The silent treatment: A favorite tactic of the master manipulator

When you’re angry at someone, it’s normal to want some distance between that person and yourself. 

It helps clear the mind and prevents both from saying even more hurtful things in the heat of the moment, which could further aggravate the situation. When both parties are a lot calmer, talking things out becomes a bit more efficient. 

However, silence can also be wielded as a weapon in response to conflict, with the underlying motive of manipulating the other person to respond in a certain way. 

If you feel like you’re in this situation, read on to find out some of the signs to look out for and how you can address this.

Why the silent treatment?

But first, let’s explore why people choose to give the other person the silent treatment.

In short, because it’s effective.

When you’re being stonewalled – especially by someone who you hold in high regard, like a close family member, friend, or partner – you’re forced into an uncomfortable situation where your interactions are being ignored. 

They’re telling you in a not-so-subtle manner that they’re upset and at times, may want you to identify your mistake, or manipulate you into doing what they want you to do.

We’re not referring to people who are naturally shy or introverted and dislike confronting others.

Here, we’re referring to those who use the silent treatment to get what they want.

Manipulative individuals are exceptionally good at this. They may not be in the wrong, but they’ll make you feel like you’re at fault and they’re the victims.

Through this, they gain the upper hand in the relationship by controlling you. 

Unfortunately, most of them get a kick out of this.

What does it look like?

Essentially, they go out of their way to ignore you. 

Perhaps they used to talk to you often, either over the phone or regular meet-ups over meals. Now, they do a one-eighty and ignore you for a while, before giving a half-hearted, delayed response. 

They’ll avoid your calls, texts, or DMs. They may even go as far as leaving you on read. Which is the worst, right? They show you that they’ve opened the message but refuse to respond, until much later.

Maybe they’re living under the same roof as you. This could be a family member, partner, or housemate. You’re used to seeing and interacting with them daily and now they barely register your presence. 

They may give you one-word replies when you speak to them and nothing more. I’m not sure which is worse, actually – complete silence or uninterested replies. 

Overall, their intention is to show you how little value you have in their eyes, despite your ‘closeness’.

And this hurts a great deal more when they mean a lot to you. The thing is – manipulators know this. 

They’re aware that every second they ignore you, you die a little bit inside. It’s an extremely uncomfortable situation that you would want nothing more than to escape from.

So, they know that sooner or later, you’ll give in to whatever they want. 

What do they want?

pic1079 The silent treatment: A favorite tactic of the master manipulator

This really depends on the circumstances. 

Some possible reasons could be:

  • Manipulating you to get what they want: Perhaps the both of you disagreed on something and they want you to go along with whatever they said. Giving you the silent treatment fills you with guilt and the desperate need to ‘fix’ the problem aka. giving in to them.
  • Punishing you: Maybe you did hurt them (intentionally or unintentionally), and they want you to suffer for the distress you caused. Giving you the silent treatment thus isolates you and cuts you off from the familiar support that you were used to. It leaves you completely alone.
  • Exerting power/control: They may just do it to show who has control in the relationship. You’re left feeling insecure as you start second-guessing your words and actions. You replay scenes in your head wondering what you did wrong. Ultimately, you’re at their mercy. You may end up trying to ‘win’ them back or beg them for closure or a reason for what they did to you.  

Most of the time, manipulators will rarely tell you what they want. They expect you to find out. In the meantime, you suffer in this prolonged state of guilt, isolation, and doubt. 

Eventually, you may start to question your self-worth as well. 

Addressing the silent treatment

It’s normal to be confused, angry, and even disappointed. The sense of betrayal can be overwhelming

As you start rationalizing things, you may even get angry at yourself for ‘ruining’ the relationship and blame yourself for the way things turned out.

Whether or not you’re in the wrong, remember that people who truly value you will never manipulate you. They value the relationship over everything else and will try their best to repair it through open and honest communication. 

So, when you’ve identified that you’re at the receiving end of this, perhaps consider:

  • Addressing the issue: Set boundaries for yourself and tell the other party that if they truly value you, they’d want to get to the bottom of the issue. Inform them that you will not entertain their actions.
  • Seek support: Speak to someone you trust about this. Don’t bottle up your feelings. You may even want to journal or write out everything that you wish to say to the other person, if it helps you organize your thoughts. This creates an outlet for your emotions.
  • Walk away: If there’s no chance at reconciliation and they’re intent on making you feel this way for the sake of it, let it go. We don’t always need closure or a reason for why things ended up the way they did before we move on. We may never get it either. And that’s okay. 
  • Self-reflect: Think about what led to the situation and learn from there. Focus on your needs, desires and boundaries. 

Learning to move on and successfully moving on from this chapter will take time and effort, but don’t give up.

You’ll get there.

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, their actions are a reflection of who they are as a person. Manipulating people through the silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse, and the sooner you get out of this relationship or friendship, the better.

The next thing to do is heal. Surround yourself with people who care for you. 

Remember that you deserve people who value, respect and love you for who you are. 

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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