Adult Survivors of Emotional Child Abuse · Emotional Child Abuse · The Silent Treatment · Withholding

The Silent Treatment [Types of Emotional Child Abuse Series, Part 1]

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When you look up the definition of emotional child abuse, several examples are listed: giving the silent treatment, ranking children unnecessarily, being condescending, bunny boiling, gaslighting children, scapegoating, sabotaging, favoritism, triangulation, pathological (or compulsive) lying, smearing, corrupting, ignoring, corrupting, terrorizing, isolation, and inappropriate control. 

To better understand the different facets of emotional child abuse, we’ll be exploring one trait per post.

In this post, we’ll look more closely at the emotionally abusive form of child abuse called “the silent treatment” (also “withholding”). It is also used in adult relationships, but for the purpose and focus of The Invisible Scar, we’ll study the silent treatment as it relates to children.

No discussion of emotional abuse through words would be complete without including the absence of words as a form of abuse. This is commonly known as the ‘silent treatment.’ Abusers punish their victims by refusing to speak to them or even acknowledge their presence. Through silence, the abusers loudly communicate their displeasure, anger, frustration, or disappointment.” (Dr. Gregory Jantz, “Portrait of an Emotional Abuser: The Silent Treatment Abuser article)

Examples of the Silent Treatment (or Withholding)

  • A parent stops talking to a child because the child did not anticipate the parent’s needs. Perhaps the parent expected the child to do a chore or a task without being told to do so and, when the child fails to meet that expectation, the parent will not talk to the child for a long time.
  • A parent who did not like what a child said will withhold as punishment. For example, a child may have not liked dinner and called it “gross” or “disgusting.” The parent will then no longer talk to the child for a long time.
  • A parent will ignore a child who did not show the proper amount of support, attention, or enthusiasm for what the parent deemed importance. For example, the parent may have mentioned something that happened at work, and the child did not react with the attention or enthusiasm that the parent demand. The child will then be ignored.

Note that all the above examples cite regular behaviors in the children…. A child does forget to do chores, a child will call something gross and refuse meals at times, a child will not care very much about what happens in the workday of the parent. The child is behaving very much like a child; unfortunately, the parent is not behaving to his/her appropriate maturity level.

The parent, in all those examples, is demanding for the child to meet the emotional needs of the parent. However, a good parent offers unconditional love and support; an emotionally abusive parent demands unconditional love and support from his/her child.

The silent treatment then is the parent’s punishment of the child for not giving that unconditional support and love.

How the Silent Treatment Hurts Children

The result is intense pain for the child.

In their minds, you have disappeared and all attempts to get you to reappear are not working.  They have no idea why this has happened.  It is terrifying because a child cannot survive without a parent or caregiver.  The silent treatment sends a message to your child that they are not safe in the world, that their provider may or may not be available to them at any given time, for no apparent reason. (Is It OK for Parents to Give Children the Silent Treatment? by Elyn Tromey, Boulder Counseling)

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Is There a Difference Between a Time-Out and the Silent Treatment?

Sometimes, children are sent to their rooms (in a “time-out”) to think about what has happened (if the child behaved in a way that hurts, either emotionally or physically, another member of the family). That is not a form of child abuse if it’s a cooling-off phase.

“Do not confuse the silent treatment with something known as the ‘cooling off period.’ The cooling off period is where one person is so angry or disgusted by the other person that they just cannot deal with the situation in that state, and need time to calm down before they begin speaking to this person. That’s normal and should be allowed in a relationship. But purposely ignoring and refusing to hear or talk to a person is wrong, intentional, manipulative, and demonstrates extreme calculation and cruelty on how to hurt another person or even drive them crazy.” (Dove Christian Counseling website)

The difference between a time-out and a silent treatment is explained well on a chart on this Out of the Fog page.


37 thoughts on “The Silent Treatment [Types of Emotional Child Abuse Series, Part 1]

    1. My dad has frequently used the silent treatment on my mom and me. He would never tell us why he was angry – he would go beyond not talking to us and completely pretend like we didn’t exist. This would go on for anywhere from two days to a week. However, what he has done lately has exceeded that. I have been doing some research, and I am convinced that my dad has a narcissistic personality disorder. At the urging of my therapist, I attempted to talk to him and start a conversation about the emotional and sometimes physical abuse he bestowed on me all throughout my childhood. This had the opposite intended effect, and he has been giving me the silent treatment for the past year and a half. He has even gone as far as passing the treatment on to my fiance as well. It has ripped my family apart (mostly because everyone – 2 half siblings and mom – are blaming me for causing this to happen) and every day I struggle with the hurt and anger. I have considered going back to therapy, but the reason I stopped going is that my head would be so foggy that there would be no conversation, and I had such a hard time concentrating on what the therapist was saying that I didn’t hear or retain anything. Are there any online forums where I can connect with other acons? Maybe that way I can talk on my own time and find people who know what I’m struggling with.

