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Silent Treatment What Is It, How To Tackle It

Uploaded 5/19/2023, approx. 17 minute read

Welcome to my YouTube channel.

Yes, I am Anti Sam Vaknin.

And today we are going to discuss silent treatment.

I have been accused of many things under the sun and quite a few things above the sun, but I have never been accused of silent treatment. If anything, I give people the verbose treatment.

Too much talk as those of you who survived my videos know well.

Today, a new point of view on silent treatment and what to do about it.

So welcome, Shoshanim and of course Shoshanim Vot. Welcome and let's delve right in.

What is silent treatment?

According to Kipling Williams, a professor of psychology at Purdue University, silent treatment is a form of ostracism. Actually, Kipling Williams designed the famous Williams model of ostracism in 1997.

But people often confuse and conflate silent treatment with other social behaviors that reflect excommunication or shaming. Silent treatment has nothing to do with any of these.

Silent treatment is an interpersonal behavior between individuals. So it's very similar to stonewalling, ghosting, blocking, banning, and of course, deleting comments on Instagram.


Okay, silent treatment is also not the same as tactical ignoring. Tactical ignoring is actually a strategy. It's when a person doesn't give an outward sign of recognizing a behavior. So the person avoids eye contact, no verbal response, no body language that is reactive, no acknowledgement that a message had been read or heard.

This is tactical ignoring. It's an active process and the person who embarks, who engages in tactical ignoring does it in order to modify another person's behavior. So there's active monitoring going on and acute awareness of the behaviors of everyone involved.

Parents, for example, engage in tactical ignoring of the children. So this is not the same as silent treatment.


Now the statistics are beyond shocking. Two out of every three people, yes, you heard me right, two out of every three people give the silent treatment. And it is increasing as alternative models and modes of interpersonal communication become mainstream.

Ghosting is a relatively new phenomenon and it has to do with social media.

There are 14 attributes, 14 characteristics of silent treatment, and I'm going to review all of them.

The second part of this video is dedicated to how to cope with silent treatment, how to fight back and how possibly to end it.

My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, and the most handsome former visiting professor of psychology ever to have graced a YouTube channel.

Silent treatment, as I said, has 14 characteristics.

Number one, it is efficiently punitive. It's a harsh punishment. In a minute we'll see why.

Number two, it is a social act because it takes a perpetrator and a target or a victim. It takes two to tango and at least two to engage in silent treatment.

Number three, it is manipulative, a control tactic. It's about control and manipulation.

Number four, silent treatment is emotionally distant. There's emotional absence and emotional coldness, emotional void involved in silent treatment.

It's as if the person were absenting themselves.

Number five, silent treatment is exclusionary. It excludes the target or the victim.

Number six, it is plausibly deniable. The person who does the silent treating can deny and often does deny. That is doing anything wrong.

And in this sense, silent treatment is a form of gaslighting. Usually silent treaters, people who use silent treatment to punish, coerce, manipulate and control other people, silent treaters usually say it's not abuse. I'm not being abusive. It's just who I am.

Number seven, silent treatment is coercive. It forces the victim to apologize or to modify her behavior.

Number eight, it's alloplastic. The person who does the silent treatment blames the other person. He says, you made me do it. I may be punishing you, but you deserve it. You misbehaved. So there is alloplastic defense. It's your fault. You are to blame. You are guilty. You should feel ashamed. You force me to silently treat you. You backed me into a corner. Alloplastic defenses. Silent treatment also preserves negative effects.

The person who engages in silent treatment deep inside, they know that they're doing something wrong. So they have to justify themselves. And they justify themselves by stoking the fires of anger and resentment and frustration and hatred. So to justify the ongoing silent treatment, they become very negative about the victim or about the target. They develop negative effects.

So it's silent treatment is self feeding, self reinforcing and self-perpetuating. Silent treatment is addictive. It's very hard to stop once you start.

There is a question of saving face. There's an issue of waiting for it to work, expecting an apology. There is the bad blood that silent treatment generates. There is the victim's reaction and so on and so forth. So it's a very addictive process. It's extremely difficult to put a stop to it.

Silent treatment is expressive. It expresses displeasure, disapproval, frustration, anger, disappointment and often contempt. It's therefore a mode of communication.

Silent treatment creates uncertainty, especially in the victim's mind. It creates an unpredictable, arbitrary, capricious, indeterminate behavior. And in this sense, silent treatment is very similar to intermittent reinforcement and can lead if it is used repeatedly and habitually, can lead to trauma bonding.

Silent treatment is attention seeking. The person who engages in silent treatment seeks the attention of the victim in the target and the victim or target the attention of the perpetrator or the offender. So they both seek attention. It's an attention coinage.

