Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Healing from the Silent Treatment


name of art: "Escape from Prison of The Silent Treatment"
image is © Lise Winne
illustration, 2015
(for questions regarding use of images or to contract an image for your next article
contact: LilacGroveGraphics (att) yahoo.com)

(Note, this blog is part of a series:
*The first post is The Silent Treatment is Abuse!,
*The second one is this post, The Silent Treatment and Complex PTSD,
*This is the third post: Healing from the Silent Treatment)

This article by Andrea Schneider, LCSW, states that the silent treatment is primarily used by narcissists as a weapon:

The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse typically employed by people with narcissistic tendencies. It is designed to (1) place the abuser in a position of control; (2) silence the target’s attempts at assertion; (3) avoid conflict resolution/personal responsibility/compromise; or (4) punish the target for a perceived ego slight. Often, the result of the silent treatment is exactly what the person with narcissism wishes to create: a reaction from the target and a sense of control.

The target, who may possess high emotional intelligence, empathy, conflict-resolution skills, and the ability to compromise, may work diligently to respond to the deafening silence. He or she may frequently reach out to the narcissistic person via email, phone, or text to resolve greatly inflated misunderstandings, and is typically met with continued disdain, contempt, and silence. Essentially, the narcissistic person’s message is one of extreme disapproval to the degree that the silence renders the target so insignificant that he or she is ignored and becomes more or less nonexistent in the eyes of the narcissistic person.


Why do abusers use the silent treatment? They may have learned to use it as a weapon as a child. In this article, parents use it on their children to shape them into sycophants. The parent may have given:

... the child an ultimatum – if you want to live, kill off your real self and become who I want you to be.

The child may have tried to fight against this for a while, but eventually they gave in to the continuous bombardment of attacks against their right to be who they were and they decided to try and become who they were told they had to be to gain the love and acceptance of the authority figure, their dictator, their hostage taker, their torturer, their keeper. They were alone, afraid, helpless and powerless, with no one to protect them or to see what was being done to them, the authority figure had complete control and dominion over them, and may have even had other adults aiding and abetting their campaign of repeated abuse.


Many abusers cannot face the fact that their children have grown up to be adults (from the same article):

Narcissists never allow their children to grow up (my mother still thinks I’m 6 years old). They can’t allow their child to grow up because it presents too much of a threat to them. Everything they say and do is all about them (and the fears which eat them up inside). Narcissists usually stop their children at the age when their children adored them and believed everything they said – and they keep hoping that by never allowing you to grow up you’ll return to that state of child worshipping their all-powerful god-like parent.

... just because the narcissist treats you like a child, and tells you that you’ll never be an adult to them does not mean that you have to accept that. You’re an adult, so be one – which includes not treating your parent as though they have any authority over you. This means breaking the habit of reverting to child-like behaviour with regards to your parents. Narcissists are terrible parents, therefore they do not earn the right to the title of ‘parent’ ... Take the title away ... They had their chance and they blew it.


In the comment section of the same article, Emerging From the Dark (screen name) writes:

There is a saying in my 12 step group “hurt people, hurt people” ...

In the comments section of this article on surviving the silent treatment, I found this by Invicta (screen name), which I thought summed up how abusers use the silent treatment:

They do the silent treatment thing because A. the biggest "punishment" they can imagine for you is to take themselves away and B. they think it will bring you around to do whatever they want. 1st they manipulate, then manipulate harder, then make veiled threats, and finally punish.

Another comment-er named Lou Lou (screen name) had a good piece of advice too:

Silent treatment from a narcissist means they've figured out you enjoy their attention and they want to punish/hurt you by depriving you. You're supposed to carry on and beg to talk about it or book counselling or get upset - it proves they hurt you, and it proves (to them) that they are better than you because you're an emotional weakling.

But if you don't respond the way they expect, then you're not accepting your punishment, and they will move on to different behaviours to get at you.

The best you can do is learn to love the peacefulness that comes with being given the cold-shoulder.

From the article itself was this piece of advice:

... remind yourself that it is a weapon that is being used against you. It is not real, it is a head game – psychological warfare, if you will. Simply refuse to respond.

How they come out of their silent treatment portends how the relationship will go. Do they blame you and insist that you apologize to them? Or do they apologize? Realize that narcissists can sometimes fake apologies in order to keep you in a cycle of abuse where they seduce you back (which is called hoovering), all in order to abuse you again, and again.

Some people think that they can heal if they fix an abuser's desires to use the silent treatment.

Still others try to see the silent treatment in a soft caring way. They might treat the perpetrator as an unruly child who has had a series of bad days, as someone who is saying they "need a time out."

However, my opinion is that it isn't healthy if the perpetrator is saying anything other than that. If there are words like "You need to be punished," or "You need to learn a lesson", a threat, or using other kinds of blackmailing and abuses, "a time out" is not an acceptable explanation. Totally ignoring your birthdays, graduations, weddings and funerals or important holidays should be interpreted as punishment, i.e. abuse. If other kinds of abuses are being used in tandem with the silent treatment, dealing with the silent treatment in an understanding soft way with a perpetrator is dangerous. If you have any symptoms of trauma or fear it won't work.

But, assuming that the silent treatment is the only abuse being used, the understanding way of dealing with a perpetrator of the silent treatment I found was best expressed by this holistic relationship counselor (Herb, MD) in her post:

There are many ways to deal with conflict in relationships. Effective communication is the key to resolving differences between two parties. Each has their own point of view which may have validity ...

... The silent treatment is a form of communication. It may be an unpopular form for us, the recipient, but it can be quite effective. Our partner is communicating their feelings quite clearly. Their non-verbal message says,"Do what I want" clear as a bell. It says something else as well. It says, "I am unwilling to listen to your opinion, negotiate or compromise".

This extended period of silence is a form of emotional blackmail ...

... It is difficult to deal with emotional blackmail. The silent treatment may cause bitterness and resentment over time as partners build walls instead of bridges ...

...During times when all is calm and we feel centered, we can lovingly set a boundary with our partner that is comfortable for us regarding the time we will tolerate silence. We then enforce that boundary by detaching when our partner becomes silent. We lovingly let them know that we are going to take care of ourselves and enjoy our time without them. They can contact us by telephone when they are again ready to speak. We reinforce that we are not angry and that we look forward to seeing them again when they feel better.


If the silent treatment is long, being used primarily to punish, shut you out and shut you up, and to belittle you (i.e. that you are "nothing" to them), the symptoms you may feel may be the ones associated with PTSD or C-PTSD.

As I have stated in this blog post and this blog post, most victims end up wanting the silent treatment when it has gone on for too long or there have been too many cycles of it! That is overwhelmingly the attitude in most forums. Why? Because most people feel absolute disgust about their perpetrators once they have given themselves seven months to a year to get over them. Grieving typically takes about seven months ... it can take a little longer if a spouse, parent or children are involved, but it still won't go on forever.

Why do victims eventually feel disgust? Disgust is a natural reaction to aggressive tyrannical ignorant reckless behavior and destruction.

Most perpetrators come to the conclusion that their victims are flawed through erroneous blaming: i.e. that look on your face, you didn't thank them and praise them enough, you didn't follow their directions and instructions, you didn't entertain them enough, you were sad when they expected you to be happy, you weren't who they thought you were and should be somebody more ideal, you weren't pretty enough, you weren't talented enough, you speak up too much (whistle blower), and so on. Almost all perpetrators use erroneous blaming as an excuse to abuse (see my post on erroneous blaming and erroneous punishments coming soon).

At any rate, the silent treatment sends the message that none of your good qualities matter because you are dead to them and have no importance. You could be going through the greatest joy or the greatest tragedy of your life, and the perpetrator is conspicuously absent, and what ever you are going through isn't important to them regardless. You cease to exist in their minds. What they want overwhelms their whole perspective of the situation; what you want does not even cross their minds. The overwhelming number of abusers want real-life marionettes.

So, it is natural to feel disgust. In a way, it is your body and mind's way of keeping you safe from any more abuse (much the way a soldier who is being shot at by the enemy might look upon his enemies as vile).

Have you ever had that "sick-to-my-stomach" feeling when you are around a person? It is your body's way of saying "Ew! This person makes me sick!" Soldiers in combat often feel it too. It is part of the stress hormone kicking in, telling you that you are in a dangerous situation.

So the first part of healing from abuse is listening to your own body and mind telling you that you need to run like hell away from the abuse.  

If your enemy is an abuser with narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder (many abusers have cluster B personality disorders) and catches on that you don't want him in your life, that he is revolting to you, that you don't want to have dinner with him, or share holidays, or be together in any way, he is not above punishing you for it even though it may make you feel even more disgust than you already feel.

While some abusers move on to another victim without a thought or care in the world, most do not. They wait on the sidelines for reactions. They want (desperately!) for your pining! And if they can't have that, they want your suffering.

Why would a perpetrator still want a relationship with a victim he treats as a non-existence? Hasn't the victim been told "you're a waste, or a nothing" so many times by the silence of the abuse? If she (the victim) isn't desirable, why would an abuser even want her around at all? It doesn't make sense to a sane rational person, does it? Why would he want you to suffer more if you are worthless to him? He shouldn't care, right? So what is the point? The message has been that he doesn't want you, and so you give him the message that that is fine not to want you, that you don't want him either, so why won't he just leave the door closed?

But that's how normal people think. They respect the words "no more." Nope, a sociopath or narcissist will not respect that. They usually think they are too special to be revolting and rejected. They don't believe it anyway. At best they say, "That's not a nice thing to say!" putting the lack of politeness back onto their victim.

The reason abusers punish victims who reject them is that they have no respect for boundaries; they don't care what their victims want, think or say. Most abusers want power and control, even if you have made it clear that they won't have power and control over you. They try desperately to brainwash you or beat you down in some way, or to divert it to guilt trips, to think like a slave, to be afraid of them, to work hard for them, to be sweet and say, "Yes, massa."

And so if you want an abuser out of your life, the abuser will try to control that too, by not giving you what you want: the power to say no to them. They know that the only way to get control is by crashing through your boundary. If they can't plead with you and talk you out of walking away, then they go back to their usual attack and revenge fantasies and way of life. Either they wail and scream and cry, or they comply with something to get their foot in your door, or they go on the attack. They rarely stay neutral. So putting up a boundary and expecting them to respect it can become a victim's nightmare. Some abusers respect the law; many of them don't.

Think of the child sex molester. Do you think that if the child tells the sex offender that he or she finds him revolting and creepy that he'll stop sexually abusing? Do you think if the child says, "No. You aren't going to touch me again" that the molester will respect the child's wishes and boundaries about that? Of course not! A child sex molester isn't even respecting the law!

