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
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(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:







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