And finally, silent treatment negates. The message is, you're not there. You're transparent. I see right through you or I looked right through you. I'm going to ignore your presence and your existence. You don't exist for me. It's negating and vitiating.

Now the consequences are horrific. The consequences are really, really, really bad.


Studies have shown that silent treatment activates the same area in the brain that codes for physical pain and emotional pain. It's known as the anterior cingulate cortex. That part of the brain is in charge of interpreting pain.

And so silent treatment, in other words, is painful, very painful. And it creates engenders, feelings of alienation, confusion, incompetence, inadequacy, frustration, self-worthlessness.

In short, silent treatment triggers the bad object.

And when people with personality disorders are subjected to silent treatment, they are for all intents and purposes being tortured externally by the silent treater and internally by their own bad object via the harsh inner critic or the sadistic superego, whatever you want to call it.

And these feelings elicit usually maladaptive responses with these kind of victims, very dysfunctional responses.

Victims who have a high rejection sensitivity level, such as people with borderline personality disorder, literally decompensate, fall apart, they become partly psychotic, violent, act out, become aggressive.

Silent treatment can end very badly, exactly like every other form of abuse.

Now, the people who give silent treatment belong in two camps. Everything Jewish belong in two camps.

So the first camp, the control freaks, the manipulators, the abusers, the narcissists, psychopaths, these are the active givers of silent treatment. They knowingly use silent treatment, deploy it as a strategic weapon. They weaponize silent treatment in order to obtain favorable outcomes, manipulative and coercive outcomes.

But then you have a second camp. These are the passive givers. These are the insecure people who are insecure. People who are schizoid, paranoid, withdrawn.

And these people perceive silent treatment as graceful, dignified, the way out of a conflict. They are conflict averse and conflict avoidant. They regard silent treatment as a gesture of peace and goodwill, believe it or not.

Now, ostracism can manifest in numerous ways. I don't know, someone walking out the room in the middle of a conversation, a friend looking the other way when you wave at them, someone pretending not to notice you as you cross the street, a person addressing comments from everyone in a message thread, except you. These are all ways of ignoring you, negating your existence, pretending you're not there, totally transparent.

Williams said partial ostracism, for example, monosyllabic replies, a curse period at the end of a one word text message. These are partial forms of silent treatment.

In serious cases, ostracism, he said, can take a heavy toll, whereby victims become anxious, withdrawn, depressed or even suicidal.

Joel Cooper, a psychology professor at Princeton, said, because we humans require social contact for our mental health, the ramifications of isolation can be severe.

In the short term, the silent treatment causes stress. In the long term, the stress can be considered abuse.

Phew, that's seriously heavy. Time for my wine break. Inebriated to the gills or to the gills. I'm sorry, I can continue.

Now, silent treatment escalates from partial to complete a whole of full spectrum silent treatment.

The more the victim cajoles requests, pleads, demands, criticizes, the more the silent treater escalates his of a silent treatment.

Silent treatment is both verbal and bodily avoidance of eye contact, putting physical distance, recoiling when someone gets near you. These are all forms of silent treatment.

Silent treatment generates in both the giver and the receiver. And this is very important to understand.

Silent treatment, treatment adversely affects the giver and the receiver.

Yeah, I know. Counterintuitive, shocking even. Cosmic justice.

Both of them experience threatened needs of belonging. Both of them suddenly feel that they don't belong. Both of them endure a decline in self-esteem. Both of them suddenly perceive their existence as meaningless.

The only difference between the giver and the receiver is that the giver's perceived control of the situation and of the receiver is enhanced by silent treatment.

That's how we know the silent treatment is actually about control.

Paul Schrod, a professor of communication studies, reviewed 74 relationship studies which involved more than 14,000 participants. That's big in terms of psychological studies.

He made an in-depth analysis, meta-analysis, and he discovered that silent treatment is tremendously damaging to relationships. 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.

Schrod says it's the most common pattern of conflict in marriage or any committed, established, romantic relationship. And it does tremendous damage. It's an incredibly hard pattern to break because both partners lay the blame at the feet of the other.

"Partners get locked," says Schrod. "Partners get locked in this pattern, largely because they each see the other as the cause. Both partners see the other as the problem. One partner will typically complain that the other is emotionally unavailable. The other partner will accuse his or her partner of being too demanding or too critical.

And when couples become locked in this demand-withdraw pattern, approach avoidance repetition compulsion, yes, demand-withdraw pattern, "the damage can be both emotional and physiological, including anxiety and aggression, as well as erectile dysfunction, which now you know why I don't engage in silent treatment, "irrectile dysfunction and urinary and bowel problems."

Oh, dear. Talk about poisonous silence.

Okay, time for some remedies and recipes.

What to do about silent treatment?