Most abusers punish their victims when their victims put up resistance as a way to get them to cave in. Abuse is a tool to get victims to comply with abusers. It is no different than a master whipping his slave, except the weapons might be different. Sexual abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse and physical abuse are used for one thing: to get the victim to comply with abusers demands and agendas.

Using the slave analogy, do you think slaves liked being browbeaten and tortured? Do you think they fell for guilt trips about how much their masters did for them? Do you think they found abuse desirable? No!

But a lot of abusers believe that victims are compliant because they enjoy abuse! Sex offenders included! Many fantasize that their victims endlessly desire them. As with a rapist, they think that when a victim says "no" that his victim really doesn't mean it at all, that the real message behind the resistance is "yes". That's why most abusers are narcissists! They can't fathom that people aren't admiring them, that people aren't wanting them back again, that people would do anything for them.

So the first part of healing from the silent treatment is to get away from the abuser. As with the child who is trying to escape his molester, or the slave who is trying to escape his abusive master, it has to be done carefully and stealthily.

It is easier to make an escape with someone giving you the silent treatment because an abuser doesn't know your movements. They have decided that the best message of their abuse is that they could care less about you and your movements throughout life.

Most escapes are done by tricking abusers. A victim of physical abuse might put a bunch of pillows in his bed and take off during the middle of the night. A child who doesn't want to be hunted by his sexual molester might not take a shower for days, or pretend he has a contagious disease, or find a way to hide scrunched up in small places when the abuser is prowling.

And so most victims of the silent treatment use the silence to their advantage. The typical story I see in many forums where parents are giving the silent treatment to their grown children, for instance, is that the grown children use the silence and the opportunity to get away from the abusive parent by packing up and moving clear across the country, or overseas, without a goodbye, or a clue as to where their new home is. They get a PO box (note: most parents who give the silent treatment to their children practice other forms of abuse and control too; they are also known to meddle and triangulate in their grandchildren's lives, which is another reason why a move is often necessary: to keep grandchildren away from their toxic grandparents).

If you want to trick them into keeping the silent treatment going, all you have to do is to convince them that their silent treatment is working at keeping you hurt still (even though it might not be true at all -- but that keeps them happy, as sick as it is ... predatory abusive immoral people without empathy who are out to hurt you do not deserve the truth about your feelings, what you are going through, or what your plans are). You can keep this game going until his lust for abusing you in this way has waned, by which time you have gotten him out of your life with the best plan you could devise. It's all about safety!

If an underage child is being given the silent treatment by a parent or legal guardian, contact Child Protective Services in your area. Emotional abuses like the silent treatment most often coincide with other forms of abuse. Most habitual users of the silent treatment will escalate to other forms of abuse sooner or later, and especially if the perpetrator doesn't think their present abuses are working.

What is different about the silent treatment than other forms of abuse is that it is social isolation. Most likely, the abuser has enlisted others to partake in isolating you too. Partner, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and inlaws are used to enforce keeping you as their reviled scapegoat. You may feel like committing suicide because all of these people believe you are junk too. It is like you are alone in a desert screaming your head off about the injustice, and no one is there to hear you. You are all alone.

But the real reason, it seems to me, for feeling suicidal is that your psyche is rebelling against the abuse by telling you to run away from it. If you feel you can't run away from it, perhaps your mind settles on suicide as a way out. Maybe the abuser has told you so many times that you are such a nothing without his *fake* care, *fake* concern and support, that you won't survive if you run away. But, the truth is, unless you are experiencing false imprisonment or kidnapping, you are capable of getting out of your situation. Victims who manage to plan an escape, and set themselves free, can find their suicidal thoughts subsiding. Empowerment and figuring out a plan to get away from an abuser is the best antidote to being abused.

So after you make your escape, in order to heal further from estrangement and isolation, you have to build a community for yourself from the bottom up. The best way I have found of doing this is through self help groups, group therapy, and deepening relationships with people who are NOT part of the abuser's circle. If you are shunned by your family, developing relationships with distant relatives, or relatives who are shunned too, is a way to make a new family. You can also put more time into relationships with your inlaws. It is here where you might be able to tell your story and actually be listened to (but you still have to be careful and take a lot of time to trust).

While the abusers in your family might buck, protest and reject further in order to try to control who you relate to, pay no attention to their protests. Remember: it is their agenda to isolate you, and make you suffer if they can't control you. Trying to control who you relate to and who you want to talk to is all part of it. Remember also: they want to keep you in the desert, screaming in pain at all of the isolation and injustice they have put you through, as if you'll agree to be in that state forever just for them. Say no to it all.

We are social animals and we are meant to be with others. We are also animals that seek health, well being, real love, and justice, and what better way to do that than to get a different side of the story from other victims who have suffered the same fate from the same kind of relationship you were discarded from.

I have met many victims who adopted each other as their real family.

A lot of victims find their first solace in on-line forums. When there is no one to talk to at one in the morning, on-line forums give you great access to a world of other victims, information about abuse and stories of how victims escaped. You will not only find that you are not alone, but that abuse is a huge problem facing far too many people. It is a national epidemic. So much pain, isolation and suffering! And all for what!?

Most victims go through years and years of therapy too. It is too difficult for most victims of abuse to deal with the symptoms they are having (see my post on C-PTSD and the silent treatment ... I am also working on a post about the psychological and physical effects of abuse so keep your eyes open for that too).

As with any enslaved minority, it is up to victims of abuse to gather together, start a movement, bring awareness to the problem, and to protest. If we do it in numbers and support anti-bullying programs and legislature, then perhaps we can all have a better chance at not being victims. If one person informs many people that the silent treatment is a form of domestic abuse, then people are not as likely to use the silent treatment. Why? Because then they are labeled as abusers, a stigma many people don't want to have.

A lot of victims end up in political meetings and causes. It is here you can rebel against injustice and tyranny.

Healing from the silent treatment can be difficult in terms of knowing where to put your anger. The silent treatment is a great deal about the perpetrator trying to shut you up and shut you out, so the first thing you feel like doing is getting angry about it and talking, and following them around to be heard. It is a natural impulse which doesn't usually work because most perpetrators shut you up and shut you out more. They like their weapon and they're going to continue to use it! 

Underage child victims sometimes deal with the silent treatment by taking out their anger on things in their bedroom like throwing things around or screaming, hoping someone will hear them, or they work at refining plans to run away. Teenagers will sometimes take it out on themselves by cutting, self mutilating, researching and planning a suicide, or spend a great deal more time with friends than with their family, or they seek out families who show more compassion and warmth. The message to the parent is that if "you treat me as a non-existence, then I will cease to exist for you by taking myself out of your life, one way or another."

At any rate, most children who were on the receiving end of parental silent treatments do not like their parents, do not regard them as good parents or good people, and do not like being around their parents. What is more, parents who gave their children the silent treatment more than once are often permanently shut out of the children's lives. Some children feel guilty for rejecting their parents because it perpetuates the problem: "You have rejected me, so now I reject you", which keeps the rejection going on and on and on and on. But most therapists who specialize in abuse tell their clients, "You do not owe anything to someone who abuses you with a long silent treatment. They chose abuse for their part of resolving a conflict with you. It is very childish of them and it doesn't take into consideration what you want, how you feel or how it is effecting you. They know they are hurting you and they don't care -- all perpetrators of the silent treatment know they are hurting their victims and they send a very clear message that they want to be cold-hearted and sadistic about it! Relationships are about compromise, and talking things out, and consideration for others, and trying to understand your perspective; they aren't about teaching you hurtful lessons. A person who doesn't care about their spouse or their child, shouldn't be in relationships; they don't deserve relationships. Deny them the chance of using any more silent treatments to resolve conflicts with you by walking away. Giving into this blackmail perpetuates abuse."

You'll have to agree that this makes a lot of sense. Once you get to a point where you will not work with, reason or deal with anyone who uses the silent treatment on you, whether that be your parent, a spouse or a sibling, then you are open to more healthy relationships. That is how you get love into your life, not with pleading with abusers, but by saying NO! to all forms of abuse and only accepting non-abusive solutions and resolutions, and non-abusive people. By doing this, you are opening your door only to people with the real hearts, good intentions and compassion.

Many counselors who specialize in abuse advise their clients to meet people, starting with group therapy and self help groups like Alanon, ACOA and CoDA, and branching out from there into clubs, classes, politics, organizations, anything that sparks your interest. Indeed, self help groups alone can keep you out most nights of the week. The great thing about self help groups is that they don't typically attract perpetrators (perpetrators can't self reflect, and they tend to look down their noses at people who go to self help groups, an almost sure-fire way of avoiding any more abusive people and relationships). Indeed, four of the twelve steps in a twelve-step program are:

"4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."
"8. Make a list of all persons we harm, and become willing to make amends to them all."
"9. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."
"10. Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admit it."

Nope, I just can't see any perpetrator of a long punishing silent treatment over a criticism, or "a look on your face", even tolerating these steps, let alone following them. For the un-initiated, the steps are recited every week, and many people in group talk about how they are struggling with the steps in their every day lives, or how they are applying them, or how they are thinking about them. Most meetings end with the Serenity Prayer.

However, I have come to believe that if everyone followed the twelve steps in their affairs, starting as children, abuse might not be such a scourge. If we are not capable of following these steps, we may not deserve relationships, or deserve relationships that are healthy.

One thing I have found: if you choose to hang out with doves (like the wonderful people you meet in these groups), do not make the mistake of thinking (as I did) that you can be a dove in a crowd of crocodiles. Doves flock together, and one dove does best in a family with other doves, and does best in a marriage with another dove.  Doves can make noise together high over the crocodile pond, but most crocodiles will not want to be a dove any more than a dove will want to be a crocodile. It is just the way it is.

The point of telling your story to a lot of people is that when other doves hear you, they will comfort you, they will flock around you and say: "This is my story too. This is what I'm trying to do with my story. This is who I want to become as a result of my story." Telling your story to crocs will probably only result in a continuation of: "Don't you understand what the silent treatment means!? It means I am not listening to you; you don't exist!!" -- among other things. Remember: a person who gives you the silent treatment doesn't care what your story is: your story is dead to them. They will only get off on the fact that you are an innocent dove who is pleading and crying with them to adopt peace and love and be moral in their responses to you: "Sure little dove! Just say it a little closer! *CHOMP, CHOMP, CHOMP*!"

But an overwhelming majority of doves can work together to fence in the crocodiles to keep them from eating any more doves.

