The Silent Treatment

NOTE: This post was written in collaboration with my teacher who has passed away since we started it (or perhaps he is just ghosting me). His name was Michael Melville. He was a brilliant Jungian analyst and Dream Interpreter. Here is his blog.


There is a common form of self-destruction and communication dysfunction which is well known as “The Silent Treatment”. It also goes by the name of “ghosting”, as one no longer reaches out or responds to communications and appears to have “died” or “fallen off the face of the earth”.

This is a common occurrence in both men and women, but because it is creating a boundary it is technically an expression masculine energy (regardless of body parts).

Silent rejection is a rather dysfunctional way of hurting those who have hurt us.  My teacher Michael’s father in law did that to his family and the children learned how to do it too. Often his wife would ignore him as well.  Then his brother and his “spirit brother” did the same thing.  In the broadest way of looking at the phenomenon, they are trying to say (without saying) “I never want to speak to you again.  You crossed a line and it is unforgivable.”  They are trying to protect themselves from being hurt by building walls around themselves, which might have been a successful strategy in childhood in the short run, but usually makes their own pain worse.


Being unwilling to discuss what has happened can be viewed from the power angle as being unwilling to relinquish what little power they feel they have.  If the other is perceived as too powerful and the silent person sees themselves “too small”, then hiding in silence may be the only way to hurt back for a hurt done.  Much of the time, this doesn’t effectively send the intended message and the original perpetrator doesn’t necessarily know what they’ve done to cause the hurt, and so they can’t fix it.

At the bottom of it all is usually an unconscious process of projection.  They project onto their perpetrator (and in response, the perpetrator onto them) inner parts of themselves.  At first these projections make the relationship work, they are the initial magic in the air that makes everything so exciting and fun/passionate/mysterious.  Then they discover you aren’t what/who they thought you are.

Since people are reluctant to doubt their perceptions, they have to assume you were insincere, a liar, deceiver, mean, and nasty, etc. i.e., all the shadow parts of their inner world are now projected onto you, the other.  Their icy, rejecting ways are usually unconscious to their conscious personality.  They feel righteous indignation at what they perceive you have done to them.  It never dawns on them that they have become the mean and nasty guy or gal they think you to be.

Without a willingness to talk to the other person, we can hold onto our position and never look into the mirror.  That is why we analyze our dreams.  Often the dream maker will show you what you (or they) did or said to create the separation and rejection.  Perhaps talking about the images in your dreams will bring things to consciousness so you can understand the situation.

All of this information is not intended to be used against the person giving us the silent treatment, or against ourselves. This is only intended to create empathy and understanding in order to make the encounter productive for our self-realization – no matter how it ultimately turns out. In other words, this information won’t help you control the other person’s actions – but it will help us to notice and control our own reactions – and to ensure we aren’t hasty in making decisions from a hurt place.


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