When you are being ignored, it can be hard treatment to accept. Typically being ignored elicits such a variety of emotions that such a situation can quickly spiral out of control.
Before you allow your own emotions to dominate the entire scenario, think about how you have come to this place and all the players involved.
Typically being ignored by a family member, family members or a mutual friend is going to hit harder than a stranger off the street, in which case you may not even recognize you are being disregarded in the first place.
Since personal relationships are at stake, being diplomatic but honest is exactly what you need to focus on as you approach the stages of discovery and resolution.
How the silent treatment affects us
When a person ignores you and gives you the silent treatment, there is something that happens in your brain as a result. Stonewalling has become a sort of socially acceptable form of conflict resolution, but it is not healthy. Both the person who is ostracized as well as the offender can experience deep wounds as a result of this behavior.
According to the American Psychological Association, this form of bullying is not specific to schoolyards, corporate settings, and romantic partnerships can also be vulnerable groups.
When you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment, you might find yourself isolating as a result. There can be an element of shame attached to being treated this way that makes us go back into our shells much like a scared turtle. When someone ignores you it can profoundly affect your self-esteem.
In some spheres, all the negative emotions that come along with this are akin to that of emotional and psychological abuse victims.
Specifically, in close, interpersonal relationships, where the person ignoring the other person knows that this is a triggering behavior and uses it as a form of punishment with intention.
There are many different facets of this problem, and they vary in scale. Be aware that even something seemingly as minor as locking eyes with someone you know at the grocery store only to have them abruptly turn around and walk the other way in an effort to avoid you can be a form of emotional avoidance or social exclusion.
In the short term, this will come out in our daily lives in the form of stress. In the long run, however, it can cause deep scars that severely alter our character, our capacity to trust others, and our social behaviors.
Being given the cold shoulder by a relative stranger might not give you pause, but do not let every small thing with every person go by especially if you are receiving this behavior from a loved one. If you never learn how to confront this treatment, accepting it is going to become your norm.
What does it mean when someone gives you the silent treatment?
While you are never going to be able to figure out independently the exact reasoning behind the actions of another person, when a person is ignoring you, there are a few common things to consider as to the possible meaning behind it.
They communicate differently than you
You should always consider who the person ignoring you is and the position they hold in your life. For example, is this your sibling to whom you have had a lifelong bond and speak to every day?
Or is this a newly discovered romantic interest whose behaviors you have not yet had enough time to learn? Often people who are in our lives in any capacity are going to communicate differently than us.
Some people find enjoyment in phone conversations and video chats, while others find a phone call a burden and prefer face-to-face interactions. Think about these elements when people ignore you. Timing also plays a role here.
Has it been months since you have spoken to your own child? Or just one to two days since someone you had a blind date with reached out?
While there are no magic formulas, you should be able to categorize these relationships and communication styles appropriately so that you can consider the context when you feel you are being cast aside.
No matter what, it is important to focus on your own mental health. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that caring for your mental health is not a suggestion but a requirement for an overall healthy mind, body, and soul.
They are overwhelmed in their own life
Avoidance is one of the most common behaviors known to man. When a person ignores you, it is quite possible that whatever they are dealing with on their side of the fence is so unmanageable to them that adding in the thoughts and feelings of another person feels simply impossible. While it is not acceptable to just allow communications to fall off during times of your own stress, people do it every day.
Maybe the other person is in the middle of a stressful work week, or perhaps their child has not slept through the night in weeks, and they are physically and mentally depleted.
People tend to take the easy road, and in such situations of extreme stress, it feels easier for them to focus on whatever the most significant need at the time is and turn a blind eye to everything else.
They need space from you
This might be a hard truth to accept, but it is personal in some cases when a person ignores you. It does not mean that this is the right thing to do, but it does happen.
Sometimes when we spend time in excess with one person, it can create a high of emotions that encourage us to keep up at that pace, even if it is not realistic.
So when one, or both people, want to take space to breathe, it can make the other person feel nervous about what exactly that means and what it might lead to.
Especially with new friends and new romantic partnerships, the fast and furious pace at the beginning that can feel exciting can quickly feel suffocating, and taking a step back is necessary to preserve the chance of long-term sustainability.
They feel taken advantage of
Not everyone operates this way because of what they are trying to do to you. In some cases, it is a reaction to what they feel you have done to them. When someone ignores you because they feel taken advantage of by you, it is a defense mechanism.