Anywhere that you can use your voice with reasonable people will help your cause and the cause of domestic abuse. Just as Martin Luther King could sway fair-minded ethical people, it is possible to do it with domestic abuse too. My feeling is that every survivor should let as many people know as possible what it looks like, what it sounds like, and how to stop it.  

A lot of victims of abuse end up in the arts where they can express themselves freely. This runs counter to what abusers want, which is to control what a victim has to say, or to keep him quiet. A lot of significant art has come out of expressing what abuse is like, and the more everyone talks about abuse, the more unpopular and revolting it becomes in the nation's consciousness. Then it is the abusers who become isolated, and become regarded like the throw-back ignoramuses that they really are: reviled like the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazi party and the slave owners of yesteryear U.S. south.

Resource:

This post by Janice Harper PhD in the magazine Psychology Today interviews Kipling Williams who has studied the silent treatment (ostracism) for a couple of decades. She writes about how victims can heal from being ostracized using William's advice on the matter:

What, then, can targets do? In addition to the obvious suggestions of find social support elsewhere, get a pet or bond with the one you do have, and remind yourself of your strengths, Williams points to an unexpected action: become decisive. By becoming decisive in small matters outside the shunning environment, such as choosing which movie to go to with your partner, targets feel a small sense of control. The more a person who is ostracized takes control of their life in small matters, the more confident they will feel in their social world.

“There are many ways to get a sense of control. One is to become aggressive and violent, but that’s not a very good way to be in control. But you can gain control through being decisive and directing your course through knowing what you’re going to do and what’s going to be helpful to you.”

But the most important thing is to maintain bonds with people. “Social support, I think, is probably the number one thing; you don’t need to have a ton of friends . . . what you really need is one or two people. . . just form strong social bonds somewhere and then you can distance yourself [from the ostracizers] a little bit ...

... And that’s something that targets of shunning need to remember. No matter how awful it is, there is always something to look forward to, and that is the world beyond the ostracizers. Make no mistake, shunning is not a noble act. It is an act of aggression, and can be every bit as damaging, if not deadly, to the person who is targeted—and it damages those who engage in shunning, because the longer they maintain it, the harder it is to end it. So if you’ve been a member of the crowd shunning a person who failed to please your leader, rethink your “non-actions” and reach out to the person you’ve erased and are so painfully hurting. And if you are a person who has been shunned, don’t turn to your ostracizers for approval. Move on to a kinder, gentler environment, where you are valued, and treated with the humanity you deserve.

This blog tells how to get out of the silent treatment pattern.

This video is helpful in learning how to move beyond people who use abusive tactics (like the silent treatment), how to keep safe and exit:


The Serenity Prayer:

Friday, September 18, 2015

The silent treatment and complex PTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder)

name of art: "This is Your Brain on C-PTSD"
image is © Lise Winne
cartoon, 2015
(for questions regarding use of images or to contract an image for your next article
contact: LilacGroveGraphics (att) yahoo.com)

(Note, this blog is part of a series:
*The first post is The Silent Treatment is Abuse!,
*The second one is this post, The Silent Treatment and Complex PTSD,
*The third post is about Healing from the Silent Treatment)

As a Mandated Reporter for the State of New York, I am required by law to report signs of child abuse.

One of the biggies of child abuse detection is a parent giving a child the silent treatment or isolating a child away from family and/or friends for days, weeks or months. Another red flag is if the isolation of the child is being used as a punishment.

Make no mistake about it, long isolation periods that go on longer than a day or are repeatedly used for punishments are not "time-outs"; they are abuse.

The general rule for using a time-out is to apply the child's age as a gauge: for a 4 year old, the time-out should be no longer than 4 minutes, for a child of five, the time-out should be no longer than 5 minutes and so on. Time-outs should only be used to cool down (i.e. to decrease anger and rage in yourself or your child so that you can talk rationally about the issues that produced the conflict).

Time-outs should not be used to hurt a child, ever. Any time-out should also have a time-limit, i.e. "I will talk to you in ____ minutes."

Children who are repeatedly isolated and given the silent treatment can and do develop C-PTSD.

Ostracizing a child should never be practiced if you want a future relationship with your child. It is a relationship killer. Ostracized members of families feel like they don't belong to their families, that they are different (that's the reason they see themselves as black sheep: they don't fit in with the white sheep). They are not comfortable with their family, and what is more, they find their anxiety levels rising markedly when they are around their family. They find no comfort, no belonging, no support, no validation as a member, from their family. If a child experiences any form of severe trauma in the form of abuse from a parent or sibling, the child will always have some form of apprehension and pain relating to his family on some level. His family becomes a reminder of the pain he endured. This is especially true if other family members are used in the pursuit of ostracizing your child.

Like a family of crows that has lost one of their members to a hunter, the crows will avoid the hunter, as well as the field where the shooting took place. Humans also avoid people who hurt them and they generally do not like to go to places where they might be hurt again, or triggered (i.e. where it reminds them of the abuse). The more severe the trauma, and the longer the pain lasts, the more the avoidance behavior is set (permanent) in the victim when it comes to contact with their perpetrator.

When I talk about the silent treatment in this post, I am referring to prolonged silent treatments; i.e. silent treatments that go on for more than a day, or a few days, or are repeatedly used in order to bend someone to your will, in a close personal relationship.

A close personal relationship is defined as parent to child, child to parent, spouse to spouse, domestic partner to domestic partner and sibling to sibling.  Long time close friends who share a lot of intimate details of their lives and who spend time together one on one are also considered to be a close personal relationship.

From my own observations from being around hundreds of victims of abuse and from reading thousands of posts in abuse forums from victims of narcissistic silent treatments, is that the majority of the population finds they cannot tolerate relationships where they are subjected to the silent treatment (at all), especially if their perpetrators continually use it in conflict resolution, or prolong it over weeks, months or years.  It is also clear that most victims abandon perpetrators of the silent treatment.

Some terminology is in order here: narcissistic silent treatments are a prolonged silent treatment designed to punish the victim, usually over a slight or criticism, and they usually last a couple of weeks to a couple of months, though they can last for years or an entire life time. It is a form of abuse (psychological abuse designed to wear down a victim and get the victim to feel guilty, and emotional abuse designed to play on a victim's self esteem. The message is: "You're dead to me").

Silent treatments are almost always used in tandem with other kinds of abuse. All abuse tends to escalate, becoming more and more unbearable for the victim.

Victims of punishing silent treatments usually develop a particular kind of PTSD that is a bit different from other forms of it. As Pete Walker, therapist, author and director of a counseling center stated in this article, child victims of C-PTSD

... had suffered extreme emotional neglect: the kind of neglect where no caretaker was ever available for support, comfort or protection. No one liked them, welcomed them, or listened to them. No one had empathy for them, showed them warmth, or invited closeness. No one cared about what they thought, felt, did, wanted, or dreamed of. Such trauma victims learned early in life that no matter how hurt, alienated, or terrified they were, turning to a parent would actually exacerbate their experience of rejection.

The child who is abandoned in this way experiences the world as a terrifying place. I think about how humans were hunter-gatherers for most of our time on this planet—the child's survival and safety from predators during the first six years of life during these times depended on being in very close proximity to an adult. Children are wired to feel scared when left alone, and to cry and protest to alert their caretakers when they are. But when the caretakers turn their backs on such cries for help, the child is left to cope with a nightmarish inner world—the stuff of which emotional flashbacks are made.


Indeed, chronic silent treatments are abandonment. The victim's feelings, thoughts, experiences and dreams do not matter in the relationship. A long silent treatment is different from physical abuse in that it sends a different message. With physical abuse, the message is: I want to hurt you; I want you to be afraid of me; I want you to have bruises, scabs, scars and to feel tortured in some way. With a long silent treatment, the message is: I want to hurt you; I want you to be afraid of me; I don't care if you survive; I don't care about who you become or who you were in the past; I don't care about what you have to say or what your perspective is; I don't care if we have a relationship or whether I ever see you again; I don't care if you are hurt by this or of any kind of pain you experience in life; I don't care about what happens in your life whether good or bad; I don't love you; I don't care about any future births, deaths, weddings, funerals, awards, holidays, birthdays, graduations, new jobs, new friends, new learning experiences, moves to a different location, etc. The silent treatment sends the message that you are "worthless, a nobody" to the person who instigated it, whereas physical abuse tends more often than not to send a message that you are "somebody, but not much more important than a horse or a dog that needs to get whipped in order to make it comply."

Unlike physical scars that heal, the silent treatment wound stays with the victim day in and day out until the victim forges other meaningful relationships. Sometimes if the abuser shows mercy relatively early in the process, change is possible (but not too likely -- I discuss why in my post about How Dangerous is My Abuser).

In relationships where the perpetrator is a parent giving his child the silent treatment, the abuse usually is preceded by a lot of verbal abuse. Name-calling is used to separate the victim from the rest of his family (scapegoating). As with physical abuse, the point is to declare the victim sub-human, so the verbal abuse often includes comparing the victim to subhuman or animal species. As in Nazi Germany, once someone is deemed to be subhuman, the justification for abuse consumes the family agenda. Families use words like stupid, smelly, vile, crazy, useless, worthless, rat, goon, snake; their hate continually pours out onto the victim and increases in intensity. Victims are reviled no matter what their response is. What they say is interpreted in a dark way. In desperate situations, perpetrators will say the victim "looks disgusting" (as a way to further the agenda of being sub-human). Additionally almost all abusers use the "ungrateful" phrase, and seek to punish victims over interpreted feelings, thoughts, or "that look on your face". The point is to always interpret body and facial language in a dark way (erroneous blaming).

As abuse escalates to other forms of abuse (which at the very least usually includes slander), the symptoms of C-PTSD can become chronic, sometimes to the point where the victim becomes totally silent. C-PTSD from being the family scapegoat can be so severe and disabling that the scapegoat almost always feels better when he is away from his family. At the point where he realizes he has no voice, no justice, where he is living in a constant state of hypervigilence is when he begins to separate from his family.

An adult will exit by removing himself from the family and setting boundaries.

Children are a different matter, and the dependency on the adult has a great impact on the child's psychological welfare.  Some children react by keeping quiet, shutting down, being still and not interacting with the family. This can exacerbate abuse, as narcissistic perpetrators, in particular, have been known to interpret depression and shutting down in their victims as rejection and criticism (narcissists punish if they feel criticized or rejected). Some children react by making elaborate plans to run away, or ways to commit suicide. Some children react to isolation by play-acting with dolls or through creativity. Some children react by destroying their toys or furniture. Some children have revenge fantasies. Each child is different, but the danger is when the child shuts down altogether, or kills himself. He is likely to have terrible school grades too (Amygdala Hijacking).

