Lets start off with the bottom line first; just because you’re not using your hands, doesn’t mean you can’t hurt someone. Ignoring is not a strategy; it is simple disregard for their feelings. We all know about the silent treatment. It is a way of punishing or manipulating someone, whether we are aware of it or not. It can be equally devastating to family, friends, coworkers or relationship partners. It’s boorish, juvenile, thoughtless, nasty, and trifling, it is psychologically and sometimes even physically damaging.
It might be difficult to read the previous paragraph, but based on my work as a coach, and my own personal experiences, this is so important to know as there are people who routinely take the silent treatment to extremes. You don’t ‘just get over’ it because it can stay with you for a lifetime…and that isn’t a gift of love.
Here are some of the reasons I have found that people ignore each other:
1) They lay off blame for something that is completely their problem
It is a way of taking the easy way out of a situation. They blame you for a problem and then ignore you so that the problem goes away. It is possible that they could actually be mad at you but they are too immature to speak to you about it. They are both excuses used to avoid caring or dealing with problems in life. Paradoxically, because this way of handling a situation does neither it actually makes things worse.
2) They actually do want to hurt you
Yes, some of them are not nice people. They are deliberately trying to punish you and they are too selfish to care about your feelings. It can give them a sense of control or power over you. The really skilled ones can even turn it around so that they are seen as the victim, thus denying that there is a problem and trying to make it seem that your feelings are inappropriate.
3) They mistakenly think it appropriate behavior
Some people really don’t understand that ignoring people causes damage at all. Some think that will make you better. Some of them are just avoiding a fight and don’t realize that they are hurting you.
We all have our own challenges, and there are times when life is unrelentingly hard, so learning the right way to handle a situation can be tough. Sometimes people and relationships turn around and get better, sometimes all you need is some time. But regardless of why, ignoring people has serious consequences. Here are some of the consequences I see regularly.
1) Destruction of relationships
Regardless of your reaction, ignoring someone causes a rift. You both may know that there is a problem but rather than addressing it, each person waits around for the other to admit defeat and apologize. You get to caring more about being right than about the relationship. When that begins you pitch intimacy and trust right out the door and then it all becomes a terrible pattern; a habit that you don’t even remember how you started.
2) Causes emotional trauma
This might seem obvious to some, but the wide range of emotions that come with being ignored can cause depression anger, frustration along with the matching feelings of isolation, rejection, guilt and despair. I have even run across people who felt bitter and betrayed. When you just dismiss out of hand someone’s feelings they will naturally feel unloved, unworthy and perhaps devalued. Tossed out like a pair of old shoes.
3) Creates terrible side effects
When a person is ignored, their brain, as a form of defense, tells them that they are experiencing physical pain. That pain can at times range from stomach pains to headaches and include less obvious symptoms of sleeplessness and exhaustion. This kind of emotional stress, over the long run can result in high blood pressure, heart disease, bowel problems, eating disorders, and the like. It’s all bad.
4) The cause of psychological stress
The silent treatment is a mind game for some people, and skillfully used as a tool for psychological manipulation. It rips out your sense of self-esteem as well as self worth. With kids it can be particularly damaging when done over long periods of time.
5) Cause of unwanted behavioral change
Is there something wrong with me? Did I say something wrong? Am I an irritating person? What am I doing wrong?
When you are ignored you will find that you behave in ways not normal for you. You may find yourself second-guessing and questioning yourself and things that you have done in ways that you would never normally do. Realizing that you aren’t acting like yourself can even increase your feelings of guilt and loss of control in your life. All of this combines to heighten your fight or flight reactions making everything all the more worse for you.
Most people have no idea about the dangers of the silent treatment; they don’t teach it in school and this adds to the problem. How bad the responses to it are depends on the intensity of the silent treatment, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.
What do you do about it?
A good place to start is to just stay calm. Regardless of which side of the line you are on, try and forget about your anger and ego. Just let it go and start with an apology. Remember that you are an adult and it’s just not worth keeping the quiet. If you are on the receiving end, do what you can to find out what is wrong, and remember to NOT give the silent treatment back. If you need space, take it and let the other person know about it remembering that communication is usually the issue.
Try and be patient with the intention of being loving and kind—willing to try and be understanding. Keep in mind that your antagonist may not even understand that they are hurting you.
Now, on the other hand, if they are mindfully trying to hurt you with the silent treatment, acting out of malice, what you are experiencing is abuse. Don’t keep begging them to talk—they will likely interpret that as meaning they are in the right. Just leave them alone. Don’t contact them. Take care to not return the silent treatment as a response either. Try and not let the situation get under your skin. It is possible that the relationship is unhealthy and needs to end. Don’t be afraid, if it is bad for you then end it and move on and fill that spot in your life with someone who will choose to engage with you rather than ignoring you at every turn.
Ignoring the problem won’t solve it, and people are still there whether you engage with them or not.
Here’s the bottom line; don’t ignore people. You and everyone around you will be better off if you take the time to sort out what happened, and move forward in a way that is most healthy for you and your friends.
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Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.