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  1. I distinctly recall my mother giving the silent treatment when she was upset with my father and/or my sister; I needn’t have done anything myself. I’d walk by her in the living room and say something and she’d sit in her chair acting like I wasn’t there. Yes, it really hurt and made me feel small. She played one family member against the other…if she was upset with one of us, the rest had to be too.

    I didn’t think of it like this then, but the message was not only I didn’t exist but that somehow it was my (and others) responsibility to “make amends”, make her feel better. The focus was on her feelings alone, and she was very emotionally immature. The silent treatment is cruel because you’re just shut out and feel so powerless. At the time me and my sister rolled our eyes at Mom’s behaviour, but as time goes on it’s more and more clear how damaging it was.

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    1. Emily,

      I’m so very sorry to hear that you experienced the silent treatment.

      As you said, the worst part of enduring it is that feeling of being invisible, of not mattering or existing to the person who should love you most in the world. It’s a terrible feeling, and the wounds of it last a very long time.

      Healing from it takes a very long time. It does mark us… but in time, adult survivors come to realize that they do matter, their existences are important.

      You’re not invisible to me, Emily! And I wish you the best on your path to healing.

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      1. It does make us feel invisible like we don’t matter. In order to cope, we internalize these feelings and then project them out, in most cases, without realizing it, to various degrees. This blog is so helpful to us children of Narcissist parents, especially the Scapegoat child.


    2. I can totally relate to you on this, my mother would subject me to silent treatments when she would get into a disagreement with my father and I would take his side, often these would last anywhere from 2 days to 2 months. Now I am dealing with depression and a recent death in the family, and not at all surprised that she refuses to offer me any emotional support and instead holds it against me that I am closer to my in-law relatives than my own family, WTF???

      I am trying my best to lean on who I have that are positive influences in my life, and make sure I don’t repeat the same cycle on my own kids by telling them daily I love them and am proud of them. I hope that you can find comfort by doing the same!


  2. Sadly, my mother has engaged in and continues to engage in just about every type of emotional abuse you describe. Silent Treatment was and is one of her favorites. I remember as a small child how she would just start ignoring me, sometimes for days on end, and I never knew why. It was awful I would dance around her feet, literally, saying, Mom, Mummy, again and again, trying in vain to get her attention. Then, days later when she finally decided to acknowledge my presence, I would be meek and timid and uncertain, sometimes even a little detached myself. And then she would punish me again for not welcoming her back with happy open arms. Trippy and painful.

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  3. My mother gave me The Silent Treatment throughout my childhood. I seem to have blocked out the majority of the specifics connected to those memories, but I do remember some of things that triggered her Silent Treatment…among what I remember: if she thought I felt happier/more comfortable with my grandparents, if I didn’t clean the house, or if she didn’t like my facial expressions. When I was young, I learned to never have a differing opinion and to never question her decisions, actions, or motives.

    Fast forward to my mid-twenties (about 15 years ago)…she seemed to chill out a little bit, and her episodes of The Silent Treatment decreased to a handful of times per year. With a lot of therapy and time, I learned to speak my opinions, etc.

    She and her husband are spending the holiday with me. Yesterday, she had me drive them to a town that is 3 hours from mine because they wanted to “check it out.” Once there, I asked for an address for the GPS…in other words, what had they planned to see/do in the town? I told her that I was sure that she’d thought of more than just getting off the highway’s exit and then getting back onto it, so I was happy to go along with their plans. Although I thought it was a long drive, I was happy to do it…I thought it was fun to have a road trip and explore. She then said that, because of my attitude, she didn’t want to go anywhere but back to my home (3 hours away). And now, she hasn’t spoken to me since. What is your advice for adults in this situation? Should the adult child try to force communication? Pander to the The Silent Treatment parent and let them continue their behavior? Also, I wish that I felt less affected by The Silent Treatment (now, as an adult). But I guess the cycle is so encoded in my brain, I still feel paralyzed by it at times.

