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How silent treatment is used as a defence

silent defence mechanism

silent treatment – wall of defence

Being on the other side of a silent wall can be extremely hurtful, especially if you are a sensitive type.  Silent anger can feel like a dagger into your heart or a knife into your soul.  When you try to talk or break the silence and you are met with the back of someone’s head or a blank stare this eats into your own feelings of self-worth.  It is so upsetting and confusing that it’s hard to know what do to.

Being silent as a form of defence

People that feel unable to communicate on an emotional level can feel safe behind a wall of silence.  Instead of being present and engaged through difficulties they abandon you emotionally, physically and spiritually.  If this happens often in your relationship it is likely that your partner finds it hard to be in touch with their own feelings of vulnerability.  Their inability to look at themselves becomes a shield of self-defence and protection.  Not talking saves facing up to reality and responsibility.

Lack of self-awareness and insight can be turned into blame and attack of other which can all be going on inside the mind.  Without conversation and different views and perspectives, there is no limit to the imagination in terms of twisting truths and ruminating on events to further justify behaviour.

How to meet the silent wall

Shutting someone out is an aggressive act that can feel like rejection at a deep level.  Shutting down lines of communication when you need it most can leave you feeling sad and confused.  When people build walls they are putting up barriers and when the bricks are all in place how do you get through.  Here are some suggested ways to acknowledge the situation and their behaviour:

“I can see you don’t want to talk right now but let me know when you do”

“Shutting me out is not going to solve anything”

“I can see you are upset”

By seeing their behaviour as belonging to them allows you to separate emotionally.  Verbalising the situation puts you in control.  By reflecting back to them you are in fact validating them which will help them to validate and strengthen themselves.  Enough about them now and lets look at you

Gaining Control

When you feel upset or hurt by your partner and are waiting for them to change YOU are NOT in the driving seat.  We cannot control others, their thoughts, their opinions or their behaviour.  You can only control yourself.  Let them sit behind their walls and get over whatever it is that has become the issue.  Carry on with your own life and make it clear that you are doing so.  Do not allow their behaviour to stop you.  Be clear and honest with yourself about your part in any situation.  You can even try writing them a note about how you see things.  If you have made a mistake, own up and take responsibility.  However do NOT apologise for things you haven’t done just to keep the peace.  Do NOT stoop to the lowest level of self-respect.  Affirm yourself with positive statements instead.

To survive, thrive and finally break free from passive aggressive behaviour.  CLICK HERE


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6 thoughts on “How silent treatment is used as a defence

  1. Andy

    I can relate to so much in this article from my experience with an ex, whom I believe to be a covert narcissist, yet with some differences. She would regularly give me the silent treatment as a means of punishment for my real or imagined behaviour. She would also use it as a means of preventing me from being able to resolve a disagreement or simply bring an argument to an end.

    She would also stonewall me as a way of avoiding responsibility if I raised an issue that she didn’t wish to talk about or admit to.

    That is where I see the distinction between the silent treatment (as a form of punishment) and stonewalling (an avoidance tactic). This distinction is important as there is motive behind either action, the former being controlling and manipulative (and often used by abusive partners). The latter being avoident, can be a tactic of a toxic partner but it can also be a habit of codependent or otherwise disfunctional people.

    As a side note, there is a clear difference here also with giving each other some breathing space and also with no contact.

    I’d like to hear thoughts and opinions on this.

    1. Andrea Harrn Post author

      Thanks for your comments Andy. Definitely a link between narcissists and passive aggressive. Not all PAs are narcissist but all Narcissists are passive aggressive. The silent treatment can be used as a punishment but also as a form of protection. What can happen is that the partner of a PA or Narc may feel after some time that there is no point in speaking out or trying to be assertive because they are never going to be properly heard and there is a risk of further abuse/blame coming their way. Stonewalling says, don’t come near me, I’m not listening to you. Talk to the hand!! Its really not easy being in relationship with a partner that cannot take responsibility or communicate like an adult. Breathing space is a great idea, no contact too. As long as it is agreed between you that this will be a strategy rather than just walking away from the other which can result in feelings of abandonment and rejection.

