Silent Treatment can affect you in more ways than one.
Is the silent treatment making you sick?
As detailed in the introductory article, Are you a Victim of Silent Treatment Emotional Abuse, manipulative, controlling silent treatment has a variety of negative psychological effects on the person on the receiving end of it. However, quite apart from the mental anguish that comes with feelings of isolation, anger, depression, confusion, hurt and/or stress, silent treatment victims may additionally experience physical ailments such as tension headaches, bloodshot eyes, diarrhea or constipation, cold sores, and/or stomach pains, not to mention insomnia and fatigue. Their emotional state might mean they develop an eating disorder e.g. binge eating, not eating enough. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, blood clots, and cancer are some of the more worrying physical health consequences which have been linked to extreme, extended emotional stress. Pre-existing health concerns and complaints will not be aided by emotional stress.
Of course not all stress that leads to physical symptoms is as a result of silent treatment emotional abuse, and not all stress is bad for you. There are a multitude of other reasons why people experience stress and often a combination of reasons are present. However the examples recounted below show how silent treatment, often used by passive aggressive and/or narcissistic personalities, can seriously affect a person’s physical, as well as mental, welfare.
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The link between stress and physical ailments
When recurring silent treatment is causing you tension, the resultant stress can activate the body’s fight or flight reaction during which hormones are released that impact body processes, (for example, accelerated heart rate, slowed digestion, decreased blood flow). Ongoing stress causes ongoing alterations to normal body systems and this can lead to long term physical symptoms. Click here to read more about emotional stress and physical illnesses.
1. Silent Treatment Emotional Abuse and Stress in Action
Franklyn, in his mid forties, has been married to Helen for over 25 years and they have 4 children. To onlookers, Franklyn and his wife had a great marriage and partnership, but what nobody realised was that there were often long periods of time when Helen would not be on speaking terms with Franklyn - weeks on end. The merest of triggers could spark a new chapter of silent treatment. If truth be told, Franklyn was just as likely to be the instigator of a period of not speaking as his wife. The significant difference was that Franklyn could not hold out as long as his wife. After half a day or so he was “over” whatever the problem was and ready to restore the equilibrium and be normal. However Helen was a stubborn and hardy individual who would brood and give him the cold shoulder for what seemed like forever.
Franklyn loathed and dreaded the lengthy silences so much that he fell into the habit of telling his wife what he thought she wanted to hear, just so as to keep the peace. For the most part he actively avoided potentially contentious conversations. Although most of their silent treatment episodes kicked off from things so insignificant that a couple of weeks down the line they often couldn’t even remember what had triggered it, occasionally there was something a little more serious. A few incidents during their 25 year marriage had caused Franklyn to have some misgivings about his wife’s fidelity. Indeed on one or two occasions in the early days he had ventured to ask questions of her about his suspicions, but the initial response he was met with, backed up by weeks of silent treatment, meant that future questionable behaviours on his wife’s part were shelved indefinitely. Franklyn simply closed his eyes to certain dubious behaviours from Helen, and would never raise them with her. He simply didn’t want to go there, knowing from experience that he would be summarily shut down, ostracised and made to feel bad for even thinking, let alone questioning, that Helen would do such a thing as commit adultery.
Franklyn grew accustomed to squashing his intermittent feeling of insecurity, but one day something happened that he simply could not ignore or shake off. This incident warranted a deep conversation. Franklyn kept resolving to talk to Helen about it but failed every time.
Unfortunately the stress of not confronting Helen with his questions as to her fidelity began to take a toll on his mental and physical well being. In keeping quiet to avoid a verbal outburst, followed by silent treatment, withdrawal of affection and intimacy from Helen, Franklyn suffered insomnia, headaches, a bad taste in the mouth, restlessness, stomach upset/indigestion, over-eating, not eating at times, depression, loss of concentration leading to difficulties at work, anxiety, bloodshot eyes, cold sores, colds and he eventually ended up in the emergency room due to palpitations and chest pains. In total it took nine months for Franklyn to blurt out his fears to Helen. During these nine months he experienced more health issues than he had through the entirety of his life.
