I’m Getting the Silent Treatment. What Can I Do About It?
Sometimes, ignoring conflict makes commercial sense. It’s also a good option when all the other person is doing is insulting you and nothing good can come out of you responding, constructively or otherwise. Doing nothing should be part of your conflict resolution toolkit.
This blog post is about those times when you reach out to somebody and they ignore you. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you have made yourself vulnerable to somebody and the result was a wall of silent, excruciating, frustrating rejection.
I’ve already written about how you can manage your feelings of rejection, but this is about what you should do when somebody’s ignoring you but you want to re-establish contact.
The reasons for the silent treatment
You’ll never really know why somebody isn’t talking to you. However, here is a very basic, possible explanation.
We have default reactions to conflict which are motivated by fear. Conflict can be scary. If you think you can win, you’ll probably fight. If you think you’ll lose, you might flee so that you avoid having to engage because your opponent is stronger. You might even freeze because your mind has gone blank. These are all primal responses to danger.
In the modern day, we might fear different things. Aggression and violence are still likely fear inducing acts but we may also worry about losing respect, approval, love, acceptance or belonging by fighting. In that case, we might flee.
This might take the form of ignoring texts. Perhaps the perception is that by not responding to a potential partner, they’ll give up and move on. This gets rid of the problem without having to fight (or just confront the person). It’s much easier to hope that the other person will just get the message.
People who ignore potential conflict in this way don’t realise that it doesn’t have to be an emotional mess of screaming and shouting. It can just be an adult conversation, that expresses feelings, diffuses negative emotions and clarifies what each person needs and wants. They also don’t understand that by failing to communicate with you, they just make things worse.
When the silent treatment is a reaction to conflict, it shows an inability to communicate effectively, to express vulnerability and a non-assertive way of relating to some people.
If you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment, there are a few questions that you need to answer before taking any action:
- Ask yourself why you want to resume contact. If this is a pattern with a person, think about whether this is a strategy to control you. If so, what will resuming your relationship with them give you? Take time to think things over before you take the next step but the main question here is about your honest motivations.
- Is it time to give up? If you have communicated to the other person several times that you would like to talk to them and they have not responded, it’s time to give up. They are not ready to talk to you. You’ve been vulnerable and you have probably gone through some emotional turmoil because of this response and you deserve better than that.
- Could there be any other legitimate reason why you have not had a response? Being busy, losing your phone or not seeing your messages are not valid reasons. However, we all go through difficulties in life that take us away from everyday concerns. Grief is a good example of this. In my own experience of loss, I just couldn’t be bothered to respond to many people who were blissfully unaware of my circumstances. It wasn’t personal, it just took up too much of my energy and I didn’t want to socialise. For this reason alone, it’s best not to launch into a tirade because you feel rejected.
- Are you respecting boundaries? Being continually asked for contact can get annoying, especially when somebody has explained the reasons why they don’t want it. Could it be that you are just not listening to what the other person wants?
It’s hard because we want to understand why we are being rejected and we automatically believe that this was intentional.
If you want to deal with this constructively, here are a few ideas:
- Deal with your emotions before you make contact by getting some distance
- Approach the other person sensitively and respectfully
- If you think an apology might help, give one
- Express the will to reach a solution and to mend your relationship
- Give the other person time to consider your message and accept the fact that they may not respond to you.
I’m not going to tell you not to dwell on your feelings of rejection. That’s totally pointless! Rejection is a feeling of loss and giving yourself to feel that loss is what you need to heal! However, if the approach above doesn’t work, it’s time to move on and accept that some conflicts are best left unresolved and maybe, that’s all there is to it.
As always, let me know what you think!