Is the "Silent Treatment" a Case of Emotional Abuse?
The silent treatment, also known as the "cold shoulder treatment," consists of feigned apathy, total silence, and being distant on purpose. One person displays an attitude of complete disinterest for the spouse, as if the other person would be a complete stranger.
This form of emotional abuse can be very disorienting. Being ignored on purpose by your husband, your most intimate ally, crumbles your whole being. The experience can leave you thinking that you have been reduced to the level of a ghost, if your presence is systematically ignored and turned irrelevant.
Typically, the abuser does this as a form of non-physical punishment, with the purpose of showing his anger by making you feel less worthy, not valued, unimportant, and not cared about. Is a very strong negative message delivered in a way that doesn't leave external traces: there are no signal of physical abuse.
Between the lines, what your abuser is trying to do is to manipulate you in the area of your self image by making you feel reduced to nothing he can show interest on. If he is not seeing you, or your qualities, who are you? not more than a shadow! Here is a female voice:
"The thing that drives me the most crazy is when he has had his cooling off time, he comes out to me and he is STILL angry and silent. He stares straight ahead at the TV with this filthy look on his face and pretends I am not even there. Like I'm invisible.
"I really don't know what to do, or say. If I say "can we talk about this?" he will roll his eyes or tell me to shut up. He reconnects when and how he wants...while I wait in despair. I have truly lost hope. I don't know how much more I can take. When things are good between us life is incredible, but he has this Jekyll and Hyde thing going on... and I always feel like it is my fault, because I don't know how and why his cold shoulder towards me starts. What did I do to anger him so much as to be so cruel?"
In this kind of situation you will not notice you are in an emotionally abusive relationship because there is no physical contact or harm; only the feeling of being abandoned by him and his attention.
Emotional abusers are far worse than physical abusers. You can feel more pain and sadness as the person you love banish you from his existence without closure and without a chance of knowing what went wrong (if anything) and the possibility of reconciliation.
Generally, silent treatment repeats over and over again. Silent treatment is a method of stabbing you without killing you. It murders your soul and mind for something you have supposedly done, that you don't know about, making learning impossible.
Why does the abuser uses this weapon of control over you? He does the "cold shoulder" to avoid an uncomfortable situation, having to clarify issues with you in your relationship and issues within himself. Probably is difficult for him to connect with you and express what is bothering him; or he knows that his grievance against you is completely irrational and based on his own childhood perceptions, and not in the here and now with you.
Whatever the cause, it is difficult to truly understand why the victims allows this behavior to continue. In fact, it usually happens abruptly at first, and it looks like the husband is only silent because something is worrying him. Or is he deeply considering some issues that he will later share with you and find solutions for? The silent treatment may last for hours and even for weeks. Her initial confusion cannot be sustained for a long time because this cold shoulder can continue for weeks and ends up being a comfortable situation for him.
Relieved of the need to explain, find solutions, negotiate with the wife and be honest with himself, the husband has found a shortcut that allows him to continue in a relationship without facing its real challenges. He will prefer the shortcut of punishing his partner regularly without owning his own shortcomings, so he can keep his own self image protected without reality checks.
In this delusion, most often abusers do not realize that they are abusing someone they think they love; they keep thinking that there is a lot of time for explanations in the future...
For her, there is nothing much worse than the feeling of being invisible especially if the person she loves makes her feel that she doesn't exist. Sadly, your abuser will only gain power by her submission and her begging him to stop the cold treatment.
Generally, silent treatment leaves a lot of damage and scars. Though the cold treatment can be finished, the inflicted damage can still lead to frustration and confusion due to unresolved rejection issues.
The issues are typically unresolved due to her fear that she will ignite verbal abuse or he could start another cycle of silent treatment if she voices her hurts. If this damage is not addressed immediately or if he won't put a stop on his systematic rejection of her, it will deepen to include suicidal ideation, anxiety, depression, eating disorders or drug and alcohol dependency.
Keep in mind that our purpose for being in a relationship is to feel that we are not alone and that we have someone to love and someone loves us back. If he makes her feel unimportant and there is no meaning in the relationship, then he is sabotaging the core of the same relationship he needs.
In this painful bind, she will have to consider how much can she survive without receiving much expected loving and supportive feedback from the same person she has chosen to be her permanent admirer. At the point where his controlling and manipulative behavior leaves her lonely and frustrated, there is the need for a decision about what kind of future is possible for this relationship.
Perhaps at this point in the evolution of this controlling marriage, she will need external help, as therapy, family or friends can give, to restore her self -esteem and be able to face life without emotional abuse.
If there is any indication of control over one partner by the other using emotional abuse, then the whole future of the relationship is at stake. There is no relationship that can survive the destruction of the other's self-esteem as a means to maintain power and control.
You can learn more about how to survive this and other extreme forms of emotional abuse, reading "Healing from Emotional Abuse".
There is more information and support at our Blog Creative Conflicts