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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Holidays are so much better without the silent treatment

After spending years and years with a relative, spouse, or otherwise “loved one,” walking on eggshells, or feeling the sting of being ignored, it becomes very emancipating indeed to have silent-treatment free holidays! There is nothing quite so liberating as getting away from people who don’t value you enough to talk to you.

Some toxic relatives are so obvious with their public shunning that they will go up to someone standing right next to you and carry on complete conversations, acting as if you were invisible. It’s amazing that there are people in the world that do this; but, they are everywhere. I assume they’re narcissists; but, whatever they are, they are no fun to be around during any holiday or birthday celebration – particularly if you are one of their chosen targets.

If you are stuck with an unhealthy relative, such as described above, what can you do to protect yourself and/or set boundaries that enable you to be free from the toxicity of the silent treatment?

Some of the things that people have tried to manage the silent treatment include:

  1. Ignoring the person.
  2. Going in to another room.
  3. Pretending everything is fine.
  4. Being controlled by the other person.
  5. Stressing out over what they did to contribute to it.
  6. Trying to change it.
  7. Accepting it.

One thing that is important to realize is that people who give the silent treatment love to have the targets around. This helps them feel that they are in control of the relationship. They do not enjoy the silent treatment as much when the person is not around to shun.

The sad reality of this type of relationship for the target of the ostracizing is that it seems so pointless and non-sensical (which it is.)  But, nonetheless, it is what it is, and targets have no power to change someone who gives the silent treatment.

The reason the silent treatment is so painful is because it discounts the value of the recipient. Studies have shown that infants and young children will suffer from trauma symptoms after experiencing a lack of response and a flat affect from their mothers.  People who are not in a comforting, attuned, responsive relationship with a loved one, will struggle with a sense of intense frustration and disappointment.

To add insult to injury, victims of the silent treatment don’t even realize they are being abused. Instead, they feel confused and somewhat guilty, believing they caused the other person to ignore them.  It is an insidious abuse. There are no physical symptoms, such as blood, broken bones, or bruising. To the outside observer there is nothing abusive occurring.

This causes the victim to feel invalidated, not just once, but multiple times. It gets to a point where the victim simply internalizes the pain and tries to stop from feeling that he or she is going crazy. All of this occurs “under the radar” and in silence. The target doesn’t even like to talk to others about it because it’s so elusive, hard to explain, and often minimized by others.

The best way to cope with this type of abuse is to do the following:

  1. Acknowledge that you are being specifically targeted by your loved one with the intention to hurt you.
  2. Feel the feelings you experience as a result. Allow yourself to know how you feel and let the feelings out. This is helpful so that you are processing through your emotions, rather than letting them internalize.
  3. Do not confront the person who is ignoring you. Rather, observe it, and make a conscious effort to leave their environment. People feel each other’s energy. You don’t need to subject yourself to negative and hurtful energy.
  4. Find someone else to connect with. I love the saying, “Find some real monkeys to bond with!” In other words, stop trying to hold on to the cold, emotionally unavailable people in your life, and instead bond with those who can bond.
  5. Be present for yourself. Do not follow suit with your abuser, instead, be there for yourself. Turn toward yourself for validation, rather than continually reaching out to or hoping for acknowledgement from someone who cannot see you.
  6. The best thing to do, if at all possible, is don’t even bother with people who play these crazy mind games in the first place. There are plenty of people, if not most, who do not like the silent treatment and would never do it to anyone in the first place.

In the end, you will eventually learn that holidays, just like every other day of your life, are better spent without people who give you the silent treatment.

Holidays are so much better without the silent treatment

APA Reference
Stines, S. (2018). Holidays are so much better without the silent treatment. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 18, 2019, from