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  4. My mom is like that. She goes through periods of time that she wants nothing to do with me…..then she wants to be around me all the time and I love the attention. I miss her so much when she withdraws. She has done this to me for years. It hurts a lot. I am not sure how I should act. Recently, I wasn’t able to come over for Christmas day. My husband, myself, and one of our children had the stomach virus. It was pretty gross. We didn’t want to give it to her and my dad. She now won’t speak to me because we didn’t come over. However, just a few days prior she didn’t come to my house because she had a bad cold. No one was angry with her. She pins my dad against me too….hurts a ton. So he becomes her voice box and tells me that I put my husbands family first….so completely untrue. Even though we changed plans on his family and had Thanksgiving with just my family. I remember as a little girl she would ignore me for days sometimes. When I moved out, she ignored me for over 6 months. How should I act now? I call, text….nothing….


  5. My father did not speak to me once from the time I was 13 years old until I was 16. If we were in the same room together he wouldn’t look at me, speak to me or acknowledge my presence. Every night at dinner he spoke to my brother and my mother and if either of them asked me a question or talked to me at all he would glare at them and change the subject. My mother worked a couple of weeks nights a week and I hated those days. I knew I would come home from school and no one would speak to me until the next day when I went to school. He ignored me at holidays and my birthday and on family vacations.

    When he finally broke his silence he let me know that I would have to change in order for us to heal our relationship. Obviously, I still had a “bad personality” so the belittling, name calling and ignoring continued on and off through my entire life.

    In my own mind I never realized that this was abuse until I was in my late 20s. I mentioned this to a friend one night on the phone and he was absolutely shocked and horrified. I was surprised by his reaction. I had never even told anyone about it before because I was so ashamed and thought it was my fault. After speaking to my friend, it’s then that I realized how abusive it really was.

    I would never, ever minimize physical or sexual abuse. But there were times that I wish he would just punch me in the face so I would have proof that he hated me. Sometimes when it was really horrible I would go to my room and take something hard like my curling iron or a hairbrush and repeatedly hit my head in the same spot. I never admitted this to anyone, even a therapist. I realize now I needed a physical outlet for the internal destruction I was going through.

    I am just now starting to except the fact that I was abused as a child. Everything I’ve tried to research on the Internet involves parents that don’t live with their children and alienate them. This is the only site I found that it knowledges that this happens within your own home.

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  6. I’m so sorry that you had to experience such extreme emotional abuse from your father. The silent treatment is a device that many Narcissists use. Also, picking one child to be the scapegoat and one child to be the golden child is typical in families with a Narcissist Parent. (It sounds like you were the scapegoat child.) When you get a chance, google Narcissism for more information about narcissists. I’m glad you found this site. I’ve found this site to be a great help to understanding emotional abuse.


    1. Thank you and thank you again for acknowledging me and for this site. I am very familiar with narcissistic personality disorder and being a scapegoat. Being a “golden child”, as my brother was (is), comes with its own fair share of heartbreaking abuse.

      I want to just say one more thing for anyone that reads this or it might come across this site. The relationship with my father was the only long-term abusive relationship I’ve ever had. Many times you hear that you are doomed to repeat this type of relationship in your life, but you don’t have to.

      His abuse taught me what I would and would not accept from other people in my life. I knew very early on, in any kind of relationship, who I needed to distance myself from and who would treat me with love and respect. Through emotional abuse, you have knowledge that many people have to learn through trial and error.

      I think of this as a gift. You can be your own little superhero with x-ray vision. You can spot those people that will mistreat you before they have the opportunity and decide to happily move toward healthier people and relationships. You just have to remember that you actually belong with those strange creatures that treat you with dignity. I have the most beautiful husband and friendships in my life. I sometimes still feel like I have to hide or that I don’t fit in, but the greatest thing about healthy people is that they love you for you, Invisible Scar and all.

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  7. this was my mother to a T, and i think i have done this more than i like to think about, but certainly never to the extent or degree that happened to me. i really like this series of posts you are doing.

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  8. I am in my early 20s and moved home after college. Unaware of my abuse, I started going to therapy for my anxiety, depression, anger, and eating disorders. After 6 months of therapy I finally looked into my past and researched childhood emotional abuse because I was curious. I never thought what I went through was abuse, I thought it was just “normal parenting”. So thank you for this site.