(more on the recovery process in the next post of the series)

In relationships where a partner is using the silent treatment against another partner, the point of the silent treatment is the same except the stronger message is "you are no longer lovable, desirable, sexy, and you don't matter to me". If the abuser is a narcissist, further punishment may come in the form of an extra-marital affair.

From my own observations, when victims realize that they are in an abusive relationship, they react to it in the following way: shock -- grieving -- hypervigilence -- laying low and pretending to keep compliant while planning an escape -- separation from the abuser -- being hoovered back in by the abuser at least once (but only if it happens in the first three months of separation) -- honeymoon with the perpetrator -- after the perpetrator starts feeling accepted by the victim, starts getting demanding, furious and snippy again -- abuses again, round and round until ...

The victim breaks the cycle: permanent separation; all hoovers are rejected by the victim, no matter how desperate the perpetrator is -- surety about separating from the abuser, but a few doubts now and then; some grieving -- finding other victims to talk to, research, therapy, self help groups, focusing on practical matters and surviving; self esteem is built back up again -- feels increasingly disgusted with the abuser; has no desire to be around abuser; feels stupid for falling for abuser's lines -- abuser no longer is the focus of attention in the victim's life -- stops thinking about the abuser unless there are triggers (reminders, continued relationships with people who knew the abuser, seeing someone on a street that looks like the abuser).

This isn't always the script. Sometimes the silent treatment is permanent because the abuser finds someone more perfect (usually someone the abuser feels will make a better sycophant).

So who is most vulnerable to C-PTSD? People who have disabilities and are financially dependent on the abuser, the old, and child victims are most vulnerable.

Child victims can be the most vulnerable because they cannot understand why they are abused. Abuse becomes normalized. They are the most likely to believe that they deserve abuse, especially if it comes from a parent. They have no other resource for their self esteem, so they grow up feeling that they are bad (even when they aren't: see my post on erroneous blaming). They feel they have to take injustice and abuse to survive in the family system. Their screams for justice most often fall on deaf ears because abusers have been known to rewrite reality to suit their own needs. Besides, doling out injustice is a sure-fire way to let a child know that the parent is in charge of everything at all times and will supersede any perception the child has, including making sure the child knows that the parent is in charge of defining or redefining the truth and doling out harsh judgments if the child doesn't go along with it. The child victim is talked into being crazy if he believes in any other version than the altered one of his parent (this is called gaslighting and it is typical in households with a personality disordered parent ... People with personality disorders make up the huge majority of the nation's abusers -- see my post here about that).

But why don't all children in an abusive household get C-PTSD?

There is a good reason for that. An abusive parent with a personality disorder like narcissism typically has a golden child who she (or he) favors and feels can do no wrong, and a scapegoat who she disfavors and feels can do no right. The scapegoated child or children are the most likely to be saddled with C-PTSD. Everything that goes wrong is seen as the scapegoat's fault and the narc mother talks all of her children into looking at the situation that way. Thus, it is typical for the scapegoat to be bullied by the whole family.

An underage scapegoat cannot escape unless social services catches on. There are clues about abuse, even if there are no bruises and the child is reluctant to talk about his family environment. If social services does their job right, there is either counseling for every member or the child is taken out of the home with a chance at a better life.

Be aware that emotional abuse (of which the silent treatment is just one among a whole arsenal of emotional abuses), is now illegal in Great Britain for parent to child relationships, and spouse to spouse relationships.

If the abuse goes undetected, C-PTSD can become a permanent condition: the child shuts down involuntarily when there are triggers or stress. Shutting down is the brain's way of protecting itself from chronic pain; this is why it is involuntary. The amygdala and hippocumpus are the parts of the brain effected. Looking depressed and spacey, hunched and rocking back and forth, disassociating (becoming unresponsive in conversations, not reacting to stimuli, looking icily stunned), having nightmares which keep the family up at night, not being engaged when the rest of the family is having fun, unable to focus or complete tasks in an appropriate amount of time (because the fight or flight parts of the brain are always activated) is all used as an excuse to abuse further.

And what punishment is used? More isolating of the victim! Most child victims learn not to protest injustice, which leads to more trauma responses: being withdrawn, distracted, anxious and quiet. All of the scapegoat's concerns are branded as inconsequential and ignored. The victim is treated as though they are a deranged freak of nature that needs to be caged. Even the other siblings are taught to view him in this way. He is often bullied by the other members of the family every time he has a healthy reaction. The unspoken rules for narcissistic and alcoholic families are "don't trust, don't feel and don't talk." In all altercations between siblings, the golden is seen as always right whereas the scapegoat is seen as always wrong.

The abusive parent often refers to the family scapegoat as "difficult", "a little crazy" with the intent of getting everyone to feel deeply concerned for the parent who has this wacky dreamy child, instead of for the child! It is an abuser's dream, especially someone with narcissistic personality disorder! They feel completely absolved and love the attention they are getting, while the punishments of their child deepen with no repercussion! Party on, right?

Furthermore, studies have shown that a family scapegoat is more likely than other kids to be bullied in school. This is because school bullies pick up on the aura of insecurity and the loner status of the scapegoated family member. Sometimes, the scapegoat child tries to commit suicide to get out of his seemingly hopeless situation.

So, how does the golden child get to be so favored and in charge?

For being easy. For mimicking his parent (which the parent takes as the highest form of flattery). For entertaining his parents every whim and wish. He is less sensitive and knows how to hold back tears (narcissistic parents are known for feeling insulted and infuriated if their children cry, especially over injustice -- they take a child's tears as a sign that the child is trying to tell them they are a less than a perfect parent; this is how twisted a parent's disorder can be: they can't take even a hint of complaint or criticism!).

The isolating and toxicity can reach epic proportions as demonstrated by the Kornegay family of Gainesville, Florida. In that family, the fifteen year old girl scapegoat is locked in her bedroom for up to seven months with no furniture, no books, nothing except a blanket and a bucket to pee in. She is abused verbally, emotionally, physically and sexually by her golden child brother and next door neighbor uncle and sent to her room if she protests how she is treated, or if the golden tells his parents she is misbehaving. Since she is locked up most of the time, she is often neglected and forgotten by the family, so, since narcissistic families always need a scapegoat on hand at all times, her younger eleven year old sister starts to get scapegoated too, and sexually abused by the same brother. Eventually the two sisters team up together, and find a tragic ending to their scapegoat status and the family as they knew it.

Although this family is an extreme case, families that scapegoat head in this direction of extreme isolation, adopting similar attitudes and practices to the Kornegay family inch by inch, and year over year.

When the scapegoat becomes an adult and leaves the family, he (or she) is often relieved. It is rare for scapegoats to have significant contact with their families unless they are worn down by a constant hoover. Having any contact at all, or even seeing their abuser out on a street can trigger the trauma and make the brain respond in an extreme way, with everyday life becoming debilitating again. If you read my last post, I stated that most victims eventually prefer to keep the silent treatment going, and some make sure it is permanent by moving away and not telling their perpetrators where they are going.

There are times when scapegoats may ask for assistance from their family. There may be desperate times such as a medical crises or just when they have left home at 18 years of age. They are often denied or there is a huge price to pay for an inconsequential amount of money! Abuse forums are full of stories of parents who offer no financial or familial support when their child becomes desperately ill, or when he turns 18, a grueling experience of extreme poverty and deprivation that most families do not put their children through.

But, if scapegoats can rise above their poverty, and their scapegoat status, especially if they can stay away from abusers, they are much, much happier out of their families than in them. They blossom. They often take big chances and do important work. They can become very successful. Why? Because they all know they have to be successful to stay out of their traumatizing toxic families!

The reason they become scapegoats is because they do not tolerate their family's ludicrous punishments ("You are being punished for not being grateful for that 10 dollar school activity fee" and other forms of erroneous punishing). They tend to talk to outsiders about their family. They tend to fight or take flight; i.e. they don't just take abuses lying down. The ability to forge in another direction and fight against tyranny is also why they tend to be more successful than their siblings who remain behind to dance to the family game.

The longer they stay away from their families, the more their PTSD symptoms subside, the more productive they can be.

Except ... just at the point of success, this is when many abusive narcissistic parents find they want to re-establish a relationship with their child after all (with tears and apologies and a "won't go away until I show you how much I appreciate you" attitude).

Except beware: it can be a ruse! Remember: they haven't forsaken the silent treatment as a weapon. They haven't recognized your feelings. They haven't done anything to work on better conflict resolution skills. If they refused to go to therapy, it is because they didn't want to look or talk about their abusive ways.

The real motivation is often that the abusive parent can't have a successful scapegoat! What will people think?!? Oh, no!!! All of these people have been told that this child is a crazy, deranged animal that had to be locked up in childhood, and forsaken, to keep the family functioning and happy! So the parent, in the guise of being helpful, tries to get in the child's life to meddle. "This success story has to be dismantled! We can't have this!" they think. So they often try to get the scapegoat back into form by giving lots of mendacious advice, which is in the guise of being helpful, but which more often than not are bad recommendations, a set-up for failure, a trap for co-dependency even if that reliance on the parent only entails "you need my advice".

If the scapegoat has a stroke of bad luck with his success, the parent can act gleeful, like a predator, in for the kill! The silent treatments and all manners of abuse and co-bullies come out yet again!

Back to the debilitating symptoms of C-PTSD!

I have talked about why the silent treatment is abuse in my prior post here, but if I had to sum up the post, I would say that the silent treatment is abuse because, like any other form of abuse, PTSD or C-PTSD is often the end result for victims.

As author of the popular self help book How to Do No Contact Like a Boss, Kim Saeed said in this post about the silent treatment:

Psychologists consider the silent treatment a form of abuse. It’s a popular form of mental torture used by Narcissists, whereby they cut their victims off by not talking to them for extended periods of time ... The Narcissist uses silent treatment as an aggressive measure of control and punishment for something his or her partner did; a sadistic form of “time-out”, ostracizing the victim as motivation for them to behave. It is the ultimate form of devaluation, causing its target to feel voiceless, alone, dismissed, negated as a person; invisible.

Most people consider the silent treatment to be both cruel and an extremely childish reaction to conflict on the part of the abuser. This is what is taught in anti-bullying seminars to school children too. It is one of the poorest ways to resolve issues, and actually makes the conflict impossible to resolve the longer it goes on, destroying the relationship in the process.  

Why does it destroy relationships? You can't trust people who abuse you. Ever. Once there is no trust in a relationship, what do you have? Small talk with high anxiety.

