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:

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