    I was never a bad child. Never slept around, got straight A’s, never lied to my parents, never did anything shady. Sure I didn’t clean up my stuff all the time or I talked back to my mom sometimes. These are normal teenage things that yes, are not okay but should never be punished by withholding dignity, love, or respect. My father often gave me the silent treatment for days or for weeks, hit me in the head, spat in my face, and called me names underneath his breath. After the silence I was expected to welcome him with open arms or else I would get another dose of verbal attack to make me feel as if it was my fault. I was often confused, detached, and angry but did not know why or what to do with it. At first I used anger to cope with my hurt, but I soon learned that would only get me more slaps so I became silent. My mother was and is still so depressed she neglected me emotionally and psychologically.
    Knowing how God loves is the complete opposite of how my dad loved me. Christ saves me. I know I am deserving of love, unconditionally. Not conditionally. I am making steps to heal. I am currently in a very loving and committed relationship. He continually loves me and shows me grace and points me toward Christ, but I often find myself pushing him away. I react with anger when he tries to love me sometimes. I feel as though I treat him as I treat my father. I don’t want my father’s love. Why do I need it now? I don’t need his love. In turn, I tell my boyfriend I don’t need him to love me and get angry. In my head I tell myself I don’t need anyone to help me or love me, I’d rather be isolated. I also have an inner dialogue that hates myself and beats me down. It is starting to hurt him, rightfully so. I’m still in therapy, but I am having a hard time receiving love and controlling my anger. Anyone else feel this or any good advice?


  9. I would like to say THANK YOU for this site — I have always known I lived with “invisible scars” but I wasn’t sure how to actually NAME it.
    My mother, who passed away last year, was the very definition of NPD and I am just now coming to grips with my repressed memories of my childhood years. While she was never physically abusive toward me, I witness a number of incidents with other family members where she would physically beat them down… All those incidents as I got older were retold in very “ha ha” tones… as if it were no big deal that my mother beat the crap out of my cousin with a golf club.
    Adding to my “guilt” of talking about this… my father was a Preacher .. my mother the Preacher’s Wife, which just fed her NPD in a major way. I was always taught that you “do not air dirty family laundry in public”… so, I learned to keep it all to myself. At 40 I am only now starting to unravel the hell that was my childhood… It took her death to free me.
    Anyone reading here is more than welcome to contact me via Google… sometimes talking to someone that has had similar experiences is better than chocolate 😉


  10. When I was about 11, my mother decided to ignore my existence for a whole week. She would not look at me, respond to me, or in any way acknowledge me. I asked her then, and many more times over the years, why she did it and she always told me I knew very well why. I have never known why and it was one of the most painful experiences of my childhood. It makes it very difficult for me to set boundaries in relationships now because I’m scared of losing everything if I do. As an adult, her latest silent treatment has lasted 23 years. I no longer care.


  11. I’ve been trying to find information online that relates to my experience, and I’m finding it hard, which highlights to me how abnormal it must be. My problem is with a “stepfather” (I use inverted commas because he is not a father in any sense of the word, merely my mother’s partner).
    He has been living with my mother for around 15 years now and ignores us, her three children. I’m an adult so it doesn’t bother me too much, I just ignore him back. But my youngest brother, who is autistic, was raised in a house with this man from the age of 5 (he’s now 20).
    With this guy, silent treatment is an understatement. I’m not talking about for a couple of days or weeks, or even years. I’m talking 15 years of not speaking to a child who lives under the same roof. No “good mornings” no “happy birthdays” no “I’m boiling the kettle do you want a tea or coffee” Nothing. For 15 years!! He certainly never takes him out or spends time with him. H wont even be in the same room. I can’t find anything about people who ignore others (especially children) to this extent, and what it means. I feel that this type of treatment would be detrimental to anyone, but as my brother has Austism it is particularly hard on him and he has difficulty understanding it. He has done nothing wrong, this freak has treated him this way from the start, since he was a 5 year old. Apparently he also has a daughter with whom my mother has no contact because she’s “not her daughter”, just as we are “not his children”. They seem to want to avoid responsibility for each other’s kids despite his living in the same home as my mother and brothers.
    Anyway, I guess I just wanted to get that off my chest. Sorry for the extra long post. Thanks for the article…


