We've all stepped away from someone for a short time to take a break, cool down and reset our mind or spirit before returning to a heated or difficult conversation. This type of breather is often a very helpful tool in relationships that may create safe resolutions for both individuals. But what happens when one party shuts out the other? Why would either party stonewall the other when they say they love them? Would it surprise you to know that when silent treatment is used to control your behavior or emotionally - mentally hurt you, it is a form of abuse?

Research evidences that when someone we love ignores us, excluding us from activities, communication, responses it activates the same areas of the brain that signify physical abuse. Additionally, being ignored can affect people's sensory awareness, such as the feeling that surroundings appear quieter and creates feelings of self-doubt, a lack of control, and an unworthiness throughout.

How your partner uses silent treatment will help you determine a course of action and whether or not you are experiencing emotional or mental abuse. The primary reasons someone you love is ignoring you will link to these three categories; avoidance, communication, punishment.

  • Avoidance: Often times, people stay silent in a conversation because they do not know what to say or want to avoid conflict, lacking the personal skills to navigate the uncomfortable realities of the difficult conversations and moments in life. A coach or therapist skilled and trained in helping bridge this gap and teach skills will offer opportunities for you both to deepen and strengthen your connection by outgrowing avoidance.

  • Communication: A person may use the silent treatment if they do not know how to express their feelings but want their partner to know that they are upset. Therapy or coaching is a great tool if you find that you and your partner suffer a communication barrier that surfaces in the form of being ignored.

  • Punishment: If your partner uses silence to punish or to exert control or power over you, this is a form of emotional abuse and is unsafe for you. Your emotional, mental health will, and likely is suffering from the reality of being ignored and you must get help immediately. If you fear that you are in immediate danger call emergency personnel and then the domestic abuse hotline as soon as you are safe for support and resources. Individual therapy with a trauma trained therapist or working with a trauma coach will be beneficial to learning to employ the tools necessary for you to try to bring healthy balance, boundaries, self love and self worth within you and create a safe life for yourself.

"When I was ignored for days and weeks on end I thought I was going insane and the physical pain I felt was throughout my body, mimicking stress induced diseases and triggering my PTSD into activating. I realized that I was beginning to self harm in order to cope with the loss of the one thing I wanted and needed most in the world; the attention of the person I loved. Within days as I became aware of the depths of the emotional pain within me and the dangers of how it was manifesting throughout me as I tried to escape the confusion and pain of being ignored, I reached out for help to a psychotherapist who specialized in narcissistic abuse. Within one session I had tools to begin breaking my addiction to the pain of the relationship and hold on until the next therapy session. In time I was able to recognize and break my codependency born from an abusive childhood as a survival mechanism. Without the therapist who specialized in emotional abuse I would not be here today." -Survivor Domestic Abuse

It is important to know that you are not alone and that there are many resources available to assist you in determining your path forward once you know that your partners silent treatment is not about you. If your partner is willing to attend a trauma trained therapist you will have a guide helping learn new skills and methods to safely and effectively work with your partner into a healthier relationship should you each decide to remain in the relationship.

If you recognize that your partner is attempting to punish you, prioritize getting yourself into domestic abuse therapy with a trained expert and begin the vital task of unlearning the abuse and rebuilding your self worth, self esteem and learning healthy boundaries to keep you safe in future relationships. This will be very difficult, and likely impossible to do if you remain in an abusive household with the abuser. You must choose you and your health and safety.

It is important that you understand that you will not be able to change an abusive partner. Only they can change themselves and they would need the support and guidance of a trained therapist and this time of their self work may not be a safe time for you to remain in the same home. Please immediately seek outside help and always report all abuse to the appropriate authorities.

Remember therapy and coaching are confidential and will change the course of your life and the lives of your children. It is imperative to note that if you have children they will have witnessed the abuse and should be seen by a specialized child trauma therapist to begin undoing the normalization of emotional abuse and invalidation of you and possibly them. Healing from emotional abuse is a process that takes as long as it takes, no two recoveries are exactly the same and this is doubly important to note for the recovery of children.