discussions on conflicting matters.

The effects of silent treatment extend beyond emotional pain and encompass a certain level of physical pain. A 2012 study shows that ignoring or excluding someone stimulates the anterior cingulate cortex, the same area of the brain that is activated by physical pain. Another study from Psychology Today (Rittenour et al.) says a partner who uses the silent treatment may suffer from poor self-esteem, decreased relational commitment, or lack of confidence, recipients suffer as well. Those who receive the silent treatment often report negative feelings and desire more direct forms of managing conflict out of frustration. 

Navigating silent treatment requires a perfect blend of patience, understanding, and a dash of strategic communication prowess to break through the walls of silence.


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Related story: Signs of A Toxic Relationship


How to Respond to Silent Treatment

Give Space

Giving some space can be the ideal initial step when facing the silent treatment. Sometimes, both parties need time to cool off and collect their thoughts. Taking a step back allows emotions to settle, making it easier to approach the situation more calmly and rationally once communication resumes. This pause can offer a chance for reflection and a clearer perspective on the issue at hand.

Use of Collaborative Language

Using collaborative language when attempting to break the silence is essential. Phrasing statements with "we" rather than "you" can foster a more cooperative environment. For instance, saying "Let's work together to understand what went wrong" is more constructive than placing blame with "You need to explain yourself." It invites the other person to participate in finding a solution rather than escalating tension.

Don’t Escalate

Amidst the silence, it's crucial not to increase tensions between each other. Responding with anger or attempting to force communication can intensify the standoff. Instead, maintain a composed and understanding demeanour to ease the tension and create a safer space for dialogue when the time is right.

Understand the Reason

Understanding why silent treatment is being used can be enlightening. Sometimes, it's employed as a way to express hurt or frustration when words might seem inadequate. Trying to comprehend the underlying emotions or triggers behind the silence can aid in addressing the root cause rather than merely the surface conflict.

Avoid Reciprocation

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and not in situations where you deeply care about the other person. While it might be tempting to mirror the behaviour, doing so can prolong the standoff. Engaging in open and respectful communication, even if met with silence initially, demonstrates a commitment to resolving issues and maintaining the relationship.


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How to Resolve Conflicts without Silent Treatment

Shreya Chakravarty highlights several alternatives that can be used during conflicts, which don’t involve silent treatment. They are:


Use of Healthy Disengagement

Choosing healthy disengagement over silent treatment involves communicating boundaries respectfully. For instance, stating, "I need some time before discussing this, but let's address it later," acknowledges the need for space without cutting off communication entirely.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Establishing clear guidelines for communication and behaviour aids in creating a safe and respectful environment. By outlining what is acceptable and unacceptable during discussions, individuals can navigate conflicts without resorting to damaging tactics like silent treatment.

Offer Emotional Space

Encouraging an open dialogue where both parties feel heard and understood fosters healthier conflict resolution. Creating an environment where emotions can be shared without fear of judgement or dismissal allows for genuine exchanges and a better chance at resolving conflicts positively.

Take Therapy

Opting for couples’ counselling will help in resolving conflicts effectively. Counselling will help in developing a structured communication style and dealing with trauma in an effective manner.


Related story: How To Break Up With A Toxic Friend


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