Now it is not the case that throughout the entire nine months Franklyn and Helen were not on speaking terms. On the surface things were relatively normal for them but in the background during this period Franklyn was literally sick with worry and trepidation about whether or not his infidelity fears were true.
He lost count of the number of times he set himself a date for raising the issue only to chicken out at the last minute. Seven months in, following the ER incident, he got himself some individual counselling and then at the nine month mark he finally blurted out his misgivings to Helen.
Whether or not his adultery suspicions proved true or not is not the issue for this article. The essential point here is that year upon year of unhealthy relationship destroying silent treatment led to him being too apprehensive to raise an important emotive problem with his partner. This took a very significant toll on his health, both mentally and physically.
More on Silent Treatment from Ebonny
- How to cope with the Silent Treatment Emotional Abus...
Here's what you can ACTUALLY DO to feel better when your partner gives you the silent treatment -rather than be miserable, angry or isolated.
- Specific Examples - How to cope with the Silent Trea...
Coping with, and breaking the cycle of, Silent Treatment abuse – examples of strategies in action to deal with this form of emotional abuse.
- Further Strategies - How to cope with the Silent Tre...
Further ways to cope with silent treatment emotional abuse in relationships. Self help for becoming upbeat rather than beset with negative feelings.
- When and how to Discuss/Confront. How to cope with ...
When you cannot tolerate the silent treatment - When/how to talk to partner. Aim for discussion rather than confrontation.
2. Emotional Abuse Silent Treatment and Stress in Action
Another case study: Without realising it, Mona was always on her guard about “provoking” her partner Robin into yet another silent episode. She was forever walking on eggshells and over many years became attuned to which topics would precipitate an upset and would skirt around certain issues or avoid them altogether. Mona wanted to tackle Robin on the issue of gambling as money was missing from their savings account. She had done so once before and had been immediately on the receiving end of a tirade of verbal abuse, the threat of physical abuse, all topped up with an excruciating eight week period of silent treatment.
Mona was never sure if it was the fact that she had dared to question his gambling that prompted Robin to overreact to her raising her misgivings, even thought he may not in fact have reverted to gambling, or whether his changing/killing the subject so furiously was so that he would not have to account for actually having been gambling. Either way, like Franklyn, Mona suffered physical as well as emotional health effects and was at one point admitted to hospital with a deep vein thrombosis. Thankfully Mona's blood clot was discovered before it became life threatening.
Be good to yourself when experiencing emotional stress such as that caused by silent treatment.
Given that long term silent treatment emotional abuse creates anxiety, and anxiety in general, can lead to chronic stress and an assortment of medical concerns, those on the receiving end of the cold shoulder from their spouse need to take good care of themselves to help preserve both their mental and physical health.
As detailed in the other articles in this series, aim for time limited cooling off periods and do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed with negative feelings when you are being shunned by your partner. Please do not allow silent treatment to break you. By taking ownership of your own peace of mind, stress related physical ailments can be lessened and/or avoided.
PART 6 - How to help STOP the silent treatment affecting your physical health and well being - find out how to help negate potential negative physical and mental health effects caused by emotional stress such as repetitive silent treatment emotional abuse. Varied, useful practical methods.
Things to consider when you are on "good" speaking terms with your partner
- The Five Love Languages in Silent Treatment Relationships
- Silent Treatment Relationships and Speaking your Partner's Love Language
You should seek the services of a qualified and experienced counsellor or doctor as necessary if you are experiencing phychological or physical ailments, or if your partner is potentially violent.
© 2013 Ebonny
Comments - Is Emotional Abuse Silent Treatment affecting your physical, as well as emotional, well being?
Ebonny (author) from UK on August 31, 2015:
Hi Stella - Many thanks for dropping by with your comment, and glad to know you found someone who knows how to communicate. It makes all the difference.
stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on August 30, 2015:
I am older and life is too short to waste your time on people who play games. My first husband did that and the marriage ended. I have been married 21 years now and my husband knows how to talk. Great Hub, Stella
Ebonny (author) from UK on August 01, 2015:
It's hard but if we want things go change we have to seriously consider doing things differently and sustain it. It's good to think through how you can motivate yourself to see things through once you have decided on a particular course of action - think about how you want to respond to inevitable temptation to go back to your old way of doing things. Some people find it helps to write down the reasons why they have chosen to change their own behaviour and then when they feel tempted to give up, reading their reasons helps them to carry the through. Positive affirmations, and self talk can also be very useful.
