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Silent Treatment

Question:

I had a minor dispute with a male friend who now is giving me the silent treatment, as though we are never to be friends again. I’ve heard his wife complain of him doing this before but never believed her as I always had a higher regard for him. What is the nature of this type of behavior? Thanks for your time

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Answer:

You are asking an excellent question about a problem that plagues many families and relationships.

The silent treatment has been referred to as stonewalling. It is an extremely exasperating weapon for those who surround the individual who does this. For example, many years ago I was a psychotherapist at an outpatient mental health center. Working in my department was a secretary/receptionist who made life difficult for everyone who knew her. She often felt offended by just about anything any of us did or said and would start to punish us by refusing to respond. As she was at the center of coordinating things, you can imagine how hard it was for us to deal with her knowing that we were being given the silent treatment. Our psychiatrist would often intervene and get her to reopen the lines of communication.

The silent treatment is an extremely malignant pattern of behavior meant to convey anger, hurt, and rage. The recipients of this are often unclear about why they are being singled out for this. Often times, the reason are petty. This is malignant because it creates tension, guilt and even paranoia within the relationship.

Many times the person who uses stonewalling learned it during childhood. Its learned within a family system that did the same thing. Often, its a power play, designed to get others to “apologize” for the supposed offense. In the power play, there is a struggle within the mind of the individual using stonewalling, to see who can hold out the longest. This is ridiculous and damaging to relationships.

You are fortunate in not being married to this man. My suggestion is that you leave him be. If you want, you can make one more attempt to communicate but, assuming he still refuses, leave him to his own turmoil. Don’t make this your problem.

Best of Luck

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