Don’t be fooled, time away from someone is not an apology, especially when they refuse to communicate with someone who is willing to communicate.
This is called “stonewalling” or “silent treatment”. The silent treatment is a way to try and inflict emotional pain on someone as a consequence of feelings of anger or frustration. The silent treatment could be a learned behavior (perhaps a parent or guardian used it and they don’t know another way) or simply a maneuver they know works.
I’m not referring to when you have a disagreement in your romantic relationship and you take time to cool down so you don’t say or do something that you will later regret. Telling a partner you need a certain amount of time out to cool off or collect your thoughts is not considered stonewalling or silent treatment simply because you have given the “silence” an explanation and timeframe.
When someone refuses to communicate with me, they are basically teaching me how to live life without them. Some may say there is no real harm in the silent treatment… WRONG! It isn’t harmless and is a form of psychological abuse, emotional abuse, punishment and manipulation. In fact, the part of the brain that perceives social connection also perceives pain and threat. No wonder being stonewalled by a loved one hurts so much and makes us long to reconnect so we can feel safe again.
It’s not limited to just romantic relations, but can also occur in friendships, work relationships, and in families. I’ve been on the receiving end of the silent treatment, and it made me feel powerless, disrespected, invisible, frustrated, and angry. Often times I found myself trying to win the person over and apologizing for something I didn’t even do.
What is harmful about stonewalling?
The person who is silent has more of the power because they are the one that controls when the relationship will be reconnected. Also, you can’t discuss and resolve the issue that started the stonewalling since the other person refuses to talk to you.
Recipients of stonewalling may experience:
- Feeling like they have no meaningful existence
- A loss of control
- Feeling rejected
- Emotional pain
- Reduced self-esteem
If the silent treatment is a pattern in your relationship that either of you are finding hard to break, I strongly recommend seeking couples or at the very least individual counselling for your own sanity.