Silence speaks volumes.

Is it okay to give someone the silent treatment?

Victoria Holbrook
4 min readApr 5, 2021


Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

I think there are two versions of the silent treatment. One a form of punishment and the other a form of protection. The former is usually a response to a silly, ‘heat of the moment’ comment or argument and the latter a ‘radio silence’ or no contact strategy to help cut emotional ties.

I hate the silent treatment when used as a response or a way of punishing someone when they’ve made a genuine mistake or said something they didn’t really mean. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it when I was younger, but I now try to communicate why I am upset or angry or hurt in these situations. I think ‘having it out’ and ‘clearing the air’ is infinitely more healthy than stewing in silence and refusing to talk to them. I can’t see what it achieves.

However…and in a contradiction that frustrates me…I do use the second type of silent treatment. I’m not proud of it but I am pretty good at cutting people out of my life, if I deem it necessary for my own well being. And my chosen method is complete ‘radio silence’. No communication. No response. No replies. No nothing. I suppose I think that in certain circumstances silence speaks volumes and that it’s often a better response than any words could ever convey. However, that doesn’t stop me worrying that this behaviour is a bit childish and not really the correct, adult response.

You have to have done something pretty bad to be on the receiving end of this treatment from me. I think I’m pretty tolerant and forgiving by nature. And I should point out that I don’t just randomly stop communicating. I do tell the person that I don’t want to talk to them beforehand…although that doesn’t make it sound any better, does it?!

I’ve done this to a couple of people. I felt that they had disrespected me and hurt me to an extent that I could not…no, scratch that…would not forgive them. They had ‘crossed a line’ in a deliberate and calculated manner. They knew what they were doing and I no longer wanted anything to do with them.

In many ways I don’t like that I say nothing. It feels like I’m letting myself down, not standing up for myself. I often wish I’d had it out with these people. I wish I’d told them how much they had hurt me and vented my anger at them rather than shutting down completely. I worry that the unsaid words just end up eating me up inside and it would healthier to ‘give them a piece of my mind’.

On the other hand, I think the lack of response probably saves me from saying something cruel (I don’t want to stoop to their level, after all) and something that I might later regret. Saying nothing seems to be foolproof in that respect. It also stops me wasting energy on them. It’s not easy to be completely silent, but I do think it makes it easier and quicker to cut emotional ties or bonds. It’s a coping mechanism. A strategy to protect myself from toxic people and support faster healing.

I’ve had one these people try to make contact with me again recently after a very long absence. They haven’t offered an apology mind you(!), but clearly they were attempting to make the first move to talk to me again. They were perfectly nice messages. They hoped I was doing well, etc etc. I genuinely believe that they meant it and for a brief moment I entertained the idea of responding. There were (past tense!)some great things about them that I had missed in the months after having extradited them from my life.

But I don’t miss them anymore. Seeing their name pop up made me realise how happy I am without them in my life and how I never want to go back. I don’t want to ‘rebuild that bridge’. I’m glad I decided that I didn’t want to be friends, I didn’t want them in my life anymore. So I deleted the messages without a response.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t wonder whether I am doing the right thing. Is it rude to ignore someone? I could have responded with a “please leave me alone” but that’s still a response and I don’t want to give them even that small an opening. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile, that’s what comes to mind.

The truth is I don’t want to be dragged back into a previous chapter in my life. I’ve worked so hard for so long to build a life that I love. It makes me angry that people will expressly go against your wishes. The truth is that I don’t owe them anything, not even a response.



Victoria Holbrook

30-something. Consultant. Coffee and cookie obsessed. In need of a creative outlet.