Thursday, March 19, 2009


Due to some issues in my home having to do with my step-kids, I've been researching how the silent treatment can affect a person. I have spent the past two months literally having two words per day spoken to me by the kids. The rest of the time, I am invisible... unless they really, really need something and hubby (their dad) isn't around. I walk in a room, they leave. I try and talk to them, they go in their rooms and shut the doors.

You're probably wondering what I did. Am I the wicked step-mother? No, not at all. When hubby and I married they embraced me. We had fun together, we laughed, we cooked, we went on bike rides together. I guess we were having too much fun because slowly but surely their mother has turned them against both their dad and me. She has stopped at nothing trying to destroy our family and she openly states that she won't be happy until she succeeds. So unfortunate and so painful for her own kids. Fortunately hubby and I have a solid marriage and a commitment to our family. But it still isn't easy.

I can't describe the feelings I physically and emotionally experience during these times of the silent treatment. It is both numbing and painful. I want to throw up my hands, I want to dig in and fight for my home and my family, I want to be invisible like they wish me to be, I want to be left alone, I want to scream in the middle of my living room until someone acknowledges that I do exist. Maddening.

Here's what I found on the silent treatment: Probably at one time or another you have been either on the giving or receiving end of a silent treatment, otherwise known as the cold shoulder. What you probably didn’t realize is that the silent treatment is a form of ostracism. When someone is ostracized it affects the part of their brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. Do you know what the anterior cingulate cortex does?

The anterior cingulate cortex is the part of the brain that detects pain. When you give someone the silent treatment you are causing that person physical pain. Simply by ignoring someone else’s existence you can inflict pain on them. This is what the ever popular “time out” with a child is so effective. The child feels ostracized, therefore is feeling pain even though no physical pain was inflicted on them, and therefor they want to behave so they don’t have to feel that way again. The silent treatment can be a very destructive behavior when it involves personal relationships. (

Everything I read related the silent treatment back to the brain's reaction and the physical reaction. No wonder I feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest and that there's a bowling ball in my stomach on the weekends that this takes place in my home. I know that some reading are probably saying "but they are just kids...". I tried making that excuse for them too; until I saw that they are wholly capable of being warm, friendly, and affectionate to others when they want to. And they are not young children either. They are Jr Highers who get decent grades, stay out of trouble in school, and have friends. They choose this behavior and that is probably the most difficult part of all of this. They want to treat me like this. I feel like a complete and utter failure. I feel like a stranger in my own home. My automatic response is to blame myself even though everyone around me tells me that I've done nothing wrong. It's their mother, it's the situation, etc... Whatever it is, it hurts.

Writing all of this has made me think of how this applies to how I treat myself. How I give my own thoughts, feelings, memories, and even dreams the silent treatment. No wonder I have relentless self-hatred and self-destruction that runs a mile deep. More later...


Anonymous said...

This is so sad.

When someone has been the victim of abuse and already has low self-esteem and self-loathing going for them... and then others pile on cruelty, its very hard for that person to know how to handle it.

Does your husband not support you in trying to break the kids' attitudes?

It might sound crazy, but I think you need to forget about the kids for now. Find a way to learn you treat yourself with respect and love, first.

My experience of being a child is that no one tells you the truth. Many adults don't speak freely to children, and so when someone (like their mother) directs them the way she has, they respond. Its very sad they are being used this way!

But the thing about the silent treatment is that it often forces the other person into silence, too. Which is part of the intention - to control and subdue the intended victim.

Don't let them stop you being loving, talking, doing things for them (despite how they treat you), and generally taking ownership and control of your own home. Do those things anyway. You have to, or you'll be driven insane.

I wish you well with this situation - its very tricky!

Shattered said...


Thank you for your comments. My husband does attempt to correct their attitudes but he, like a lot of divorced parents, suffers from "divorced parent guilt" so he has a hard time correcting them sometimes. His standard answer to me has been, "how do I punish silence? Do I tell them they have to talk to you?". I get what he's saying... but I also do not believe that anyone is justified in blantantly snubbing another person, especially in their home.

You're right, it is a tricky situation. I am doing more of what you suggested in finding ways to take care of myself first. I will never stop loving them and taking care of them and their needs but I do need to put some emotional distance between them and me.

Anonymous said...

Actually, yeah, I think he does have to lay down some ground rules about their behaviour.

Of course, they can't be forced to converse with you. But they can be told its not acceptable to leave the room if you enter it. And that they have to say please and thank you, to you for anything you do for them.

In short, they don't have to like you, but they do have to learn to treat you with respect.

That much, I don't believe is asking a lot of your husband. Once they have those ground rules, its very clear.

How to punish them if they can't do that much? Surely he knows how to punish them! There's the good old basics, grounding, restricting priveledges. Or, haha, he could make them spend more time with you both - playing a card game, or something interactive where they have to talk to you.

I'm sure he does know what to do, he just doesn't want to. But then, that's not very respectful of his relationship with you, is it? And he needs to find a balance.

Shattered said...

Oh, he certainly knows what to do; he does a fine job of disciplining them for their overt actions. They know those rules and for the most part they follow them. It is their passive/aggressive actions that he tends to turn a blind eye to.

In talking with him last night, I borrowed a few of your words (thank you!). I shared with him that his dismissal, allowance, or refusal to see what the kids are doing to me is not very respectful of his relationship with me.

That got his attention.

It's a work in progress but I do feel that he's beginning to understand my frustrations and the roots of why this kind of treatment hurts so bad. I am endlessly grateful that we are able to talk and listen to each other. He really is a great guy.