Jo on July 29, 2015:
Im struggling with the silent treatment. I messaged him monday and the response was cold and unloving. I havent messaged him since. We dont live together so struggling as to whether to just leave him be. he has done this before waiting for an apology. This time i feel i have to stand my ground and wait for him to come to me? Although my head is strong my stomach says something else. He hurt my feelings and i dont think he liked my response i just went to move away from him and then he turned it on me and turned his back on me. We went to the pub where his friend was on sunday and he just carried on like nothing was wrong.
Ebonny (author) from UK on May 25, 2015:
Being on the receiving end of silent treatment can be even more difficult when a person is feeling vulnerable and stressed and I do so feel for you. I can understand why you decided to go stay with your mom and hopefully the space will have given both you and your husband the opportunity to miss one another somewhat and for the future to appreciate one another that bit more. Hopefully your homecoming has not been too awkward but, that said, I have been thinking about how things might be handled differently for the future.
The thing that concerns me is, if I have understood you correctly, neither of you knew when you would be together again – neither in terms of emotion nor proximity. He didn’t give an end time to the space he wanted. Would you have felt more accepting of his need for space if at the outset you knew how much space he actually wanted in terms of time? (When things are left hanging they are more difficult to deal with.) I suggest it would help if at some point soon you can let him know that you are okay with him having space when there is a specified timeframe/end time (and in this instance I would hope he would have given a shorter rather than longer timeframe given the baby’s due date). Do you feel that if he had given you an “end time” for the space he needed, you might not have felt so driven to leave and stay with your mom. Again, I am assuming that you didn’t give him a timeframe for how long you would spend with your mother – which is understandable since he didn’t let you know how much space he wanted but just playing devil’s advocate, both of you not knowing what’s happening is not good for either of you. Now, to be honest, in the past I have left the house for an extended period when I couldn’t take the silence anymore and I never said how long I would be gone for either so I think I know where you are coming from, but it got me nowhere really in terms of the relationship. In any event, with you being heavily pregnant and needing support you must put your health and baby’s health first and do what you feel is right for your situation. Getting the support you need, particularly at this time, is important.
Hopefully, your husband is generally supportive and hopefully he is clear about the specific support you would like at this time. In turn he should be clear with you about the support can and will provide and open with you about anything which he cannot help with so that you know where you stand. Guesswork doesn’t help in these situations I fear. Sometimes people are not sure what others want of them but are not comfortable with asking in case they cannot deliver what is requested. Likewise the other party may not want to spell out what is wanted/needed for fear of appearing too demanding or needy and so simply hope/expect the other person will instinctively know what is required and do the necessary. In a nutshell, communication is key and knowing where each of you stands it half the battle.
I would try to use the strategies suggested in the articles AS WELL AS letting him know that I felt the behaviour was unacceptable. My feeling now is that, as awful as silent treatment is, I am determined not to let it negatively overwhelm or control me like it used to.
I know you are concerned about the possibility of your couples counsellor taking your husbands side but I don’t think this will be the case if you have an experienced objective practitioner who is there to help both of you.
I really hope you can develop/continue thinking more and more positively (that’s what saved me) and please do take very good care. Last but not least I do admire you in resolving to give the strategies a go at what can be a very stressful time and don't worry if stumble in implementing them at times (perfectly normal) - just try again when you can. I wish you, your new baby and the family the best for the future.
Anonymiss on May 23, 2015:
Thank you so much for your article because now I feel like I have some real strategies for dealing with my husband's current behavior.
