(Image courtesy of Ambro at

There is no more effective way to let someone know how little you mean to them than to use your silence. If you want to cut someone to the quick, simply don’t respond when they implore you for understanding or explanation. Walk away from their tears. Turn your back on their pain. Or better still, pretend to listen and respond appropriately, then disappear out of someone’s life, either permanently or temporarily.

Make no mistake about it, neglect and the silent treatment are highly effective and particularly cruel forms of emotional abuse. Trying to pinpoint why you feel so utterly crushed when someone treats you this way is like chasing phantoms in the dark – you’re not really sure what you’re looking for or why it hurts so much. On the surface, you’re reacting to ‘nothing’. The person hasn’t yelled at you, called you names, belittled you or intimidated you in any tangible way. If you complain about their treatment, it will be turned back on you.‘What do you mean? I haven’t done anything! You’re the one with the problem.’ Or you will simply be treated to more silence.

And it’s easy to convince you that you are, in fact, the one to blame. Trust me, you’re not.

So what constitutes the Silent Treatment?

  1. Not responding to your reasonable emotional needs.

  2. Walking away from you when you try to address an issue.

  3. Saying yes, but doing the opposite.

  4. Ignoring phone calls and text messages.

  5. Often accompanied by tears and reproachful looks or …

  6. alternatively, intimidating you with an angry glare.

  7. And, of course, simply not speaking to you, especially when you make it clear that you really need to dialogue.


The method a perpetrator employs depends on his or her unique personality and behaviour pattern. In the ‘good old days’, men would bury their heads in a newspaper while their wives tried everything they could to get some interaction. These days, people bury themselves in their work or engross themselves in computer games (therefore living a virtual reality while avoiding their true reality). Some hide themselves in a bottle of whiskey. Others busy themselves with friends and other activities. The one thing they all have in common is that their coping mechanism is avoidance. Avoidance of you, the person they supposedly love; avoidance of conflict; avoidance of the issues they have; and most of all, avoidance of who they really are. It’s easier to avoid you than to face whatever demons lurk within their souls. It’s easier to slay a virtual dragon than to fight the good fight in the real world.

If you’re confused about whether or not to be angry when you’re on the receiving end of this form of passive aggression … because, as I’ve already mentioned, you haven’t copped any overt abuse … remember this:


A decision to not take action is still a decision … and still an action.

The choice to not act is still a choice … and still an action.

Not taking action when action is required is still a conscious act.


The silent treatment is the dagger used by cowards.