Breaking the Cycle of Silent Treatment #WorkForHappy

Artwork by Sina Shagrai

Here’s the God honest truth about silent treatment – dishing it out feels like sweet justice. It’s the kind of satisfaction that makes you a little power-hungry, especially when it works over and over again.

On the flip side, being on the receiving end of silent treatment stings. You feel like you have to swallow your pride and give in, or suffer a drawn out punishment that maybe you don’t deserve.

Having been on both ends of the deal, I think I have a pretty good idea of the pros and cons of silent treatment.

Spoiler – there are no pros. It’s all cons.

Breaking the cycle takes a lot of guts and twice as much resilience, but I promise that it is so incredibly rewarding to break out, no matter which side you’re playing. Ultimately, this is just what I realized through my experiences. You can take it or leave it, but I’m not going to stay silent about it.

After all, that’s sort of the point.

Powerful vs. Powerless

I realized the behaviour I was choosing actually contributed to people walking out on me, and in a state of blissful ignorance, I’d say “good riddance”. Then I lost almost everyone, and I was forced to figure out what the trend was.

I realized that having fallen for it every time someone pushed the behaviour on me, I had subconsciously decided that silent treatment was the most effective way to get what I want.

After all, I always gave in. I can make people give in to me as well. Right?

I remember being ignored by a friend in high school. She didn’t talk to me for a week, and I had no idea why. I didn’t know why she wouldn’t wave back in the hallways, why she was making a point of avoiding me, or why she wasn’t replying to my messages about some literary hottie in the young adult book we were sharing.

… you need to take a break from that relationship and focus on yourself. Whether or not the other person does the same is not up to you – you are responsible for you. [Click To Tweet]

A week later, when I finally caught up to her and asked why she was acting so differently. She gave me a scripted version of what she believed had happened a week prior, in a café after my birthday party.

I was a little blindsided by what she told me, but afraid I’d be frozen out again if I didn’t agree with her version of events, I merely apologized and promised I wouldn’t do it again. I also plead that next time she just tell me if she was upset so that we could talk it out.

We didn’t end up talking too much after all that happened.

Artwork by Sina Shagrai

I remember feeling shut out. I remember feeling like I was at fault when, in retrospect, I understand that this friendship was always about power, so long as the scales weighed in her favor. That friendship was doomed from the start.

Alternatively, years later I noticed that the cycle was repeating itself with someone else, but this time I was the one making it churn. In a bid to make a boyfriend pay more attention to me, I ignored him. When he came to me asking I forgive him for whatever he had done to make me stop talking to him, I felt like I had all the power in the world. It was incredibly satisfying.

Looking back, I realize that he had let me take full reign of our relationship, which in retrospect is incredibly toxic, but at the time it felt like I was finally being treated with respect. I can’t even imagine how hellish it must have been for him to walk on eggshells around me all the time, to have to always do things my way because he was afraid I’d stop talking to him if he protested at all.

Artwork by Sina Shagrai

The moral of these stories is that even a good person can falter. My friend from high school wasn’t evil for resorting to this sort of behaviour, and neither was I. The difference lies in whether or not you actually try to fix your problem. That applies no matter where you may stand on the spectrum of “good” and “bad”.

I know, now, that what my friend did to me was detrimental to not only our friendship, but to our mental health, not just mine. I also know now that the way I treated my ex was toxic, and I have since apologized. Not only was it important for him to understand that he wasn’t the problem, it was also important for me to acknowledge what I had done in order to move on with a clean state.

Once I had my clean state, I was determined to never treat someone with silent treatment again, and to not put up with it when I was on the receiving end either.

It’s a little harder than that, though.

How to Stop Engaging In Silent Treatment – Advice From The Heart

I learned to be objective. I learned to be honest not just to others, but to myself. It took a long time, a lot of faltering, and a lot of working with myself and those around me.