  12. My mother was abused when she was a child. She was the youngest child, unplanned and possibly conceived through her mother being molested by her father. We don’t know the full story, and not sure how much she remembers or has blocked out. At about age 7, I clearly remember her not speaking to anyone for 2 days or so. I remember the confusion and distress. From then on, there have been many episodes of silence, lasting from a few days to weeks. Always over something very trivial, if we knew at all. It was only when my sister were in hysterical tears that she would relent, and explain that she was just doing a “Joan Collins”. She would expect that things would fall back to normal, until the next time. She would also be, and still is, aggressive towards others she sees as offending her, usually over something that would barely register with most other people. She sees nothinh wrong with telling other children off, even those she has never met, and almost got herself arrested once. She has poor impulse control, and has often had trouble with things like financial management, and expect us to ‘lend’ her money as required, when she has spent hers on unnessesary items. She doesn’t seem to acknowledge personal space at times, eavesdropping on private conversations, or even at times entering the bathroom when her 13 year old grandson is showering to make sure he’s ok. It’s hard to know what to do, as we have spent our entire lives walking on eggshells. I never let my guard down, even with my own husband. It feels like something is always blocking me from just letting loose and enjoying the moment, kind of like a fear. The only time this fear is absent is when I am alone, when I can be me. I want to be able to let my children have the best of me, but I’m always scared that I’m not a good mother. This is all a bit scrambled, but it seems that if anyone is going to understand what I’m saying, here is the place. Thanks so much for letting me share, it’s been a relief


  13. Wow, I relate to so much..silent treatment being a part of it. Now potentially or more so in the past without any awareness I’d feel so out of control and confused, anxious and angry..layers of emotional unconsciousness and acting out from such a place has defined so many sad losses in my life.My elder sisters ,younger sister and mother aren’t avaliable to discuss the emotional harm ..and the family systems still has defining roles althought the metaphorical chess pieces have moved between indidividuals.I equally painfully notice how much I have acted similarly , and still notice my desired purpeputated need to gain approval.I frequently come to feel the victim..angrily working through conversations that still populate my mind. Yet the contradiction and the changes when it’s OK for others to voice opinion are seemly done without acknwledgement or baring on previous acts or statements.


  14. I don’t know if my mom gave the silent treatment when I was young, but I remember it throughout my teens – I suspect she did it when I was younger because she still does it to this day, even though she has mellowed a bit.

    I just found this article because I am looking for insight since I am about to stay with my parents for several months. I am 58 now, and still affected by the emotional abuse heaped on me by my mom. I wonder if this next stretch of time will be the end of my sanity. My cousin and my brother tell me I’ve learned to cope, and that I am so much stronger, but, one of my coping mechanisms is to stay as far away as possible (we are usually thousands of miles apart) and to make all visits short.

    Yesterday being mother’s day, I see all my friends posting stuff on facebook about how much they love their mother’s and how wonderful they are/were. I just can’t do that. I’d love to post about how abusive my mom was/is, how she can make life absolutely miserable, and how she could never even begin to see or understand the damage she;s done because she lives in her on Lala-Land where everything is fine and we all get along so well. But I don’t, because I fear that people just wouldn’t understand. Especially those friends who’ve known her almost as long as I have. She’s great if you are not her daughter.

    There’s also a part of me that’s pissed that at the age of 58 I am still dealing with this crap! If there is reincarnation, I’d like to request a decent mom in my next life please! (That, and a olive complexion that doesn’t sunburn ;-} )

    Anyway, I found you’re article interesting even if it doesn’t address coping mechanisms – I'[ll keep looking.



    1. Thank you so much for making me laugh!! I think I had so much identification with your comment the most. For me, my only solution is to continue to pray for my mother, and maybe finally for myself get the help or closure I may be needing with a professional.


  15. I went through the silent treatment most my life with my family. They acted like I didn’t exist unless I did something wrong. I would sit at the dinner table watching them talk to each other as if I was never in the room. It was so awful that I used to excuse myself and cry in the bathroom and put powder on my face so no one could tell I was crying and go back to the table.
    When I was a teenager my parents divorced and I began to live alone with my dad. He was often angry that I didn’t take the initiative to do chores. Often he would leave me alone for several days and when I did see him he wouldn’t say “hi” or acknowledge me in any way. He’d just walk right past me.
    Later in life it was difficult because when I was married my spouse was treated like she didn’t exist.
    On my birthdays, other than blowing out the candles, I was ignored. My mother even believes that birthdays are more a celebration for her than me because she gave birth to me.
    I think this type of abuse has been hard to process because nobody remembers it accept for me. You can’t remember what you have ignored. Luckily, I have a good psychiatrist who has validated these experiences and helped me gain insights on them.