He stopped speaking to me four days ago for no explanation other than that he "needed space" and he claimed it had nothing to do with me. We had returned home from a difficult couples counseling session but we're on amicable terms. I am 8 months pregnant and not especially emotionally easy to deal with at his point, and I am also the primary caretaker of our 1.5 year old son. We had had a few spats recently, neither of us was feeling particularly good about the other of our relationship, but other than this there was no particular incident that sparked his sudden withdrawal. The counsellor expressly told him to avoid getting into conflict with me at this time because I am pregnant and need to stay calm. I think he has taken her advice and manipulated it to push me away and make me feel awful. When he initially asked for space I told him very clearly that I did it want this, that I needed him especially right now, but that I would respect his wishes. When he flat out ignored me the next day I decided it would be best to remove myself from the situation and visit my mom for a few days so that I could get the help and support that I need right now since he was opting out of giving that. I calmly and politely that I was giving him the space he requested, I was not trying to run away or make a power play, but that, as a practical matter, I needed more support. I have not heard from him in four days, not even to ask after or make contact with our son. I have been an emotional wreck over it, but I have held my ground in not pursuing him. I am disgusted by his childish behavior, and at a loss to understand it. He has used silent treatment with me before but never to such an extent. I cannot believe he would be so cruel and irresponsible at a time when I clearly need him and his kindness and understanding.
I will return home in another day, and I plan on using your suggestions to cope with his treatment. I am worried, however, that he will not understand that his behavior is wrong. I'm afraid that, even when we do discuss this with our counselor, she will be too sympathetic to him, saying he needed his space and was doing what he thought was right, etc etc. I need him to know that this behavior is unacceptable, but I am afraid he will instead feel validated.
Thank you for any advice you can provide.
Ebonny (author) from UK on March 31, 2015:
Thank you for sharing your painful story.
You have been through a lot, and it’s so sad when the unspeaking partner starts involving the children as this can lead to cycles of emotional manipulation become ingrained in families.
Difficult to come to terms with your ex and his family denying your other children but it sounds as if you are earnestly reflecting and learning from all of this and emerging wiser - gathering strength, self respect and confidence. This will no doubt help you take good care of yourself as you move on positively with your life.
Thujalove7 on March 27, 2015:
I was in a silent treatment relationship for 12 years. At first I wasn't sure what was happening because I didn't know what caused the silence and angry body language. I would just concentrate on what I could have done differently. It took me years to realize, no matter what I did it would happen, and I started not caring how he felt, at least as much. Eventually he started doing it to the kids as they got older. We went to counseling for years, the counselor suggested I leave him alone, give him space when he is upset, but this just led to me sleeping on the couch and eventually sharing a room with one of the kids and having no personal space for me. My personal counseling helped me the most because it helped me realize that I'm worthy of healthy relationships. My abuser, I believe, picked me because I already had a low self esteem and was uncomfortable being alone. I did it because he never wanted to go anywhere with me but I had issues. He had a separate group of issues. When he treated me good, I felt like I had the best friend I could ever ask for. This combination was horrible, even his family has given him the victim role which furthers the abuse in my opinion, they quit talking to me and only connect with the child we had together although he helped me raise the other one from 2 years of age. He always kept his friends at a distance and would visit them when I was in "Trouble",and he always had a reason not to like my friends. Eventually we where living separate lives and I left. Even knowing how horrible it was, at times I miss him, or at least the friend part. I pushed my friends away, moved out almost a hundred miles from all of my old friends and lost his family and his friends. He hasn't contacted us except to make arrangements to pick up his son. Same with his family, its as if we are the bad guys. I've gone back to school and just continued to work on myself. I have decided to rebuild
y social network of friends and secure my financial stability before pursuing another relationship. This time I want to be strong so that I'm not taken advantage of. I believe my health is ok but I'm sure that this relationship took a toll...it was too long and seriously painful not to have done something but I'm taking care of myself now. I feel like I need to share my story because it took me years to realize there was nothing I could do to make him happy. He never opened up to our counselor he just wanted to blame others for his anger. He took Zoloft for about five months and that worked miricles until he decided it wasn't doing anything and weaned himself off without telling me...but I knew something was wrong right away and just hoped it wouldn't last. Then was angry that I was happier when he wad on it. It was a losing battle and I spent more energy and emotion on someone who didn't think he had any problems. He has always been successful at work and school, he isn't shy like me...anyway it was awful and looking back there wasn't much good in all that pain...no-one should have to go through that.
