Why Do People Use Silent Treatment and When Does it Become Abusive?

Why Do People Use Silent Treatment and When Does it Become Abusive? why do people use silent treatment and when does it become abusive?

Silent treatment is when there is a refusal to communicate with someone else or when someone completely ignores you. They may just go quiet even for a couple of days or weeks without giving any valid reason why they’re doing so. This can happen in a workplace or in any relationship you have in life.

Silence doesn’t mean that there’s no communication, but it’s the kind of communication where someone is passing a message by simply going silent. We’ve all engaged in some form of silent treatment in our lives or in one way or another. When someone goes silent on you, it doesn’t really mean they’re becoming abusive; sometimes, it’s just their way of handling things. So, why do people use the silent treatment in relationships, and when does it cross the line and become abusive?


One common reason why people use the silent treatment is that they’re avoiding conflict in the relationship or simply don’t know how to express themselves clearly. This is mostly prevalent for people who are used to taking the back seat in interactions and don’t want to cause any ‘trouble.’

They might have an opinion about something in the relationship, but because they’re afraid or not really used to expressing it, they choose the path of least resistance, which is keeping quiet. When you’re quiet, it’s easy to avoid any consequences that will arise if you speak up. You may probably think that if you speak up, it might end the relationship or make things hard for you.


Another instance is you might have aired your views in the past, but it made things hard for you or the consequences were not what you expected. You might have received backlash from the one you were talking to or experienced pushback, and now you choose silence as a way of communicating with them.

When you’re giving the silent treatment out of fear or to protect yourself, then it is not really abusive, but it doesn’t mean it is a healthy way to settle things in a relationship.

Manipulation and Control

So, when does the silent treatment become abusive? It simply depends on the intent. When one uses the silent treatment as a way of punishment or avoiding discussing serious concerns about the allegations you’ve made against them, then it becomes emotionally abusive.

An example can be when you raise a concern about your partner’s behaviours, like flirting or some behaviours you’re not comfortable with, and then they go silent on you. You’ve really expressed your feelings about things that may make or break the relationship, but instead of them responding, they go quiet for a couple of days or even weeks, to the point where you start feeling guilty or feeling like you did something wrong for raising genuine questions.

The intent of the abuser is to punish you for voicing your concerns, and you may end up apologizing and even vowing not to repeat what you said. So, it becomes manipulative or abusive when silence is used to push aside legitimate concerns about how they treat you.

When the silent treatment is used to put you in your place or make you lower your boundaries, then that form of silent treatment is abuse. It puts you in a difficult position, and you may end up doing everything in your capacity or going an extra mile to make them talk to you.


It may not be easy to discern if the silent treatment your partner is exhibiting is manipulative or not, but one way to gain insight into their behaviour is by considering the context and patterns in their actions. If the silent treatment is a rare occurrence and appears to be a response to a specific situation or disagreement, it might be a coping mechanism or a reflection of their need for space, or an indication that they cannot express themselves. With ‘normal’ silent treatment, your partner may even explain why they went silent afterwards and take ownership of their behaviour.

On the other hand, if this behavior is a consistent pattern, accompanied by a lack of communication, emotional manipulation, or other control tactics, it could be an indicator of a more toxic nature of the relationship. An abuser will rarely use the silent treatment as their only tool of manipulation, and they may even scold you for sharing your concerns. They will not take accountability for going silent on you and might ignore it while blaming you for their actions. In an abusive relationship, the person giving the silent treatment may not provide an explanation for their behavior. Instead, they might view their silence as a valid response and shift the blame onto you for expressing concerns. This lack of accountability and the attempt to make you feel wrong or guilty for voicing legitimate concerns are characteristic behaviors of emotional manipulation and abuse.

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Edwin Bii
Edwin Bii

I'm Edwin Bii, a trained advanced conversational hypnotherapist (ACH) and Mind Shifting Coach from Kenya offering mental health support, and life coaching to help you crush your goalsand overcome your problems. Together, we'll navigate challenges, build self-awareness, and create a happier, healthier you. Let's unlock your potential.

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