  16. My mother used the silent treatment on my sister and me our entire lives. Even going as far as to punish ME by withholding and silence when my college aged sister disobeyed her. Mom passed away 3 years ago. And even at the age of 42 I still have the nagging thought that mom is being “silent” because I am not worthy of her time and attention 😦


  17. My N mom would get upset at me for ‘transgressions’ and give me the silent treatment.
    But I am now realizing an even bigger part was my enabling father.
    I could trigger a narcissistic rage from something as irrational as sending a card that was too light by weight (not heavy enough card stock) or not having a proper closing on an email to mother.
    This would lead to several days of silent treatment from N-mom, but if I protested, father would convince me I was wrong for doing whatever I did to upset mom and should have known better and that I was rationalizing.


    1. My mother’s mother was bi-polar and suffered half-a-dozen nervous breakdowns during my childhood. My enabling father would eventually check on my mother after she’d given me the silent treatment by sulking for a few hours in her bathroom. Then he’d announce to me that he was “afraid your mother’s having a nervous breakdown, and will have to be institutionalized just like your grandmother”. Talk about a guilt trip!


  18. I’m not sure if what my Mum does counts as emotional abuse when she gives me the silent treatment, so I was wondering if someone could help me? When I was a kid I once lost little bits from a toy set I got for my birthday and I remember my Mum refusing to really speak to me for a week or two. I distinctly remember one morning being desperate for her to speak to me again so I was a little ass kissy, she said in a nasty tone that I ‘was still in the dog house’ so she didn’t really speak much still. I’m now 21, it has happened a few times during my teens but tonight it has really gotten to me. I have a bad relationship with my brother and she has basically guilt tripped me into talking to him again on Christmas Day (today) even though I feel extemely uncomfortable and hurt by his selfish actions. I tried to be mature and explain to her why I didn’t want to continue any sort of relationship with him, why I don’t want to pretend and give him the wrong idea that I’m always going to accept the nasty things he has done to me and my family. She shut down on me, made me feel bad about my feelings towards him and stopped talking. She actually got up and left the room and only spoke when she had to in a montone voice. I tried to apologize for upsetting her and causing issues and asked her what she wanted me to do because I don’t want to be the one blamed with any bad atmosphere on Christmas Day. She told me to do what I want but she and I both know she didn’t mean it. She went back to silence again, barely acknowledging me even though I said I would sit with him and act like we’re happy families. I feel awful, like I’m being mean and dramatic for not wanting to continue what I deem a toxic relation with my brother. Considering she no longer speaks to her sisters or mother, and rightfully so with the horrible things they did, I thought she would understand and not do this. Is this just me being silly and unfair, or is this kind of behaviour from her emotionally abusive? Thank you, sorry for rambling.


    1. Hi,my name is mandy im 20 and i come from a similar situation with my mother, and the classic ‘silent treatment’ is a emotionally manipulative tactic, that makes you feel regected, and in regret that what you said has made her do that. Its used to make you feel guilty, and when she has your guilt, she feel like she is rightfully teaching you a lesson. Whether this is the action of an emotional abuser i cannot answer for you, i do though definitely recommend googling ‘signs of an emotional abuser’ i hope i could help in some way


    2. Definitely emotionally abusive. What you are subjected to is tailor-made to deliberately make you feel bad. It is generally hard to see if you are the child at the receiving end, since that’s the only mother you’ve ever had and you don’t have a “healthy mother” to compare the unhealthy behaviour to. But you *feel* it, before you can intellectually see it – and with enough reading about emotional abuse and good therapy it will become so clear you’ll wonder how it was ever not blindingly obvious. But it’s not at first to the abused child because they grew up literally brainwashed. Lots of people don’t “wake up” until their mid-life or later. When I was 16 I first left home because of it, but in my 20s kept running back to try to improve my relationship with my family, as if somehow it was my fault and my responsibility… it didn’t change, I just got hurt over and over until I decided to stop… and until I decided that my feelings actually mattered… that it wasn’t my feelings that were the problem, that it actually was their behaviour, and that feelings like sadness and frustration and loneliness were a natural response / alarm bell / feedback system to let me know it wasn’t a healthy environment.