  2. Katrina

    This article is brilliant as are all the other articles on this site! I totally related to all that is written and also all from Andy’s posting, his experiences and your response Andrea.
    I finally left my on and off again 4.5 yo PA relationship 7 months ago, there was no second guessing that it was really over this time and am still at times grieving for its loss. I understand and totally accept my part and knew I was doing it ie: how I colluded with the PA behaviour to keep the relationship by most of the time holding back on communication because of the outcome….which if I did challenge nearly always ended with him just leaving the relationship sometimes without telling me and jumping onto online dating or be subjected to the silent treatment, sulking, or stonewalling sometimes for up to a month at a time.
    To my credit I did behave more like what you have written under ‘Gaining Control’ which also more often than not resulted in him leaving without telling me just sort of disappearing. I was dammed if I did and dammed if I didn’t!
    I am so sad at the futility of our relationship, we really did want to be with each other, he made no secret that he wanted to marry me; he however has moved on very quickly with someone else this time around, maybe rebounding who knows. I come way with the awareness that my empathy needs a serious moderator, boundaries with consequences etc. At the end of the day I couldn’t live like that anymore with no end in sight with him not meeting me halfway and simply couldn’t stand a future with more of it. Was like heaven….then hell.
    Your website is informative and has helped me overcome some very dark moments and for that I am so grateful.
    Thank you so much!

    1. Andrea Harrn Post author

      Thank you so much for your feedback. Much appreciated! I have experienced passive aggressive behaviour myself for many years, so I know what I’m talking about. Being a therapist helps me to be objective but when your hit with unexpected aggression and especially if you’re sensitive, it is hard!!! I have an online course now to help others survive and thrive. Please Check it out at and share too if you would be so kind

  3. Shinead Duckworth

    I have a colleague who uses the silent treatment to extremes, cold icy states, running out of a room when I approach.
    She did this about 3 years ago. It lasted for a solid 3 months flat.
    I would say good morning to her as she was riding past me on her bicycle and ride straight past as if I never existed.
    I asked her what I had done, she told me she disliked what I had said.
    The silent treatment stopped in 3 months without me having to do anything.
    Fast forward 3 years and I am the reciever of this silent treatment again.
    This time I fell out with another colleague over a discussion of disliking his behaviour and rudeness to me.
    He said I was making it all up and lying.
    She worked with him, I was put with someone else.
    Other colleagues younger then this lady had issues with this male colleague, this lady did not.
    I came back to work faced with the silent treatment which lasted for 6 months with a break in-between in which this lady told me off for various things and told me what I could or could not do.
    I never quite knew where I was.
    Then I found the courage to appolegise for what ever happened.
    Then I was met with quite a few cold states and silence.
    I did not relise this lady was speaking to me as I just blocked her out, as most things she said were unpleasant.
    Then one day she went up to me and asked what my problem was.
    I answered it was the silent treatments she gave me , that I was giving her a taste of her own medicine.
    Then she answered if that’s the way you want it.
    She has been even nastier ever since and burged me out of the way one day.
    I have been very hurt by this ever since. Wish I could wipe her and the silent treatments out of my head.

    1. Andrea Harrn Post author

      Hi Shinead, from everything you are saying here it sounds like your colleague has some kind of personality disorder. Because nothing makes sense to you, it really isn’t about you. Because she then blames you and criticises you for having a problem, she is projecting her own issues onto you. Instead of feeling hurt by her, take it as a warning to stay away. The same behaviour will undoubtedly repeat itself. Surround yourself instead with friendly positive colleagues and other friends. Focus on your life and leave her to her own miserable state. She cannot be happy behaving this way and its not your responsibility to fix her. This is TOXIC to you. Have a lovely life that you deserve. Best wishes Andrea

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