The message from a narcissistic abuser in terms of sharing a relationship with you is that you don't matter (only they do), what you say doesn't matter (except to use against you to win), what you want doesn't matter (only what they want), your perspectives and opinions don't matter either (only theirs do), and all of the special days (weddings, funerals, graduations, birthdays) don't matter to them because you need to be punished (because they see you as flawed; in fact in their minds everyone is flawed except them: thus imperfect people need to be beneath them at all times and what better way to do that than to punish -- that is their crazy-making relationship agenda!). So since only they matter in the relationship it is a non-relationship.

Because of your flaw, they believe that you need to be taught a lesson in the guise of getting rid of the flaw. Your purpose in life, as they see it, is to be a real-life marionette until you learn ... except they will make sure you understand that you are never capable of learning their lessons, that it is hopeless, a permanent flaw, because they deem you to be too stupid, which can only be reprimanded through more of their abuse towards you.

What they want most of all is to make sure you understand why they are teaching you lessons and inflicting so much pain on you, to make you concede to them (because in their minds, they know best), to get you flustered and angry, to plead with them to be kinder ... and they desperately seek to squeeze every last bit of it out of you through the silent treatment! It is a totally barbaric dishonorable repulsive one-sided relationship. You are expected to willingly disempower and renounce yourself for the narcissist abuser (their huge jacked up fantasy). 

You will notice that with anyone who uses the silent treatment consistently that when you speak, you will either be talking to a brick wall, or they will desperately try to find a way to twist it, to discredit you, mock you, make you feel indebted, to belittle and berate you, to blame you, to brandish more anger, to get you on the defensive, and demand, and demand, and demand. Many narcissists interrupt your speech too. 

If the silent treatment goes on for more than a couple of months, the message is clear: ostracism is a totally calloused, unfeeling, uncaring response to whatever the issue was that initiated it (and most ostracisms are). The victim comes to a point where he no longer wants to fix a relationship like that. Silent treatments that go on for more than a few months or a year seem pathological; the majority of victims on the receiving end of them don't want to be around a person who has resorted to it.

However, the majority of abusers also instinctively know that victims will be exasperated and finished after a certain amount of time has lapsed. So they tend to stop it within a certain length of time. They know that their victims will reject them for being so cruel and unreasonable. So most perpetrators tend to resort to weeks-long or three-month-long cycles of the silent treatment followed by a hoover and honeymoon period. Most abusers do not intend for a silent treatment to go beyond a two week to three month period of time (something that I gleaned from reading domestic abuse forums). It is obvious that the height of their victims' grieving happens somewhere between two weeks and three months. So the narcissist, knowing that his victim is intensely grieving and vulnerable to reconciliations, comes back like a knight in shining armor to save the day just at the apex of his victim's suffering to comfort (often begging for forgiveness and another chance).

From the hoovering process, the abuser notices that his victim welcomes him with open arms, relieved that the separation wasn't permanent, that the perpetrator understood and really cared about his victim. Alternately, sometimes abusers act as though nothing at all has happened while they were away, that the silence was no big deal, trying to make it seem like you over-reacted instead, misread them, didn't understand what they were really doing, and so on. 

This often works (once). When it becomes a pattern via the wheel of abuse, victims tend to decrease their tolerance of it, and seek ways to get out of the relationship. It can take a few cycles to get there. Perpetrators tend to escalate to more severe forms of punishment or violence at that point, in reaction to their victim's realizations of the cycle. Why? Victims tend to react to abuse by mentally and emotional retreating and shutting down their responses. This tends to infuriate perpetrators.

Anyway, perpetrators know from victim retreat signals that the silent treatment isn't as potent as it once was; i.e. having the same effect as before. To the narcissist abuser, greater punishments than the silent treatment need to be implemented to control an increasingly quiet but seemingly more recalcitrant victim who is becoming weary, disinterested, distant and disgusted. The perpetrator's guilt trips and tried-and-true methods of abuse are no longer working in the same way. Instead of the victim crying, wailing, pleading and in pain, waiting for the knight in shining armor to appear yet again to sweep them off their feet to relieve them of their suffering, the victim is rolling his or her eyes! "How dare they roll their eyes at me! I'll teach them a lesson!" 

So, what about the victim? What does he or she go through when trying to talk the issue over, when trying to plead with the abuser to be recognized and to put aside the silent-abuse tactic to hammer out a solution?

The first thing victims realize is that they aren't being heard and that they won't be heard (usually). The more the victim tries to communicate to the perpetrator, the more punishment and silent treatment he or she receives. But not all of the time. Sometimes the perpetrator might mock, lecture, insult, berate or bully his victim.

The communication breakdown is the first sign that the relationship is being sacrificed for a power and control agenda, meaning the perpetrator is letting you know that he has to get his way, and dominate you, before he will accept any relationship or attempts at reconciliation with you at all.

If it becomes clear that the silent treatment will continue, victims go into a grieving stage, then an anger stage, until they finally accept that the relationship cannot continue and has to end. Acceptance can also mean that the victim initiates the finality.

The finality to the relationship is reached by any of these avenues: the perpetrator has moved on and no longer wants the victim, the victim has moved on and no longer wants the perpetrator, the victim has C-PTSD (is dysfunctional in everyday life because of the abuse) and the symptoms are too severe to continue with the relationship, the victim wants to feel safe from the perpetrator, the abuse or silent treatment has gone on too long or become too much of a pattern with no resolution, the perpetrator refuses to go to counseling to work on a healthier way of communicating and resolving, the victim does not want to be dominated, controlled or abused any more, the victim wants a healthier life surrounded by real love instead of walking on eggshells around an abuser who can explode at any moment over anything and initiate the silent treatments yet again (or other forms of abuse), the victim has become disgusted with the perpetrator and the perpetrator's games, the victim sees no other resolution to the relationship than to end it and put up a boundary that cannot be crossed, and so on.

If the silent treatment is used primarily to punish and silence the victim, the symptoms that victims feel at being shut out, told they are "nothing" by the deafening silence, and ostracized are very often C-PTSD.

I'll tackle what the symptoms of C-PTSD are first.

Out of the Fog is one of the best resources on the web for understanding personality-disordered individuals who resort to abuse and aggression, and how their victims are effected by it. According to Out of the Fog, this is a definition of C-PTSD:

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) - Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychological injury that results from prolonged exposure to social or interpersonal trauma, disempowerment, captivity or entrapment, with lack or loss of a viable escape route for the victim ...

C-PTSD Introduction
C-PTSD What It Feels Like
Differences between C-PTSD & PTSD
C-PTSD Characteristics
C-PTSD Causes
C-PTSD Treatment
C-PTSD Links


Some victims also suffer from Somatization Disorder. According to this wikipedia article on the disorder:

There are many different feedback systems where the mind affects the body; for instance, headaches are known to be associated with psychological factors,[14] and stress and the hormone cortisol are known to have a negative impact on immune functions. This might explain why somatization disorders are more likely in people with irritable bowel syndrome, and why patients with SSD are more likely to have a mood or anxiety disorder.[4] There is also a much increased incidence of SSD in women with a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.[15]
Long term silent treatments and cycle of abuse patterns where silent treatments are repeated, bring out these symptoms in victims:

- feelings of helplessness (not being able to resolve the issue)
- feelings of injustice (especially if the perpetrator used erroneous blaming or blamed you for something you did not do, or withdrew over something narcissistic -- i.e. over a criticism, or because you had to assert your autonomy in some way)
- feelings of dread (because you don't know when the silent treatment will end)
- feelings of alienation (because you don't feel connected any more ... additionally many silent treatment abusers use slander to get more people or a family to ostracize the victim more, using co-bullying to intimidate their victims further)
- feelings of low self esteem and unworthiness (because if this important person doesn't value you, who will?)
- possible feelings of suicide (i.e. "I feel worthless, all alone, the world seems against me, there is no way out")
- not being able to concentrate (because the C-PTSD has hijacked the amygdala part of the brain, making learning, keeping organized and concentrating difficult)
- grieving (because the relationship can never go back to "normal", you will never trust the person again, and you can never have a shred of intimacy with them again because they've made it clear that they are out to hurt you and will use emotional, psychological and/or verbal warfare and torture to do it)
- not being able to trust others (i.e. if you can't trust those closest to you, who are supposed to care about you, who can you trust?)
- feeling shut down to other possible relationships (i.e. fear that others will punish you with the silent treatment as well, fear of predatory abusers, fear that you are too vulnerable to take on other relationships)
- feeling afraid and anxious (if they are willing to negate you, and not care about you, and escalate abuse, what else are they capable of?)
- feeling like a prisoner of their silence (especially if they live with you)
- feeling like you will never be able to trust others (because if you can't trust those closest to you, you probably feel you cannot trust others)
- feeling like you will always be in pain when relating intimately with others (because of an inability to trust, an inability to be treated well by those who have purported to love you in the past, feeling that you are unable to attract a trustworthy person who is above using the silent treatment as a weapon, feeling that if you weren't worthy of a non-abusive response then will you ever be worthy of compassionate responses, on-going feelings of alienation and being punched in the gut)
- stomach issues (fear and flight responses tend to make you not hungry and to lose weight, whereas gnawing constant depression tends to make you eat more and to gain weight)
- headaches (C-PTSD tends to cause sleeplessness and hypervigilence, making you foggy-brained and having a constant dull headache)
- chest pains, palpitations, heartache (stress and PTSD can cause your heart to palpitate and your heart to ache, but see your doctor in case there is something else going on)

As studies have born out, victims of abuse tend to live shorter lives (have less life expectancy) because of struggling with symptoms for long periods of time. If a victim's family has escalated the silent treatment to scapegoating and permanent ostracizing, surviving without familial support can be extremely challenging. Many scapegoats can and do become victims of poverty at some points of their lives, although they also tend to be the ones who can rise out of it more easily too. But until then, victims can be careless about self care and be self-punishing, especially if they don't seek help (not eating right, becoming addicted to substances, not exercising right, letting their physical appearance and home projects slip, going around tense, depressed and afraid, which sends cortisol levels skyrocketing, which in turn compromises the immune system).

According to psychologist Karen Young from this blog post:

The silent treatment, even if it’s brief, activates the anterior cingulate cortex – the part of the brain that detects physical pain. The initial pain is the same, regardless of whether the exclusion is by strangers, close friends or enemies ...