Sometimes people are not bold enough to outwardly say, please respect my boundaries, so they just ignore the issues all together in an effort to force change. They feel that something is wrong with the dynamic of your relationship and for whatever reason, saying nothing feels more comfortable to them than speaking up.
How to treat someone who is ignoring you
Determining how you will behave in response to being ignored is a delicate decision. Think about the different angles available and analyze what makes the most sense for each specific incident and the involved individuals. Here are a variety of approaches for you to consider:
- Find out why: Go directly to the source and find out their motivation for their actions. Stay calm and do not let your confrontation style become aggressive.
- Do not overreact: Avoid jumping to conclusions as this is not rooted in reality and will only cloud your judgment. Instead of freaking out over what you do not know for sure, set out with the intention to fact-find.
- Give space: When a person ignores you, whether they ask for it or not, they likely need space. The gesture of intentionally giving them what they need shows you are dedicated to respectful conflict resolution.
- Hear them out: This means actively listening and not interrupting. When someone has hurt feelings, the proper way to respond is to allow them to share with you why they feel hurt in a space that feels safe to them.
- Do not obsess: Letting your negative thoughts spiral to the point that you have blown the situation up to five times its original size can get you so far from a place of being able to handle the original issue that it almost becomes impossible.
- Discuss it: Meeting avoidant behavior with more avoidant behavior is not setting you or the other person up for success or a solution. Even when it feels incredibly challenging, take time to discuss the issues.
What to say in a face to face situation
When both parties are at a place where an in-person meeting is agreeable, you should prepare in advance what you want to say. When people ignore you, it can cause you to freeze up, forget your words, or even worse, use words you did not intend to.
No matter if this is your best friend or another parent at your kids’ school whom you barely know, keep in mind that you will probably not be given an opportunity to redo this resolution.
You certainly will not be able to take back what you say, as we as human beings are incapable of unhearing something, especially if it causes emotional turmoil within us.
‘I am sad there is distance between us’
It is appropriate to acknowledge that you are upset about the space between you and someone in your life who has put it there.
‘Do you want to go first, or should I?’
Presumably, you both have a side that you want to convey, and you both deserve your own time to do so. It can be a sign of being the bigger person when someone ignores you to ask them if they would like to be heard first or listen first.
‘What does resolution look like to you?’
Supportive people make an effort to collaborate, even in times of struggle. By inviting the other side to share with you how they envision a resolution to look, you can get a clear view of where their head is at and re-evaluate what your idea looked like now that you have learned their perspective.
How to deal when someone is giving you the silent treatment
All you can absolutely control is your own thoughts, actions, and words at the end of the day. If something is wrong, you need to have ways to cope under your belt so that your healing can happen personally without the participation of additional parties.
Reflect on your own actions
Conduct an honest inventory of your behavior. Is it possible you acted in a way that hurt other people? No matter if the answer is yes or no, in many cases, perception is reality, and when friends ignore friends, it is essential to look inward as to why and make personal goals and adjustments accordingly.
Speak in private
One thing that is sure to escalate the situation is bringing in outsiders. If the relationship holds a significant amount of weight in your life, respect it by holding conflict close to the chest. Find the line between discretion and secrecy, giving privacy and isolating.
Dealing with hurt people takes an incredible amount of empathy and compassion. Even if you are also angry or dealing with an emotional rollercoaster, people are going to remember how you treated them long after they have forgotten when there was strife in the first place.
Your body language is just as important as your words. Being physically cold sends a message that you are guarded.
Use ‘I’ statements
Try not to say ‘you’ and instead focus on ‘I’ statements. Using the word ‘you’ implies blame and fault finding, both of which are barriers to successful peace finding.
Do not assume another person’s feelings and instead speak only about your own, and only as they pertain to this specific situation.
According to the National Institute of Health, difficult conversations with difficult people require a specific type of conflict management conversation skills, including using ‘I’ statements.
Sometimes as humans, we do not know how we want the path to look; we just know where we want it to lead somewhere. Be flexible with the other people involved and understand that they may not be able to speak clearly about what they want because they might not know.
Know when to let go
Understanding when you have reached a stalemate is bittersweet. Not every situation in which one person stonewalls another needs to end with a peace treaty and a promise to restore the ties that bind you. Knowing when to let go can provide you with calmness and resolve as opposed to continuing the struggle.
If this is your current reality, you have an opportunity to make a change. Although you may feel victimized, and perhaps you are, that should not render you helpless.
Whether you work with or without someone else’s participation and support, focus on a healthy approach so that no matter how the result turns out, you can feel proud of your choices and behaviors throughout the process.