The silent treatment is literally a non-visible way to inflict pain without.
Research has shown that the same area of the brain that is activated by physical pain is activated when one is ignored. The way couples interact and treat each other during the bad times determines how strong the relationship will be. The best predictor of divorce isn’t whether a couple fights (arguments are inevitable) but how a couple fights. In many situations people use the silent treatment as a response, one of dignity and grace, which is often seen to be taking the ‘high road’. However, research is proving that silent treatment could have the complete opposite intended effect.
Furthermore, research has uncovered that excluding and ignoring people, such as silent treatment or giving them the cold shoulder, is used to punish or manipulate and people may not realize the emotional or physical harm that is being caused.
The ability to detect silent treatment or being given the cold shoulder is hardwired in us. This means that the pain of being ignored is registered internally, whether it is coming from an individual or a group of people. The initial pain is the same, whether it is from a stranger, a close friend or an enemy. Silent treatment activates the anterior cingulate cortex which is the part of the brain that detects physical pain.
In relationships silent treatment can cause serious emotional and psychological problems and it decreases overall relationship satisfaction and intimacy within couples. This results in a reduced capacity to communicate in a way that’s healthy and meaningful.
It’s an incredibly hard pattern to break because it’s easy to get away with and an accusation of the silent treatment can easily be denied. It’s powerful and is therefore a weapon of choice in many arguments.
However, it is important to note that silent treatment should not be confused with taking a moment to cool down after difficult or heated exchange. The best thing to do is to try and say I can’t talk to you right now, but we can talk about it later.
Silence can feel like you are taking the high road and it may seem like a dignified response but it’s not. It’s a way to inflict pain but without the physical marks. Being ignored is just as powerful.
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