... Paul Schrodt, PhD, Professor of Communication Studies reviewed 74 relationship studies which involved more than 14,000 participants. Paul Schrodt, PhD, Professor of Communication Studies reviewed 74 relationship studies which involved more than 14,000 participants ... Findings from his in-depth analysis revealed that the silent treatment is ‘tremendously’ damaging to a relationship. It decreases relationship satisfaction for both partners, diminishes feelings of intimacy, and reduces the capacity to communicate in a way that’s healthy and meaningful ...

Nobody engages the silent treatment expecting it to damage the relationship, and that’s the danger.

This is why when you are on the receiving end of a bullying tactic like the silent treatment you may want to seek professional help and get into as many self help groups as possible as a way to connect with healthier people and mitigate the pain of being without your old support network. Building new better relationships from the ground up is often the only way to respond to escalating abuse. Healing and connecting with non-toxic people is the best defense and offense against the cold, unfeeling, uncaring, obliterating silent treatment and the people who continually use it.

Just like most wars, abuse is a tragic waste of time and resources. Imagine if your perpetrator used diplomacy instead of the silent treatment! What a better world it would be!

Most people cannot live with the symptoms of C-PTSD. That is why they cannot stay in abusive relationships.

Some resources for further reading:

Symptoms of PTSD

How PTSD effects the brain

A list of all abuse-related conditions (including PTSD)

How emotional abuse including abandonment, shaming ("that look on your face"), scapegoating and familial contempt can create long lasting PTSD in children. This post also looks at children who are already going through a traumatic event and parents who react to it by rejecting, using the silent treatment or exacerbating/manufacturing more trauma (this is how children can develop C-PTSD, a condition which is more difficult to treat than PTSD).

Most victims of narcissistic abuse have some form of PTSD or C-PTSD

Why people with PTSD have trouble learning and can have high anxiety in ordinary situations. This post also covers why abusers (who thrive on fear, panic and terror to achieve what they want from their victims) will have victims with more pronounced symptoms of PTSD the more they abuse. The authors propose that true recovery comes from getting away from the source of the problem (abusers) and being in relationships that offer true altruism, support, trust and on-going commitment to healthy communication and conflict resolution.

How parents react to trauma in a child can determine the severity of PTSD

Child abuse and later PTSD can show significant genetic signature

A woman shares her story of having PTSD over an emotionally abusive relationship and her journey through her feelings

PTSD can make a person go silent completely (become stone-faced)

PTSD is linked to a 60 percent increase of strokes and heart attack in women

PTSD and Somatization Disorder

Researcher Kipling D. Williams is still studying PTSD as it relates to ostracism, and found that ostracism has stages. The resignation stage for the victim typically sets in after a couple of weeks or months (i.e. the victim accepts that he cannot effect the situation, and resorts to accepting life-long ostracism). He found that moderate use of marijuana can relieve some of the pain and symptoms associated with ostracism. This more current clinical study by Gabriela Neitlisbach and Andreas Maercker found that trauma survivors with PTSD report more social stigmatization and isolation, and that more isolation and ostracism compounded PTSD symptoms (making it a cycle that is hard to break).

Being warmly accepted and integrated into another social group other than the group you were ostracized from can determine how long and how severe PTSD symptoms are and how long they last. Recovery from being a victim of the silent treatment depends on how well you can attach to supportive people and how much you are able to be an integral part of other people's lives. The kinds of people you attach to are critical: compassionate people with good hearts can help you to have faith in the human race again and relieve some of the symptoms of C-PTSD, including minimizing the tendency many victims have: fixating on un-fixable relationships with abusers). -- It is an important part of the recovery process which I discuss in the next post about recovering from the silent treatment).

New York Times articles on severe child abuse and neglect casesHuffington Post articles on severe child abuse cases, Huffington Post articles on severe child neglect cases, and a blog which follows cases of child neglect and child abuse -- a great majority of these children and teens are living with some form of ostracism/silent treatment for minor and unusual offenses (my post on erroneous blaming and punishment explains it from the abuser's perspective and the victim's perspective). Many of these stories are about teens and children who are banished to a locked up bedroom or basement, and even outside in the elements. Some are locked out of their homes in freezing conditions, left miles from home on a roadside and told to walk, told to "parent themselves", and so on.

I found this on the Sisters of Survivors: From BPD NPD and Psychopaths and Sociopaths page:







Thursday, September 3, 2015

the silent treatment is abuse!

name of art: "The Silent Treatment Prison"
image is © Lise Winne
watercolor and graphics, 2015
(for questions regarding use of images or to contract an image for your next article
contact: LilacGroveGraphics (att) yahoo.com)

(Note, this blog is part of a series: 
*The first post is this one: The Silent Treatment is Abuse! 
*The second one is The Silent Treatment and C-PTSD 
*The third one is called Healing from the Silent Treatment)

Many people do not think that the silent treatment is abuse because it can't leave physical scars. But make no mistake about it, the silent treatment is abuse! It is most always defined and categorized as emotional abuse by any reputable therapist, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist, especially if it is practiced between close family members, such as between a parent and child, between spouses or domestic partners. Long time friends where a lot of intimate details have been shared between two people can be traumatized by the silent treatment. If it is practiced as a way to hurt or punish another family member, victims can get PTSD from it just like any other form of abuse. In fact, it causes as much damage, or more damage, as sexual and physical abuse.

For a list of symptoms and ways to handle the silent treatment go to my blog post here about the silent treatment and PTSD.

Victims can and do commit suicide when they are bullied with the silent treatment, especially if other forms of abuse are present as well, which usually there are (please read my post about what constitutes abuse here).  

The only time it is not the silent treatment is when someone is preoccupied (such as grieving), or finding a topic too hard to deal with or focus on. But most people use the silent treatment for one purpose and one purpose only: to punish, as a threat, and to gain dominance and control of another person. If parents are practicing it on children for extended periods of time (isolating a child as a form of punishment), Child Protective Services should be notified. If the silent treatment is being practiced between adults as a form of punishment, there is no question that it is abuse, and proper measures should be used to protect yourself, or to exit the relationship. According to this wiki article the silent treatment is abusive if it is being being used as:

    * A desire to inflict hurt. This person wants to teach you a lesson. Sometimes what is worse than hearing another's feelings, emotions and concerns is to hear nothing at all. If the attempt is to ostracize you, it can easily become a pattern of emotional abuse. This is subtle yet very real bullying. It may be a one-off, or it may be habitual.
    *Control, manipulation and intimidation. This may occur if the person has a personality disorder, such as narcissism, or is simply someone who must dominate but refuses to communicate properly. It could be about testing your boundaries too, to see how much this person can get away with. If this person is close to you, it's possible that you've been subjected often to emotional abuse, and that this person is a habitual offender.

How does the silent treatment make someone feel who uses it? From the book Ostracism, the Power of Silence, Kipling D. Williams interviews a 65 year old woman who enjoys using it on a consistent basis:

I use the silent treatment whenever there may be a fight or confrontation. The silent treatment accomplishes for me all the things that fighting does for other people: control, power and punishment. It gives me pleasure and I'm in control. I also think it is funny how people grovel. I never feel guilty or ashamed ...

However, in the greater society, especially in the present day, it is considered shameful to use the silent treatment on others, particularly on a family member or friend, or in school. There is so much awareness about the silent treatment and other forms of emotional abuse, particularly since schools are teaching students what constitutes bullying, that most young people view its practice as Neanderthal: on the same level as bigotry, Klu Klux Klan lynchings and Nazi gatherings. In school anti-bullying seminars, the silent treatment is taught as a very immature three year old control tactic, where if Suzy-Q doesn't get her own way in the sandbox all of the time, she gives her friend the silent treatment. It is also taught as an exclusionary tactic, with some form of bigotry at its core; i.e. "you aren't good enough to play with us."

Mainly, it is thought to be used primarily by yesteryear throwbacks: people with a great deal of ignorance, aggression, bigotry and stupidity. It would probably have been covered in All in the Family if the show were still running today. Very old black and white films feature women who give men the silent treatment to get their own way.

In schools with children, it is taught as the first sign of bullying. A bully's main objective is to isolate a victim by shunning him, and what better way to do it than to let him know that he isn't good enough to associate with. A bully will often think that his clique are the cool kids, the ones who dress, act and are better than other kinds of kids (bullies and adult abusers are arrogant and believe they rank higher than others).

From there, manufactured stories or erroneous blaming are commonly used to build a coalition of bullies or assistants to bullying. Manufactured stories and erroneous blaming in the childhood atmosphere might include "You're missing your notebook? I think he took it" (he, meaning the victim). In fact, at every opportune moment, when things go wrong, the finger is pointed at the victim. In the teenage atmosphere this might be "I think she is trying to take your boyfriend. I saw her flirting with him."

They also practice forms of bigotry by labeling the victim in derogatory ways: "different, smelly, snake, fat, stupid, goon, dweeb, crazy, yucky, retard, a nothing, a buffoon, waste of a human being, a monkey" and so on. They make fun of the victim in this way behind the victim's back (for awhile). From there it escalates to saying these things right to the victim, using a whole coalition of bullies to drive home all of the various denigrating messages. Anyone who is a friend to the victim either gets the bully treatment too, or they are given the talk: "Do you know who you're talking to? He's the one responsible for taking all the missing notebooks in school" or "I saw him pee-ing right in front of the entire school on the front lawn!" "He's a retard. You should hang with us." "Don't you know that he has to go to a therapist to baby cry? He's a wack-o job!" "He's a dirty hippie. You want peace and love? Well you'll be beaten up too."

This is particularly devastating to a victim. The bullies attempt to work on the friends and siblings of the victim to further isolate the victim. The victim may become paranoid, unable to trust others. He usually becomes depressed and hypervigilent too. Hypervigilence is a beginning sign that a victim is just starting to get PTSD, a condition which will make it hard for a victim to learn and concentrate in class.

Who can learn when the brain is seized with fear, and pre-occupied with keeping safe?  

This is why many bullied victims and victims of domestic abuse have low grades or grades that are drastically falling.   

Once the name-calling becomes routine, it is common for the abuse to escalate to threats and physical abuse.

Threats might be: "You're going to do as I say or there will be dire consequences for you -- and your little sister over there." "Do you hear me? You're going to rub your snot on that girl's binder, or we're going to have a little meeting of minds after school." "You're going to give me the answers to that exam, and if I fail, I know where you live!" "See that guy over there? The one who is six foot six? The one who has the big muscles? He will do anything for me. And he'll grind you up like hamburger if you don't let me put this (drug) in your locker."

Physical abuse might mean a subtle push in a school hallway (to send a threat), throwing papers and other trash at a victim (common), to out-right physical assault with bruises and cuts or damage to organs.

