The Silent Treatment: Are They Ignoring Texts On Purpose?
Updated November 22, 2019
Reviewer Cessel Boyd
Read receipts are one of the greatest inventions ever created; you send a text, see that it is delivered, and are promptly able to determine whether or not someone is willing or unwilling to acknowledge what you've said. Although this exists between two specific types of phones, it is a wonderful tool to be able to use. Unfortunately, not all phones are able to accomplish this, and people do not actually offer real-life read receipts-and in many cases, do the exact opposite. In relationships, being ignored might be just as common as being given a response.
What Is the Silent Treatment?
Most people have, at some time or another, felt angry with a partner, friend, or family member, and withheld their time and attention as a consequence. This might even be advice offered from well-meaning loved ones, who urge people to "ignore him" in the hopes that it will help the person in question see your side, or come to their senses. Although it is commonplace to employ this kind of behavior, this is termed "the silent treatment," and is actually considered an extremely problematic way of communicating with others.
The silent treatment is, at its core, an unhealthy communication pattern and is often a symptom of abuse, or a precedent for abuse. The silent treatment is a behavior that involves cutting off contact with someone as a form of punishment. You might stop speaking in a single argument, and wait someone out for a few days-this is the silent treatment. You might refuse to text or call someone for a week or two-this is the silent treatment. You might seem to practically drop off the face of the earth for days, weeks, or months-this, too, is the silent treatment.
Why Do People Use the Silent Treatment?
The silent treatment, when the term is applied correctly, is most often used as a form of punishment, or as a means of control. Individuals who use this type of punishment are usually hoping to trigger a response in a friend, family member, or partner that is akin to panic, which allows the perpetrator to maintain the majority of the control and power in a relationship, while keeping the other person in the relationship small, dependent, and afraid.
The silent treatment is an effective method of controlling people, unfortunately, as it uses the threat of withdrawing love or attention to shape and prime behavior, personality, and needs. As is the case with any type of psychological abuse, the silent treatment reduces the self-esteem and well-being of the victim, while transferring the bulk of the power to the person inflicting the abuse.
When Is the Silent Treatment Appropriate?
Although conventional wisdom suggests that ignoring a guy is a perfectly normal, sane thing to do, numerous psychologists and studies have demonstrated that this is, with certainty, not the case. Ignoring or excluding someone activates the same receptors in the brain that trigger a pain response, both to physical and emotional pain, and leave lasting psychological scars, disfiguring your mental state, your self-esteem, and your ability to recognize a healthy, open relationship.
Consequently, the silent treatment is never appropriate. In any type of relationship, going completely silent and ignoring someone else is unkind, unhealthy, and unproductive, and will not yield a positive result for anyone involved. Because strong communication is the core of any healthy, lasting relationship, a complete lack of communication is the literal antithesis to maintaining a true, trustworthy, and lasting connection, and is a surefire recipe for resentment, pain, confusion, and ill health.
Are They Ignoring Texts on Purpose?
Some people consider ignoring a guy a mercy, or a necessary aspect of communication. Some psychologists consider this type of refusing to communicate a form of psychological abuse, and warn against is use in any situation but the most dire, such as abusive relationships, stalking, or similar concerns. Although there is no way to know for sure if someone is ignoring a text on purpose, there are some signs that the lack of communication is intentional and overt.
1) The Two of You Are Fighting
If the two of you have been fighting recently, or are currently in the middle of a fight, and texting communication has halted, it is likely your paramour is giving you the silent treatment. This could be a temporary thing, used to cool off and collect oneself, but can also be used as a form of punishment, intended to make you squirm, and run back to your significant other, with apologies and pleas for reconciliation at the ready.
2) Your Relationship Has Seen Other Forms of Abuse
Most psychologists agree that the silent treatment is a form of psychological abuse. If abusive behavior is present in your relationship in other ways, the silent treatment is a tried-and-true way to punish a partner. If your partner or the person in whom you are interested exhibits controlling tendencies in other areas, and either restricts their own communication, or tries to restrict yours, they may be using the silent treatment.
3) Communication is Notoriously Scant
The silent treatment and a cooling-off period are two different things. Taking time to separate from one another to cool down, collect your thoughts, and return to a difficult conversation in a healthier headspace is actually a healthy, even recommended communication pattern. This pattern, though, is preceded by some sort of explanation, even as short as "I can't talk about this right now. I need some space." Silence, on the other hand, is total silence, without warning or explanation, or silence preceded by some sort of derogatory statement about the other person, such as "I can't talk to you when you're being so dramatic," or "I'm not stooping to your level, so we're done talking." Although these are both examples of communicating, the communication is not healthy, and any resulting silence likely falls under the silent treatment.
4) You Have to Offer the Mea Culpa
When you are being given the silent treatment, it will likely only end when you feel as though you have to rush to apologize, amend your behavior, or otherwise change yourself, your habits, or your needs in order to accommodate your partner. The silent treatment, when it is actually being used as a tool to manipulate, is employed as a means of altering someone's behavior and painting oneself in a positive or sympathetic light. For this reason, the person giving the silent treatment usually will not be the first to end the silence, but will instead wait for you to plead or beg, or will make sure they are given the space and time they want, rather than the space or time you might need.
What To Do In the Midst of the Silent Treatment
Although you cannot control the actions of others, and force the person ignoring you to acknowledge your presence, your ideas, and your needs, you can control your own behavior, and your responses to the silent treatment. The best way to respond to the silent treatment include:
1) Create Space
If the person inflicting the silent treatment wants silence between the two of you, so be it: create space between the two of you, and allow yourself some time and energy to process what is going on in your relationship. You might find that the silent treatment has been an infrequently-used tool in your relationship with this person, and decide that a calm, open dialogue about it is the best course of action, or you might find that this is a pattern of behavior that has begun to escalate in your relationship, and warrants a more intensive discussion and the possibility of permanent space between the two of you.
2) Create Boundaries
Refuse to accept the silent treatment as a part of your relationship going forward. Tell your partner, friend, or family member, as the case may be, that you understand the need for space to process an argument, betrayal, or some other form of difficult relationship hurdle, but that going completely silent is not acceptable to you, and if it continues to be a part of your relationship, you will have to detach yourself from it. While this might seem unkind, making sure that your mental health is kept at a high priority is an absolute must for living a healthy, well-adjusted life.
3) Respect Yourself and Others
If someone tells you they need space, and doesn't get back to you in a few weeks, respect that boundary they've set, and allow them time an space to collect themselves and come back to you. If you, yourself, feel that you need space to process something, let the other person know what you need, and give yourself permission to hold fast to that commitment. Although people are often quick to urge respecting others in relationships, it is equally important to respect yourself, make way for your needs, and keep yourself in a strong, healthy headspace.
Ignoring On Purpose
It is easy-and often even celebrated-to ignore, exclude, or otherwise ostracize people in all types of relationships. While this may be an easy route to take, it is not a healthy, effective, or useful one, and can end up doing a lot of damage to all of the parties involved, including destroying self-esteem, creating anxiety and depression, and permanently damaging someone's perception of themselves and the world around them.
If you have found yourself in a relationship filled with the silent treatment or any other form of abuse, give yourself the freedom to take action, and reach out to a mental health professional to create stronger, healthier boundaries, and to work toward healing any psychological wounds that may have been created and sustained. The professionals from ReGain.Us can work with individuals or couples to create habits, boundaries, and routines that optimize mental health, and set you on a road to recovery.