shunning article breaking through the paywall
From: CJ Q (
Date: Tue, 30 Mar 2021 05:41:52 -0700 (PDT)
Sorry - I never heard of a paywall before but I think I have found them
when I try to read too many NYT articles.  Here it is in the email.

What I like is how it gives ways to deal with the silent treatment. I
understand someone needing to cool off (I need time to process myself) but
shunning is something harmful and in this article they say it is abusive.
So, here are some tools to help a community when they see this behavior.

What You’re Saying When You Give Someone the Silent Treatment

Social ostracism has been a common punishment for millennia. But freezing
someone out harms both the victim and the perpetrator.

.Daryl Austin <>March 26,

Kipling Williams has studied the effects of the silent treatment for more
than 36 years, meeting hundreds of victims and perpetrators in the process:

A grown woman whose father refused to speak with her for six months at a
time as punishment throughout her life. “Her father died during one of
those dreaded periods,” Williams told me. “When she visited him at the
hospital shortly before his death, he turned away from her and wouldn’t
break his silence even to say goodbye.”

A father who stopped talking to his teenage son and couldn’t start again,
despite the harm he knew he was causing. “The isolation made my son change
from a happy, vibrant boy to a spineless jellyfish, and I knew I was the
cause,” the father said to Williams.

A wife whose husband severed communication with her early in their
marriage. “She endured four decades of silence that started with a minor
disagreement and only ended when her husband died,” Williams said. Forty
years of eating meals by herself, watching television by herself—40 years
of being invisible. “When I asked her why she stayed with him for all that
time,” Williams said, “she answered simply, ‘Because at least he kept a
roof over my head.’”

A teacher. A sibling. A grandparent. A friend. Each story that Williams, a
psychology professor at Purdue University, told me was more heartbreaking
than the one before. As I listened, the question that lingered most was How
could these people do this to those closest to them?

The silent treatment goes by many names: shunning, social isolation,
stonewalling, ghosting. Although psychologists have nuanced definitions for
each term, they are all essentially forms of ostracism. And the tactic is
nothing new. Ancient Greeks expelled
<> for 10
years citizens who were thought to be a threat to democracy, and early
American settlers banished
<> people accused of
practicing witchcraft. Religions have frozen out individuals for centuries:
Catholics call it excommunication, herem
<> is the highest form of
punishment in Judaism, and the Amish practice Meidung
The Church of Scientology recommends total “disconnection
from anyone deemed antagonistic toward the religion.

“My research suggests that two in three individuals have used the silent
treatment against someone else; even more have had it done to them,”
Williams said. Experts told me that although they need more data to know
for certain, instances of the silent treatment have likely increased over
the years as new forms of communication have been invented
“Every new method of connection can be used as a form of disconnection,”
Williams said.

Ostracism can also manifest in lesser ways: someone walking out of the room
in the middle of a conversation, a friend at school looking the other way
when you wave at them, or a person addressing comments from everyone in a
message thread except you. “Partial ostracism,” Williams told me, might
mean monosyllabic replies—a terse period at the end of a one-word text
message. But in serious cases, ostracism can take a heavy toll whereby
victims become anxious, withdrawn, depressed, or even suicidal.

“Because we humans require social contact for our mental health, the
ramifications of isolation can be severe,” Joel Cooper, a psychology
professor at Princeton, told me. “In the short term, the silent treatment
causes stress. In the long term, the stress can be considered abuse.”

Although a perpetrator might use the silent treatment in many different
scenarios, this is what every scenario has in common: “People use the
silent treatment because they can get away with it without looking abusive
to others,” Williams explained, “and because it’s highly effective in
making the targeted individual feel bad.”

The silent treatment is a particularly insidious form of abuse because it
might force the victim to reconcile with the perpetrator in an effort to
end the behavior, even if the victim doesn’t know why they’re apologizing.
“It’s especially controlling because it deprives both sides from weighing
in,” Williams said. “One person does it to the other person, and that
person can’t do anything about it.”

The silent treatment might be employed by passive personality types to
avoid conflict and confrontation, while strong personality types use it to
punish or control. Some people may not even consciously choose it at all.
“A person may be flooded with feelings they can’t put into words, so they
just shut down,” Anne Fishel, the director of the Family and Couples
Therapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, told me. But regardless
of the reason for the silent treatment, it can be received by victims as
ostracism.One study <> found that
social rejection provoked a response in its victims similar to that of
victims of physical abuse; the anterior cingulate cortex area of the
brain—the area thought to interpret emotion and pain—was active in both
instances. “Exclusion and rejection literally hurt,” John Bargh, a
psychology professor at Yale, told me.

But the silent treatment ultimately harms the person causing it, too.
Humans are predisposed to reciprocate social cues, so ignoring someone goes
against our nature, Williams said. The perpetrator is therefore forced to
justify the behavior in order to keep doing it; they keep in mind all the
reasons they’re choosing to ignore someone. “You end up living in a
constant state of anger and negativity,” Williams said.

Worse, the silent treatment can become addictive. The father who couldn’t
force himself to speak to his son again suffered the way many addicts
suffer—through repeating an activity despite knowing its harm. “Most people
who start giving the silent treatment never intend for it to go on for as
long as it does, but it can be very difficult to stop,” Williams told me.
“It’s psychological quicksand.”

The silent treatment is different from simply cooling off in the midst of a
heated debate. One way to prevent a conflict from curdling into ostracism
is to say out loud the exact amount of time you’ll be taking a break and to
establish a timeline for when you’ll pick the conversation back up,
Williams said. In some circumstances, it’s okay for unhealthy relationships
to end abruptly, without notice, and with no expectation to resume—such as
when a spouse or partner is physically abusive.

But when someone is using the silent treatment to exclude, punish, or
control, the victim should tell the perpetrator that they wish to resolve
the issue. To “voice the pain of being ignored” is a constructive way of
expressing one’s feelings, and may elicit a change if the relationship is
truly founded on care, Margaret Clark, a psychology professor at Yale, told
me in an email. Although a victim of ostracism should certainly apologize
if they’ve done something hurtful, Fishel said, “it’s time to call a
couple’s therapist” if your spouse uses the silent treatment tactically and
often. “One of the worst feelings in an intimate relationship is to feel
ignored,” she said. “It often feels better to engage in a conflict than to
feel shut out completely.”

If the perpetrator still refuses to acknowledge the victim’s existence for
long periods of time, it might be right to leave the relationship. In the
end, whether it lasts four hours or four decades, the silent treatment says
more about the person doing it than it does about the person receiving it.

Daryl Austin <> is a
journalist based in Utah.

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