      If I could advise my younger self, I would say, trust your true feelings and instincts – but ignore the guilt and shame and self-doubt responses that abused people have been taught by their abusers. Go where you are valued and appreciated and encouraged. It can take time to find places and people like this, especially since we’ve been taught we don’t deserve it and tend to be uncomfortable with healthy encouraging loving people’s attention at first (feels unfamiliar, don’t know how to respond, surely they don’t mean me, if they really knew me etc… *no* – that’s just brainwash – relax, you do deserve good things and to be appreciated and encouraged).

      For me personally, I thought correctly about my abusive family of origin long before I stopped feeling the guilt and shame and self-doubt that I had been conditioned to feel whenever I didn’t do what they wanted. That, I didn’t lose till my early 40s after being diagnosed with complex PTSD (due to physical and emotional abuse and neglect in my childhood – there were horrifying memories and feelings I had mostly suppressed just to survive as a child – it had become a sort of silent movie that seemed to be about someone else). Uncovering these lost feelings and actually feeling healthy anger about what that little girl I once was went through – just like you’d feel for any other child – collapsed the guilt and shame and self-doubt.

      You’re already aware that something is really wrong, and it’s not you, dear Melanie. It’s totally reasonable to distance yourself from toxic people, go no contact if you choose – you know what’s best for your own peace of mind. You have a right to thrive and how can you do that in a metaphorical rubbish dump? One thing though, you won’t convince a dysfunctional family of that, so don’t get drawn into debates about it by them, it won’t help. You don’t owe them explanations. Just stick with what is best for you, and know that healthy self-care is not the same as selfishness.

      There are people in this world who will love you for who you are, who will really see you when they look at you. In the books about emotional abuse they are referred to as “safe” people – it is so helpful to learn to find safe people, and to be a safe person for others, when negotiating the often repeated dysfunction in society. My very very best wishes for your journey. ❤


  19. I always knew deep down that something was very wrong with my mom but I was convinced by her that I was the reason. My behavior, my failures, my poor choices, embarrassing her with my behavior that in reality was not even close to bad but in her eyes was disrespectful. My mom let me know I had done something wrong by refusing to engage in conversations with me. She would glare at me and when I asked her what was wrong (and she would make me ask over and over with no response). When she decided to tell me the infraction it was when she wanted. She could make me wait for days in agony before she would even tell me what I did that was horrible or upsetting. I remember at a young age writing little notes of I’m sorry to her and slipping them under her door in the hopes that she would stop… I am just now at almost 50 years old beginning the journey of healing from all the scars. The worst part is that when I talk to my mom now about these things that hurt so much she always manages to get so sad and self deprecating but not out of regret or feeling bad about the actions but so I would feel guilty about accusing her the perfect mother of hurting me. Her response is usually oh dear I am so sorry I have been such a terrible mother “guilt guilt guilt” never I am sorry you were hurt. She always adds I did the best I could with you because you were difficult to handle and your father was never around. I didn’t mean to cause you any harm…. but she never actually acknowledges that she was wrong it is always ultimately my behavior CAUSED her to act the way she did. It is so frustrating to know that everything that I have suffered emotionally was not really my fault and all these years of feeling like a complete failure and a horrible child. Poor mom she adopted the difficult child that she didn’t know how to handle. So she just shut me out. If I didn’t agree with her or didn’t do exactly what she suggested then I was a bad disrespectful child that did not appreciate all she does for me.


  20. Hi…know what all r feeling…my mom didn’t speak to me as a child….she would often target my father, myself and older sister..her third daughter was the golden child…the” could do nothing wrong” daughter. I remember , as a 10, 11,12 yr old, going to breakfast with my dad’s brother and his son who was a high functioning autistic kid. We would often go to Sunday church, to breakfast and then bowling. I would come home to find her sitting on the couch with that leg crossed and shaking up/down. I would ask her “what’s wrong?” As I walked in the door. There it started, I would not be spoken to for hours, days, sometimes longer. As a kid I never thought much of it. It was “normal”? Today as a 54 yr old woman, I have never had more problems with it. My mom is 88 yrs. I must now contend with the fact that I will never have any answers as to “why” this happened. I would just love to hear her explain this!!!


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