Parenting, Silent Treatment and Emotional Abuse

By Wasim Kakroo

WE have all experienced silent treatment from our parents and loved ones at some point during our childhood. You may have even given it to someone at some time in your life. Silent treatment, whether in a parent-child relationship or a love relationship, is thought to be the most harmless way of punishing another person. Because it does not entail physical or verbal abuse, it is considered to be a non-violent type of punishment.

But we don't realize how silent treatment can harm a person's mental and emotional health, especially children who are still trying to make sense of the world and need someone to depend upon. Consider the difficulty they may confront, if they are in distress and have no one to talk to or express it to. How vulnerable do you think they might feel in such a situation?

Furthermore, it may cause long-term damage to your relationship with your child. In this article we will discuss what ill effects it can cause to the mental health of your child who receives the silent treatment and what can be done to replenish the damage.

What is Silent Treatment?

When a person refuses to talk or communicate with another person, this is known as silent treatment. This strategy is frequently used as a form of punishment to get to a person and make them realize their error.
Here are some examples of how silent treatment can be practiced.

- Refusing to talk or communicate in any way

- Avoiding confrontation or any form of discussion

- Ignoring and dismissing issues between parents and child

- Withholding love and affection and treating the child coldly

Why do Parents use this strategy?

There could be a variety of reasons why parents treat their children in this manner. But mostly, it's to teach their children a lesson without resorting to physical violence or yelling to do so. However, following are a few more reasons why parents may subject their children to the silent treatment.

- When confronted with a problem

- When they are requested to keep and respect boundaries

- When children disobey their parents and do something they don't want them to do.

- When children refuse to listen or say 'NO'

Furthermore, parents with narcissistic qualities are more likely to utilize silent treatment because they want things to go their way and can't accept defiance. In addition, parents might be emotionally immature at times. They may employ silent treatment as a way out if they want to avoid disagreements or addressing uncomfortable questions.

What effect does it have on a growing child or a teen?

Young children are at a stage in their lives where they have a lot of questions and are interested in almost everything that happens around them. Kids are still learning, which is why they look to their parents for support and guidance at difficult times.

Imagine kids being completely shut out by their parents. We can understand when the only person they trust in the world does not respond to them, they can feel uneasy, nervous, and stressed.

Ignoring children on purpose can make them feel abandoned, rejected, and alone, which is the opposite of how they want to be treated when they are young. They may also feel isolated and unwanted as a result of this.

According to studies, experiencing rejection on a regular basis might lower a person's self-esteem and confidence. When done by someone close to them, such as a parent, the effect of silent treatment gets amplified.

Is this a kind of emotional abuse?

Abuse can take many forms. While some are obvious, others are concealed behind nonverbal gestures.
Silent treatment is classified as emotional abuse. It has no bodily implications, but it can have a significant impact on a person's emotional well-being.

Rejection, ostracization, and feeling unwelcome can hurt the psyche in a variety of ways, causing insecurity, stress, and anxiety. Relationships must have an equal distribution of affection, regardless of who is involved. Silent treatment throws off the equilibrium, causing one person to feel in charge while the other loses control and strives to repair the relationship.

Furthermore, the silent treatment harms those who are most vulnerable, such as children. It's a type of temporary abandonment in which children don't feel loved or supported. Experts feel it's also a manipulative technique that forces the child to alter or improve even if they aren't ready.

What effects can silent treatment from parents have upon the adult life of such a child?

If either of your parents gave you "the silent treatment" when they weren't happy with you, it could be affecting your adult life in ways you don't realise. Withholding love and attention from children, ignoring them, or excluding them from their company is a common coping strategy, and it appears to be harmless. However, the long-term damage that goes unnoticed might fundamentally alter the adult that child becomes. Such children can show the following characteristics when they grow into adults:

• You are triggered more easily than others when someone does not reply to you.

• You're sensitive to being ignored.

• You rely on people to feel good about yourself.

• You have deep-seated feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy.

• To feel good, you need other people's approval.

• You can feel jealous, even if it doesn't make sense.

• You appear to be needy.

• You put too much pressure on yourself.

• You may feel insecure in a relationship or at work.

• You're concerned about what others might think of you.

• You're a people-pleasing type of person.

• You're afraid to ask for what you want because you're afraid of being rejected.

• You take it personally when someone does not respond or speak with you.

• You tend to be attracted towards people who are emotionally detached or narcissistic.

What should parents do instead of using the silent treatment on their children?

Silent treatment, as innocent as it may appear, is just as deadly, especially when children are involved. Instead of turning to such activities, educate yourself on how harmful it is.

Communication is the most effective technique to settle any relationship issue. If you're angry with your child because of their behavior, tell them instead of giving them silent treatment. Explain why it was wrong and how they can improve as humans. If they make a mistake, assist them in learning from it. Giving them the silent treatment will only make them feel worse, not better.

In addition, children frequently learn from their parents' actions. And because you choose to give them silent treatment, there's a chance that they'll refuse to face confrontations in the future and continue to employ the same strategy, which is detrimental to their personal growth. However, it is of immense importance to refrain from using the silent treatment and instead parents are advised to invest in healthy communications.

Therapy for Silent Treatment

Someone who has repeatedly experienced the silent treatment from parents, family members, or other individuals may benefit from individual therapy to help rebuild self-esteem. In some cases, trauma healing techniques such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) can help someone who has experienced silent treatment as a child or teenager.


Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

  • The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar). He can be reached at 8825067196

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