Ebonny (author) from UK on March 19, 2014:
I am sorry to hear what you are experiencing. It must be so difficult to contend the accusations and the silences. Constantly crying, not eating and feeling that you are losing your mind in my opinion indicates that you could well benefit from some outside help to deal with this relationship. For the sake of your emotional and physical health please make it a PRIORITY to speak to a trusted, wise friend or family member, and/or a suitably qualified professional. Later you may wish to think about couple counselling but do get help for yourself as your main priority. Please also consider the suggestions in Part 6 of these articles. Take care. Ebonny.
sad and lonely on March 18, 2014:
my boyfriend is so paranoid..he thinks im flashing at the guy facing me thru my bedroom window..hes accusing me of doing disgusting things to myself when he was lyin beside me..we don't live together and he has been in his own house ignoring my texts. i went round to see him to tell him he was wrong..im a very modest girl and wouldn't evn undress in front of another woman..im so down and upset..iv been in my room constantly crying for 3 days.. i havnt ate or anything..im losing my mind xx
Ebonny (author) from UK on June 22, 2013:
Thanks for sharing Star45 - Your situation is indeed very hurtful and I do hope you will be able to find it within yourself to change the dynamic in your relationship rather than simply accepting it indefinitely as many do.
It's natural to feel angry, and a whole host of other emotions, but again I hope you can channel your feelings, change your response and/or make crucial decisions for your long term future which safeguard both your emotional and physical well being. Best wishes, Ebonny.
Ebonny (author) from UK on June 13, 2013:
Thanks for your comment LadyLLD. For sure there are a variety of reasons, conscious and unconscious and a variety of effects, emotional and physical to be considered.
Ebonny (author) from UK on May 12, 2013:
Hi not confused. Although making the transition from living with a partner to living alone may be daunting, I believe you are absolutely right and I'll bet that those who take the plunge end up wishing they had left earlier! Thank you for your comment.
not confused on May 10, 2013:
i realize that living alone happily is better than living in silence with someone else.
Ebonny (author) from UK on February 28, 2013:
Many thanks for your comment KoraleeP. It is shocking to know how lengthy a bout of silent treatment can go on for in some relationships (months, years even!), and the longer it goes on the more a couple grow apart as resentment builds up. Plus when someone is in the midst of it they often do not realise the toll it takes on their health.
Koralee Phillips from Vancouver British Columbia Canada on February 28, 2013:
I have heard of and experienced the "silent treatment" at times, but I didn't realize that some people do it for days on end to their spouse. I can see now after reading your hub how it would be phyiscally and emotionally detrimental. It is totally a form of control. Thanks for sharing your knowledge in this area.
Ebonny (author) from UK on February 27, 2013:
People are impressionable and when they see something working for someone else, often without realising the wider consequences they immitate the behaviour good or bad. Many thanks for your comment and vote Gail.
Ebonny (author) from UK on February 27, 2013:
It's true we cannot control another person yet without knowing it we allow another person to control us with silent treatment, and we put off making a decision as to the future hoping things will improve. Crazy, and wrong but all too true for many people who get caught up in a cycle of silence abuse. And yes, you're quite right - life is too short and if things cannot be turned around, for example using the methods outlined in my other hubs in this series, then it's time to go.
Many thanks for your thoughts.
Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on February 27, 2013:
I agree agree with that, dashingscorpio! You can not control another person. I think the silent treatment is a clear sign of immaturity and manipulation. It was a favorite of my NPD mother and my daughter learned it from her. Voted up.
dashingscorpio from Chicago on February 26, 2013:
You can't control another person. The "silent treatment" is a clear sign of immaturity. I have seen people apologize to the (silent) person even when they felt they did nothing wrong because they simply could not handle the silent treatment. Without communication there is no relationship in my opinion. If you're with someone who seeks to manipulate you with childish behavior it's time to make a decision. Personally speaking I would move on rather than play that game over and over again. Life is too short!