Like a prisoner of war who is constantly beaten, a child can often feel he cannot escape. He cannot be safe. The symptoms of PTSD become unbearable. He has nightmares about his abusers. He cannot sleep. He cannot focus on his studies. He is failing. When he is called on in class, he appears distracted, as though he is daydreaming. No one likes him. He is beginning to believe in all of the insults. The victim can feel that his only escape is to commit suicide.

Suicide is much more prevalent among victims of bullying, than perpetrators of bullying, by-standers of bullying, or children who have not had any first-hand experience with bullying at all. If there is a lack of support at home, or if the parents or siblings are practicing domestic abuse, the combination of school bullying and domestic abuse can be devastating for a victim. All of it can push a child's mind into the realm of suicide ideation.

According to this info-graphic by Nova Southeastern University's Masters Degree in Education Program, "around half of children's suicides in Britain are related to bullying".

The story of Pheobe Prince (an Irish girl who was isolated, slandered and bullied in a Massachusetts school, who committed suicide, and where her bullies were subsequently tried and convicted) and three gay bullied teenagers who committed suicide brought the issue of bullying to the forefront of school policies.

In recent years in much of the country, part of preventing school bullying are the very popular bullying seminars for children. And ... one of the first signs of school bullying is shunning and isolating (the silent treatment).

The silent treatment as practiced in the family follows a similar trajectory as school bullying. Say, a parent gives the silent treatment to his child. Then he might enlist the other parent to co-bully or to assess in some way. Name-calling, insults, erroneous blaming (in desperate cases a "look" on a child's face is used to "punish" a child), vilifying, slander, favoritism via golden child and scapegoat, and other forms of abuse are used. But usually it starts with the silent treatment.

The silent treatment is abuse because it is being used to hurt the child, and the way that it hurts the child is extremely detrimental to the child as well as the relationship between the child and the adult. According to this article, Kipling D. Williams, PhD, a professor of psychology at Purdue University who has studied ostracism for twenty years, has stated that the cingulate cortex part of the brain responds to the silent treatment as if it was a physical pain.  

Other forms of discipline are much more effective and less detrimental. Silent treatments between a parent and adult child are always labeled as abuse. It is also often labeled in many journals as the worst form of emotional abuse, with studies revealing that it does as much damage to a child as sexual abuse. Why? Because the message behind the silent treatment is: "You don't exist."

Not all goes well for the perpetrators of the silent treatment either. It is clear from reading Ostracism, the Power of Silence by the same researcher (Kipling D. Williams, PhD)., that the silent treatment has very few rewards for anyone. The perpetrators are eventually seen as bullies, and avoided (shunned right back) for being intransigent, intolerant and single-minded. Since perpetrators treat their victims with callous disregard, as though the victim is dead or sub-human, it is hard for anyone to respect, feel compassionate about or have warm feelings for a perpetrator of the silent treatment, even when the perpetrator is on his knees, begging for forgiveness. If there is a history of silent treatments, or the silent treatment goes on longer than a couple of months, victims overwhelmingly never trust their perpetrators again. The damage has been done. With very little respect going towards the aggressors, this creates a conundrum as to the effectiveness of the silent treatment as a tool for manipulation. Often it is the abuser who comes to the realization that the silent treatment is too painful, enervating, heartbreaking and is leading to his own alienation, dejection and depression.

That is, unless the abuser doesn't feel empathy or have a conscience, the harbingers of Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder. In the case of narcissism, the narcissist will never be able to understand why a victim wouldn't want them in their lives, or why a victim wouldn't trust them. That is because they think they are desirable no matter how abusive they are.
 
Unfortunately, a great majority of people who use the silent treatment for more than a few days do have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In this article, the narcissist employs the silent treatment as a way to punish others:

People with narcissistic tendencies (e.g., “I will punish you if you reject me, have any complaints about me, or suggest that I am lacking in any way.”), and people with antisocial tendencies (e.g., “If you cross me or disrespect me you will pay for it and I don’t care how it makes you feel.”) also use silent treatment. -- Dr. Steve David, clinical psychologist, Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department Of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles

There’s a certain high that comes from wielding the silent treatment as a communication weapon, “Let me see this person beg for my attention, squirm to fight their way back in.” ... Often, this feeling is what compels people to repeatedly use the silent treatment–because it feels so good to see someone beg, plead for attention. -- Yashar 

After a narcissistic silent treatment, at some point, the narcissist will want to hoover his victim back in again with false promises, false motives and false concern. According to this blog post by Zari Ballard:

The hoover usually follows a silent treatment (which is really a break-up in disguise) and comes long after the victim has been completely devastated by the silence. The narcissist may hoover in several different ways and for various reasons, with each hoovering event staged according to that pathological relationship agenda he lives by. This is an agenda that I am all to familiar with and one that I describe in detail in my book When Love Is a Lie.

In this article, the silent treatment (unhealthy) is distinguished from a cooling off period (healthy):
Usually the silent treatment occurs when you do something that the abuser does not like or approve of in their book. Or when you dare to disagree with them or actually point out something wrong that they did. And then Wham, you get punished by them not speaking to you for days ...
Do not confuse the silent treatment with something known as “the cooling off period”. The cooling off period is where one person is so angry or disgusted by the other person that they just cannot deal with the situation in that state, and need time to calm down before they begin to speak to this person. That’s normal and should be allowed in a relationship. But purposely ignoring and refusing to hear or talk to a person is wrong, intentional, manipulative, and demonstrates extreme calculation and cruelty on how to hurt another person... -- Patricia Jones, M.A.

In this blog post, the silent treatment is labeled abuse because there is "no closure" or "chance at reconciliation":

The silent treatment is a form of erasing someone from the abuser's existence without the benefit of closure or a good bye or a chance at reconciliation. -- Greta Ella



On a deeper level, there is really a power struggle going on for the partner who has lapsed into silence. The silent treatment is really the expression of lots of aggression. The ultimate goal of the strategy is to win. The silent partner is expressing rage in a way that is passive aggressive. This is designed to get attention and to provoke feelings of guilt. Winning means that the target person admits to having committed some type of offense for which they are now begging forgiveness.

The paradox in this situation is that ultimately gets provoked is anger ...

Because the use of this passive aggressive weapon is so damaging to relationships ... Stonewalling does not promote intimacy, trust or marital and relational happiness.



The silent treatment can be intimidating and isolating, leaving a person at a loss as to how to cope and baffled as to why the person they love would want to be so cold and immature as to engage in such passive aggression over the smallest thing. They may spend many hours trying to understand things from the abuser’s perspective in an effort to reason with them and resolve things, often to no avail ... Regular occurrence of silent treatment is a slow but sure path to deep seated resentment which can be a death knell to the bond you once shared with your partner. Whether or not they are fully conscious of what they are actually doing, silent treatment is a form of passive aggressive abuse on the part of the perpetrator. The victim may be unaware that they are effectively being bullied and manipulated. 

This same author suggests taking yourself out of the game:

Some victims have noted their abuser becomes notably happier the more worn down and miserable they become. In order to cope, the victim must appreciate that a silent treatment abuser thrives on observing the negative effect they have on their target. Therefore it is necessary to stop “feeding” their desire for control and power.

This means NOT giving them the satisfaction of seeing the negative emotional affects of their immature behaviour. They can derive a great sense of self importance and triumph if you get irate, annoyed, upset, capitulate/apologise, weep or plead with them to talk to you. Starve them of these rewards for their unjust behaviour and they will likely eventually tire of engaging in the silent treatment and revert more quickly than usual to their normal demeanour ...

When they use sarcasm or will only speak to you in a patronizing manner, instead of getting upset or responding in kind, simply get on with enjoying something on your previously prepared silent treatment “Survival” list of things to do! Let them see that their attempt to rile you is a waste of their time and yours! Remember - do not “feed” their habit. 

In looking through forums on the silent treatment, the longer the silent treatment is practiced on a victim, the more the victim comes to prefer it over talking about the conflict that it originated from. There is a sense that if the silent treatment goes on for too long, the person who gave the silent treatment is psychologically disordered (sick), not reasonable and not worth talking to, especially because it will never resolve satisfactorily: there is a demand behind it (with the insinuation that if you don't give into their demand, they will use the silent treatment over and over again). Most people who use the silent treatment are emotionally childish and abusive in other ways too. So the silence becomes welcomed by the victim because it is better than listening to the perpetrators insults (verbal abuse), gaslighting (psychological abuse), threats (emotional abuse), spinning of the facts (psychological abuse), intimidations (emotional abuse), diverting and blame-shifting (emotional abuse) and intransigence.

This forum poster from the Out of the Fog website states that protecting yourself from a "punishing silent treatment" by removing yourself from relationships with people who practice it can make you feel absolved if you react to the silence with silence because it is protecting yourself from abuse:

Manners are for people who deserve them. Once the abuse starts, all bets are off! I don't think we're under any obligation to continue to be mannerly (AKA lie down and take the abuse) when people are toxic and abusive! "Hold still and let them punch you, dear. You don't want to be difficult." ... No I don't have to hold still...
Taking abuse is NOT taking the high road. Don't take the abuse -- and yes, the deliberate punishing silent treatment IS abuse. Protecting yourself by removing yourself from their silent treatment or blacklisting is good self-care and good self-protection, it's not "sinking to their level" either. Punishing is offensive and wrong. No contact is the consequences of THEIR abusive actions and it's good self-care and boundaries.  --
Sasha~ (forum ID)

In fact, the majority of therapists who specialize in domestic abuse, tell their patients to react to a perpetrator who is giving them the silent treatment by going no contact. This is especially the advice given when the silent treatment is practiced by a parent on an adult child, or between marital partners. If the perpetrator is using it to inflict pain and punishment, then there is not much choice other than putting up boundaries and not allowing people who want to use the silent treatment on you into your life, or at the very least, into your inner circle.

Of course, perpetrators will try to convince you that you are giving them the silent treatment right back. But in fact, what you are doing is protecting yourself from their silent treatment by putting up a boundary. Don't forget: they started it! They kept rejecting your overtures! In fact the boundary is about not responding to them when they decide they want you back in their life again; it is a good form of protection.

Dr. Phil in his top ten parenting failures, describes parents who use the silent treatment on their kids as "fumer parents". His quotes: " This is the parent that gives the silent treatment, invokes fear and makes them walk on eggshells." Another one that might apply is the I'm the Boss Parent: This is the “my way or the highway” parents.

