Oh, no, I thought, Will I allow Goldie to use the silent treatment as a weapon?
ears ago, my preteen daughter, Goldie, asked me if she could sleep at her friend’s house. When I answered, “No, it’s a school night,” she got so mad that she stalked out of the room.
I could tell by her stalk that she was planning to stonewall me. To test it out, I went into her room ten minutes later and asked her something. She avoided looking at me and barely responded. Oh, no, I thought, Will I allow Goldie to use the silent treatment as a weapon?
I grew up with the silent treatment, so I know the havoc it wreaks on a child’s life. When I detect someone using it on me today, there are 100 sirens going off in my head — they’re so loud I can’t hear myself think. I freeze and go into a shell.
When I was 13 years old, my mom stopped talking to me. I still don’t know what I did wrong, but she stonewalled me for four years. At first, I didn’t even realize that she wasn’t talking to me. Then for a long time, I doubted myself; is Mom talking to me, or isn’t she? Because there were times she would talk to me. So maybe I was making up the times I thought she wasn’t?
It turns out that on that long-ago day that I did something to anger to her, she made the internal decision that she would respond to any conversation I started, but she would never initiate. (I only found this out years later when I had the guts to ask my father.) So, I was subject to her crazymaking as well, and I spent my teen years feeling tainted and invisible, often wondering: Am I here or not? Do I exist or not?
Looking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised; this pattern spanned generations. My maternal grandmother did not talk to her mother for the last ten years of my great-grandmother’s life. My father’s sister completely stopped speaking to the rest of her family when she turned 25 — to this day, we don’t know if she’s dead or alive.
In fact, both my parents had few friends; woe to anyone who crossed either of them. Names of former friends were frequently blotted out of their address book, never to be spoken to or about again.
Having experienced this, I knew I would not allow the silent treatment in my family. “There will always be things you don’t like, and people who bother you,” I tell my kids. “But there should always be a conversation, there’s no reason to ever get so angry at someone that you never speak to them again.”
With this in mind, I gave Goldie some time — although not too long — to simmer in her anger. Then, I returned to her room and started to schmooze. I asked her about her day, about her plans for the summer. I asked her lots of questions. Slowly, she answered me. By the end of an hour, we were on speaking terms again.
Later, I told her that if she was ever angry at me, she should speak it out with me. I explained that stonewalling was never acceptable, no matter how angry you are. No, I said, you don’t have to speak right away, while you’re still feeling the anger thundering through your veins. But once you calm down, either talk about what’s bothering you or work it out for yourself. There can be no ignoring or shunning another person in this house.
Thankfully, Goldie heard me. She has never given me the silent treatment again, nor has she done it to anyone else in the family as far as I know. I look at her with supreme gratefulness to G-d that I have merited to be a part of the healing of this destructive pattern in my family.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 811)
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