Number one, chill. Simply chill. Don't give silent treatment and don't receive it. Instead, be cool about it, be calm and say, "I cannot talk to you right now, but we can talk about this later." Shall we say in one hour?

In this way, you buy yourself some time off or time out, and at the same time, you don't close the channels of communication.

So whenever you're angry, frustrated, don't want to see the face of your partner or hear her voice, just say the following, "I can't talk to you right now, but we can talk about the issues you are raising later." Shall we say in one hour or two hours or three, whatever?

Number two, if you are the subject of silent treatment, if you are the unfortunate recipient, voice your pain.

Voice your pain of being ignored.

That's a principle established by Margaret Clark, a professor of psychology at Yale.

Say, "I'm in pain. It hurts me. I'm anxious." Verbalize your pain. Do not repress it, ignore it, pretend it's not there, act brave, and so on and so forth.

Wrong.

Number three, set healthy boundaries.

If silent treatment is the main mode of communication with your partner, make sure he is no longer your partner. Walk away.

Silent treatment is abuse. It's nonverbal abuse. It's manipulative. It's coercive. It's controlling and it's damaging to your health, mentally and physically.

Why? Why should you endure this?

If he refuses to open his mouth, open the door and walk away.

Number four, establish communication protocols.

Whenever you describe a problem, focus on yourself, on how the problem makes you feel, on what kind of help you need from your partner.

We call this "I" statements. Don't use "you" statements. Use "I" statements.

For example, don't say, "You make me feel bad." Say, "I'm feeling bad." Don't say, "Your behavior is wrong." Say, "I am bothered by some things." "I" statements, not "you" statements.

Number two, within this principle of communication protocol, name the situation. Name it. Give it a title. Describe it. Don't keep it hidden. Don't keep it forbidden. Don't put it under the carpet. Don't pretend that it's not there.

Name the situation. Make it suddenly audible and visible and non-ignorable.

There's an elephant in the room. Point to it. Pull its tail and twiddle with its trunk.

I ran out of metaphors. Just make sure that both of you are on the same page of identifying the problem and coping with it.

The first step is to name it.

Next thing.

If an apology is called for, apologize for your misbehavior.

But if no apology is called for, if you didn't do anything wrong, do not apologize.

Do not reward silent treatment.

Do not positively reinforce such misconduct in your partner. Apologize only when an apology is called for.

Practice self-care.

If your partner engages in silent treatment on a regular basis, your partner is an abuser. Very likely he is using other techniques. I don't know. Gaslighting. Threatening. Coercion. I don't know what else.

Intermittent reinforcement. Stronger bonding.

If you are in the same room, let alone in the same relationship, with an abuser, you are being damaged.

Practice self-care.

Love yourself. Attend to your needs.

Next principle.

Don't take it personally.

People who engage in silent treatment are seriously flawed.

They are either insecure or they are control freaks. They are abusers. They are sometimes mentally ill. They don't know how to communicate. Their verbal skills are challenged.

Or if they do have verbal skills, they misuse them in order to torment and torture other people. These are usually bad people.

Don't take it personally. It's nothing to do with you. It's not about you. And it's definitely not your fault.

Of course, that's not a license to misbehave, to provoke. If you do, stop it and apologize for it.

But in the vast majority of cases, studies show that silent treatment is unjustified. It is more anticipatory.

In other words, the abuser who engages in silent treatment anticipates situations, catastrophizes, and tries to avoid them by tightening his control, his suffocating hold on you.

So don't take it personally. These are his internal dynamics with which you have little to do.

Stay calm. Use humor.

Abusers, if you look at them from a certain angle, abusers can be funny. They're comic. They're parodies of humans. Abusers are parodies of men, parodies of women. And like every parody, they can be pretty funny.

Stand aside, put some distance, emotional and physical, between you and the abuser. Watch him. Watch how ridiculous, reasonable he is. How immature and stupid and out of control and flailing and, you know, yuck.

So use humor. It's a weapon of defense.

Avoid, though, escalation. Do not provoke. Do not escalate. Do not blame. Do not shame. That's not the right time. Your partner, the person who engages in silent treatment, is in a bad state of mind.

And so pushing him is likely to aggravate the situation and even cause aggression.

Finally, seek help and succor.

Rely on your friends, on your family, on your social circle, on your co-workers, on your neighbors, on social workers, on psychologists and psychiatrists.

In extreme situations, silent treatment is coupled with other types of abuse.

There's always the police and the courts. Do not keep it to yourself. Launder the dirty laundry in public. Sunlight disinfects abuse. Let it all out. Expose him. That way or her. That's the surest way to end the abuse.

Good luck.

And now I'm going to give you the silent treatment.

I'm going to finish this video.

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