Here’s the God honest truth about silent treatment – dishing it out feels like sweet justice. [Click To Tweet]

Whenever I feel angry or resentful towards anyone, I ask myself if it’s a them issue, or a me issue.

When it is a them issue, I have a responsibility to approach them, listen to what they may have to say about it, and talk it out until there are no more hard feelings.

If it’s a me issue, I take a walk. I take a break until I am capable of letting any resentment I feel towards the other person go. This can be my boyfriend, my friend, my mother, a co-worker – anyone.

Artwork by Sina Shagrai

The distinction between these two types of problems is important, but either way you need to be objective. It’s important to sort through emotions and be able to attach them to a viable reason before approaching anyone. This is so that any discussion that takes place will be genuinely productive. Listen to yourself, then make a judgement call.

Silent treatment is immature – let me explain why: if you would rather shut someone out until they submit to your whim instead of actually finding a solution to the bigger problem, then you are acting out of spite. Spite is cancerous. It will lurk underneath the surface like a tumor, until you can’t ignore it anymore.

When you would rather make a point over fixing a problem, you are crossing the line. If you would rather do what it takes to be right instead of doing what it takes to find a solution, ask yourself: is your pride more important than your common sense?

If someone else refuses to listen to reason, then you need to take a break from that relationship and focus on yourself. Whether or not the other person does the same is not up to you – you are responsible for you.

The difference lies in whether or not you actually try to fix your problem. That applies no matter where you may stand on the spectrum of “good” and “bad”. [Click To Tweet]

When you are on the receiving end of silent treatment, don’t be afraid of claiming your voice. Call a person out on their behaviour, and start a healthy conversation. Tempers might run high, it might even go terribly, but (and there’s a but) at least you made your feelings known. You will have reclaimed your voice. If that person values you, they will (eventually) listen. It might take a couple tries, but eventually, someone who really cares for your relationship will make an effort to change.

If the other person refuses to listen, you need to take a break from that relationship and focus on yourself. Whether or not the other person does the same is not up to you – again, you are responsible for you.

It’s easy to give in to a habit if it’s been bred over a period of time, so break that cycle of mindless miscommunication and get to the root of what you can do to improve the situation.

Empowering Yourself Through Speaking Out Instead of Staying Silent

Silent treatment is a play for power, but the con is this: the power you’re chasing will always be evade you for as long as you use other people as means to get it. Everything should start from yourself.

Artwork by Sina Shagrai

By focusing on myself I not only overcame a behaviour that was ultimately toxic to others around me, I also learned to stand up for myself. I found my voice, one I discovered that I was lacking.

Surround yourself with good people to encourage goodness in yourself. Encourage others to find the good in themselves, but take a step back if toxicity is threatening your frame of mind.

It’s not easy, but as always, you are responsible for you. For as long as you are able to understand that you are not in control of other people’s actions, and that you will make mistakes as do the people around you, you will be happier.

Finding your voice is more empowering than staying silent, and getting to the bottom of any problem will make you happier than making up new ones by silencing yourself, or others. Empowerment comes from within, by rising above the person you were in the past.

After all, isn’t that the point?

EXTRA – Important Questions To Break the Cycle, Step By Step

If you are perpetrating silent treatment, ask yourself these questions:

–          Why do I truly feel these emotions?

–          How can I label my feelings so that I can approach this problem objectively?

–          Why can’t I be direct about my feelings?

–          Is there a possibility that I am at fault, and may be avoiding confrontation?

–          How can I make sure I don’t feel compelled to give silent treatment again?

If you are putting up with silent treatment, ask yourself these questions:

–          Does this person value my voice enough to listen to my side and truly take that into account?

–          Could I have contributed to a toxic environment that encourages this kind of behaviour, and if so, how can I change that from my side?

–         Would it be healthier to take a break from this relationship until we are both willing to find a solution to the real problem?

–         How do I approach this problem objectively, to have a healthy discussion?

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