Parents who chronically give young children the silent treatment, do it to break down a child's self esteem. The purpose of it is to starve the child of praise and attention, make them fearful of the parent, so that the child will be compliant of all parental wishes, including working very hard for parental approval and love. However, this kind of abuse is detrimental, and even dangerous. Children whose self esteem is too dependent on parental approval, and in keeping the peace in the family, can and do commit suicide, particularly during teen years when it is natural and necessary to forge some independence.

Parents who practice the silent treatment on adult children often end up with children who balk at discussing anything personal or intimate. The relationship becomes shallow, hollow and distant, and often non-existent in cases where the parent is continually trying to challenge the boundary of low contact and no-personal-subjects-discussed. If the parent has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the parent doesn't know how to respect boundaries. In this case, if they've been using the silent treatment to punish, without being rewarded by the demand behind it, they often end the silent treatment by becoming dangerous stalker parents (which is a gross disrespect of a boundary).

Most children of narcissistic parents, with the exception of the golden favored child, have usually been given the silent treatment throughout their lives, whether following a disagreement, a parental temper tantrum or because the parent didn't feel the center of attention, or favored by the child. If the adult child does not placate the narcissistic parent, then slander and acquiring co-bully family members to discipline or to bring down the adult child, is used by the offending parent. Narcissistic mothers, in particular, have been known to either look the other way, condone or advocate the golden child bullying his other siblings (more about that in this post).

Narcissistic parents who are confronted about the silent treatment by their grown children, often try to sidetrack the issue by trying to inflict guilt on their child. "After all we have done for you! So ungrateful!" is a common one for all abusers, and for narcissists in particular. It sends the message to their adult child that the parent has the right to abuse them with the silent treatment and other abuses because they gave them something. By the way, The "ungrateful" phrase is the most common phrase used on victims by the great majority of perpetrators to get victims to comply (see my post about that here). "You needed to be punished for that look on your face!" is also common for narcissists. The message is that they feel entitled to interpret your facial expressions in a dark way at any time in order to take their rage and abusive tendencies out on you (see my post on erroneous blaming for more information).

Guilt-ing is used when the adult child does not comply with parental wishes as a way to get the adult child to agree that punishments and abuse are needed in some way. In fact, very rarely does the child discipline ever end for narcissistic parents! They have been known to treat sixty year olds like misbehaving four year olds!

If your parent is trying to punish and discipline you as an adult, know that it is inappropriate, toxic, wrong, abusive and may be against the law in your state.

A spouse who chronically uses the silent treatment, or abandons his partner either physically or emotionally, also ends up with a spouse who doesn't trust him, and who eventually leaves him. Some partners use the silent treatment after a heated argument to starve their mates of attention and love. Some partners use a heated argument as an excuse to give the silent treatment and to pursue an affair. Either way, it is a form of spousal abuse.

If your partner seems gleeful and smug about hurting you in any way, your partner probably has one of the following personality disorders, either Borderline, Narcissistic or Antisocial (sociopathic). Normal adults will always be concerned and show concern if they hurt you (normal empathy is present in 98 percent of the population, after all).    

In my own life:

I view the silent treatment as a kind of stinky gas with poison in it ("sarin with a fart", if you like). It is stinky because it is childish, and it is poison because it ruins the relationship and all of the former trust, intimacy and respect that you used to share with that person. It is such an obvious play for power and domination, that it is disgusting. It can bring tremendous grief because it is a realization that the relationship never meant anything to the other person on its own merits. It only meant something to them if they could control you. As in school bullying, the silent treatment by a "loved one" is the first tip-off  to a narcissistic response, a narcissistic person, an incredibly toxic person.

There is no other choice than to retreat. This often means giving up on the relationship, along with hopes and dreams.

One of the things that I have noticed about the silent treatment is that the longer it goes on, the more your own world starts to take over and you forget about the person who wanted to punish you. Being in the moment starts to feel more important than yesterday. As you sit and write the fifteenth letter you will never send them, you realize that you don't want to send it anyway because it would just open up a can of worms again and you know you are dealing with someone who is totally unpleasant and unreasonable to talk to. Many people who use the silent treatment abuse for more than a day or two are not interested in your words, your thoughts, your research, how you want to be treated. They don't want to show respect or be polite. They don't care about the relationship; they only care about getting their own way all of the time, every time. You only exist as their tool to use. The tool has an on/off button -- on for "you are pleasing me" and off for "you are not pleasing me". It is a facile relationship without meaning beyond if you are a marionette for someone else ... no thanks! It becomes more objectionable to communicate with them than to just let them be, wrapped up in their smug silence.

I am a "fixer" and a team player by nature. And believe me, the silent treatment challenges all of that.

The fixer in me doesn't like the way a paint line looks, so I fix it. The fixer in me doesn't like the fact that there are dirty dishes in the sink, so I wash them. The fixer in me doesn't like the way the guitar string buzzes, so I put on a new one. Most narcissists who practice extended forms of the silent treatment aren't fixers: they are "abandon this because it isn't working and go onto the next supply/victim or project" kind of people. They are "You do all the sweaty hard work of fixing this for me because I'm too lazy and entitled, and do it exactly how I want it otherwise I don't want it fixed at all" kind of people. They are "I don't want it fixed; I'm totally getting off on your pain and enjoying your suffering too much to fix it" kind of people. They are high maintenance vampires. All of the narcissistic reactions over time make most people feel sick to their stomach. Dealing with narcissistic silent treatments can be compared to a leaky pipe that keeps leaking no matter how many patches and how much time you put into it -- because the pipe is flawed, not the fixing or expertise.

The team player exists in me because I've been a musician for most of my life. You have to be a good and fair team player to create great music with others. Musicians and artists self-critique and get critiques. That is how they get better at what they do and that is what they are used to. Narcissists can't stand to be criticized even for minutiae. They are the opposites of musicians. They are like the princess and the pea: anything they don't like, whether it be a phrase, an off-handed remark, or even a look can mean they want to punish you. They go into a rage with silent treatments that can last for weeks, months, years, or forever. The more you insist on fairness and team playing, the more they will try to dominate you. It is a no-win situation.  

For people who stonewall any overtures, such as reasonable apologies, invites and gestures to talk it out, or meet together, or to meet with a mediator or therapist if the issue is too big and involves too many people to handle, with the desire to come to some sort of resolution, or even just expressing a desire for a truce, or at the very least agreeing to disagree, reaching out actually becomes abhorrent because you know you will just come up against a brick wall again, or get abused by something else: verbal assaults, erroneous blaming and gaslighting are the common ones. This is especially true for people whose silent treatments send a message that whether you live or die doesn't matter to them, or people who put punishment agendas ahead of everything else in your mutual lives.

Among musicians, we have a phrase called "deal breaker." Some deal breakers include your fellow band member not showing up for a gig that you planned together. Or who put the priority of going with another band at the last moment because they are promised better pay, all of which leave the rest of the band extremely stressed, especially if you practiced together and have complex arrangements with solos. A member who insults other band members also creates undue stress because music is a team effort where respect and trust in your partners is a must. You also have to have the ability to be in the background when it is not your turn to solo. All of these are deal breakers because this is how a fellow musician can ruin it for the band, the audience, the composition, the sound, indeed everything can be compromised. Flakes, egoists and people who have temper tantrums really should not be playing music with others. Narcissism and music do not mix.

So, when someone acts like they've all but murdered you except physically, they really don't deserve your attention. They don't deserve your good heart. They don't deserve consideration. They don't deserve to be in a team. They don't deserve harmony. And indeed, people who practice the silent treatment a lot, and take it to its ultimate, tend to get rid of all of the good people and surround themselves with bad ignorant people, who also think it is good to use tactics like the silent treatment. No one who lives for harmony, enlightenment, understanding, love and helping others is going to be able to stand someone who loves the silent treatment as a weapon (or is a has-to-be-my-way-or-the-highway type of person, doling out emotional abuses 'til kingdom come!). Once you get through the grieving process, believe me, these kinds of people incite disgust, eye-rolling and irritation more than sadness or pain.

Except in the case of cartoons! Yup, I decided that silent treatments were cartoon-worthy (more on this in a later post). Why? Because it is a way to get the point across that it is disgusting in a funny way. I have also noticed that narcissists have a particular liking for cartoons (because they act like children, after all). They are so self centered in their thoughts and deeds that they are funny.

Take Hyacinth Bucket of Keeping Up Appearances. In the series she treats her husband as though he is a doll on a leash who needs to be commanded by her. She chastises him for not following her orders. She also chastises him when he does follow her hair-brained orders because they do not work out the way she had planned, another narcissistic trait that is not too endearing and often infuriating, but it makes great comedy. Hopefully I am contributing to laughs as well, and so can you. The more fun we poke at the practice of self centered-ness, blowing up over criticism, habitual silent treatments, treating mature normal adults as children, victim blaming and narcissism, the more enlightenment we can bring to the condition (hopefully), the more that narcissistic reactions (like the silent treatment) will be even more unpopular and shameful than they are already.

There is no worthwhile reward in talking to someone who habitually gives you the silent treatment. It definitely becomes impossible to reach out knowing they will get satisfaction out of abusing you again, setting up yet another situation where you will have to walk on paper thin eggshells where anything at all can cause them to blow up at you. It is like being on a yoyo: when the yo-yo goes up, you get abused, then when it comes down you start healing, but not enough healing takes place because your abuser tries to hoover you back in, the yo-yo is back up again (more abuse), up, down, up, down. The more cycles, the more bruises that don't heal, the more you are emotionally battered to the point where you can't make sense of your life or how you got into such a terrible situation, the less you do with your life, the more you are just surviving or in recovery mode from all of the abuse ... So unproductive! Such a waste of your life!

These are sick people. It is better to let them fester in their sickness and silence than to be drawn back in to their game. As this wiki article explains:

Do not become embedded in a friendship/relationship by silent treatment.There is a limit to how much you can try to cope with someone who keeps resorting to silent treatment behaviors. Soon, all you are doing is walking on eggshells and pacifying someone who has learned that this isn't such a bad way to control you. Relationships should be balanced. When someone keeps on giving you the silent treatment, they are always taking the "reins" by allowing or not allowing communication. This is a very emotionally abusive behavior. It usually leaves the person who is at the receiving end of the silent treatment frustrated, confused, and angry.
Lay healthy boundaries of what you are willing to accept in your relationships by informing people who use this tactic that you are not going to continue a relationship in that way.


Resources:

Why the silent treatment is abuse and why it is destructive in a close personal relationship -- recommended reading

How to get over the silent treatment

The Deafening Brutality of the Narcissist's Silent Treatment -- the narcissist using the silent treatment as an aggressive form of control and punishment for what his or her partner did. The motivation is about getting the victim to "behave." It is a nasty form of abuse.