The Silent Treatment and 8 Forms of Emotional Manipulation

the silent treatment and emotional manipulation


Silent Treatment = Emotional Manipulation

By Dr. John Moore

Are you dealing with the silent treatment? Has the person you are romantically involved with stopped communicating with you? Are they withholding their words and emotions on purpose? Does their behavior have you walking on eggshells, unsure about how to proceed?

If so, you are not alone. The silent treatment is designed to make you stressed, angry, confused and mad – all at the same time. It also happens to be an effective form of emotional manipulation.

This article will offer a working definition of the silent treatment and identify several accompanying characteristics that go along with this insidious type of abuse. At the end, tips are offered on how to handle the silent treatment in the context of personal, romantic relationships.

Are you ready to learn more about this form of emotional manipulation? Let’s jump right in!

What is the silent treatment?

Chances are you already know what the silent treatment is. For the sake of clarity however, it’s important to understand how this form of emotional manipulation and control typically manifests itself in a relationship.

Common silent treatment behaviors include but are not limed to:

  1. Refusal to engage in general conversation
  2. Not responding to questions or minimally responding
  3. Intentionally withholding emotions and affection
  4. Intentionally withholding physical contact
  5. Refusing to make eye contact (or look at you)
  6. Barely acknowledging your presence in a room
  7. Displaying a general disinterest in your life
  8. Crazy Making (explained further down)

Silent Treatment is about inflicting pain

At its core, when you are being given the silent treatment by your mate, they are in fact engaging in passive aggressive/abusive behaviors designed to “punish” you for something.  Does that sound childlike? Well, that’s because it is.  

Here’s why …

The silent treatment is nothing more than the adult version of a childhood temper tantrum. It’s juvenile and to be blunt, incredibly narcissistic. In most cases, the person who has “gone silent” will internalize their emotions and regresses to an earlier point in life. In many ways, this is a learned behavior that was likely picked up during early childhood.

And don’t be fooled – the silent treatment requires an enormous amount of toxic energy to exist.

crazy making and silent treatment

Silent Treatment and Crazy Making

Other forms of abuse and “crazy making”

Usually, individuals who engage in the silent treatment partake in other forms of abuse. These can run the gamut, from throwing objects to name calling to angry outbursts. Some abusers even play a mental head-game with their partners/spouses known as “crazy-making”.

What’s that – never heard of this phrase?

Well, crazy-making is a 25-cent term used to describe a situation where an individual attempts to make the person they are with think they are “nuts”.

An example might be your husband asking you for a cup of coffee and then upon bringing it to him, says, “I never asked for that.” Another example might be your girlfriend saying she likes watching football and moments later, when you turn on a game, looks at you and says, “I never told you that.”

The motivation behind the silent treatment and other forms of emotional manipulation is simple – to inflict their power and control over you and the relationship in an effort to get what they want. In codependent type relationships, it’s a particularly common problem.

Silent Treatment Video

Below is a video that provides more insight into the silent treatment with a slide presentation that focuses on the narcissistic elements discussed earlier. It’s not the greatest video and the voice narrating is a computer however, the slides do bullet point more of what you have been exploring here. 

How to Handle Silent Treatment

You probably already know this but there isn’t a cookie cutter approach for dealing with “the treatment”. Remember, you are involved with someone who has regressed back to an earlier point in time (meaning childhood) and so they are operating from an emotionally stunted placed. This can be difficult to comprehend at first because they physically appear as adults. 

In any event, what follows are 3 practical suggestions for you to think about when dealing with someone giving you the silent treatment. Some of these may work and others may not. Each situation is obviously different. 

silent treatment passive aggressive behaviors


1) Call them out on it early

This particular suggestion should be used with caution because it has the potential for making a bad situation worse. You will have to be your own best judge here. If you do decide to address your mate’s behavior, do it before the painful silence sets in.

Some couples have found that taking a time out with strict guidelines to be helpful with preventing shutdowns and other forms of emotional manipulation.  

2) Avoid playing the game

It’s only human to want to give someone a taste of their own medicine. This approach, however, is unwise when it comes to the silent treatment. All it will do is further fuel an emotional game of chess in which there is no winner.

If you have a question you need to ask your mate – ask it. If they choose to not respond … that’s on them. Be prepared to walk away. Avoid continually asking the question over and over again. By walking away, you are highlighting their behavior in an adult-like way.  

3) Wait it out and then bring it up

This suggestion is perhaps the most difficult because it will require you to wait until they are done throwing their emotionally abusive temper tantrum. Once they start speaking to you again, you may want to mention their behaviors and how unhealthy they are for the relationship.

As an aside, if you feel your mate is up for it, suggest couples therapy. If your partner however retorts with, “Hey I’m not the one with the problem. You are the (fill in the blank) problem!” drop the subject and drop it fast (see our post on talking about couples therapy). It’s never a good idea to try and force counseling.

Final Thoughts

As mentioned earlier, the silent treatment is a common form of passive aggressive, emotional manipulation. One thing you may want to consider is individual counseling for yourself. You may be wondering why?

By having a safe outlet to express yourself, you are doing a great deal to help strengthen your self-esteem; something abusers continually try to tear down. Therapy can also help you to identify patterns in your relationships so that you can stop becoming involved with emotional manipulators in the first place.

One resource I would like to recommend to you is: Living with the Passive Aggressive Man. While the book is gender specific, its message is universal. Using true stories from individuals in the form of case studies,  you will learn more about a topic that is not often discussed and widely misunderstood.

I encourage you to visit our online couples and relationship bookstore for more helpful books on the topic of dating, marriage and communications. Thanks for stopping by.