Question: How do I tell an avoidant that I feel anxious and abandoned when they put me in silent treatment mode, and how do I ask them to stop?
My fearful avoidant ex went no contact and cut all ties, and this for me feels so cold. I know I’m anxious and was needy, and pushy at times, but I did try to give him space. When things are good, he’s the most loving man I know but whenever we have an argument he uses the silent treatment as a weapon. To be honest, I’m not surprised he’s gone ‘no contact’, but now I really wonder if he even ever loved me at all. Part of me thinks it was real but part of me thinks he only loves the way I make him feel. But even with all this, I still love my ex and want him back.
I read all your articles, and your advice is unbiassed and what I need help from you is how to tell my how anxious and abandoned it makes me feel when he puts me in silent treatment mode. I want him to understand that I want my feelings to matter. Please don’t judge me, I’m tired of hearing what a fool I am for still loving him, he’s not good for me and all that stuff. I have an anxious attachment and fear of abandonment and take full responsibility for abandoning my own needs and in the process, making myself unimportant and invisible. I look forward to your advice.
Yangkis Answer: No judgement here, but I’m going to be honest and straightforward so you make an informed decision as to whether trying to get back together is worth your while.
First, the silent treatment and no contact feel similar to the person on the receiving end, but there is a difference; and it all comes down to the reason and the intended outcome of both the silent treatment and no contact.
“No contact” if someone is doing it to heal, and move on, or needs some distance and communicates what they need instead of just ghosting someone is not a bad thing. Some people don’t need it and some people do, and it’s a securely attached thing to respect how others feel and what they need.
“No contact” to get a reaction (e.g. get you to miss someone or make you feel anxious, worried and insecure) is manipulative and intended to inflict pain, punish and/or control.
Usually, I’d advice you to first establish why your ex is doing no contact and what’s intended to achieve – is this something he’s doing for himself or something he’s doing to get your attention and/or reaction. But because you say he uses “the silent treatment” as a weapon, it’s safe to assume that he’s using no contact for the same reasons he uses the silent treatment.
The silent treatment is refusing to communicate with or acknowledge the presence of the other person. It’s an attempt to erase someone and make them insignificant or invisible. When an avoidant goes silent they may be deactivating, that is, distancing or disconnecting from engagement to self-soothe and regain their sense of safety. This often an automated rection when an avoidant is triggered and feels unsafe being close. They’re not looking for a reaction or attention from a partner, and self-aware avoidants communicate their need for space before or during deactivation.
But there is when an avoidant, commonly a fearful avoidant gives the silent treatment as a passive aggressive attempt to get a reaction or attention.
Passive aggressive people use the silent treatment because they can get away with it. If someone physically assaults you or verbally abuses you, you can say you did this or said that — and confront them with evidence. Passive aggressive people don’t like any form of direct confrontation, so they use the silent treatment because it’s easy to deny that they’re “doing” anything. When you confront them, you look like a fool because you have no evidence they’re doing anything.
Secondly, the silent treatment is a form of calculated control. As long as there is some sort of pay-off (you getting bothered/hurt, apologize and/or beg) it gives the person using the silent treatment as a weapon a sense of power and it feeds their ego. It could be something learned from childhood, but as adults, people do it because they can and choose to.
But even more importantly, the silent treatment is psychological/emotional abuse whereby the person engaging in the silent treatment is holding the other person emotional hostage. By making you feel invisible, unimportant and insecure, they have a psychological and emotional hold on you.
How do you make and avoidant understand what the silent treatment is doing to the relationship and ask them to stop?
Start by expressing how both the silent treatment and now no contact makes you feel. Say something along these lines:
“When you go silent instead of communicating and trying to resolve our problems, I feel abandoned, unimportant and invisible; and it makes me anxious, worried and insecure about our relationship. I want us to start working together to communicate in a constructive way; and I am taking the first step bringing this up so we can try to communicate better.”
Be direct, assertive and calm. If you get upset and start blaming, accusing or yelling, you’ve already lost control of the situation — and this will most likely lead to another silent face-off. As calmly as possible, let him know the impact his behaviour is having on your relationship. You might be surprised that like most people who use the silent treatment or no contact for attention or to get a reaction, your ex may not even realize his actions are damaging the relationship. He may be so focused on getting your reaction or trying to make you miss him and not thinking about the damage his actions are doing to the relationship.
Next, ask him how he thinks you can express yourself/act/respond better so that he doesn’t feel the need to go into lockdown mode. Say something along the lines.
“I’m open to what you think about how we can communicate our feelings and needs in away that strengthens our relationship.”
Remember, an avoidant attachment style is a coping mechanism. Sometimes an avoidant will go silent (deactivate), and it has nothing to do with you or the relationship. It’s their way of self-regulating and dealing with emotions especially when they feel overwhelmed, stressed or depressed. Silence in this case is not something they’re doing to you, but something they feel they need to do for their own emotional and mental well-bring.
But there are times when an avoidant’s silence is a direct reaction to something you said or something that happened that made them feel the best response at the time is silence and distance. See, when someone with an anxious attachment style feels hurt, angry, sad or frustrated, they want to be heard, listened to and understood and will go to lengths to get attention and an audience for their feelings of hurt, anger, sadness or frustration – family, friends, therapist, co-workers and even strangers online. When an avoidant is hurt, angry, sad or frustrated they’re more likely to seek distance and isolation, or use social media to communicate how they feel. Social media posts feel safe for most avoidants because it doesn’t feel close and personal as directly talking to someone.
An avoidant feeling hurt, angry, sad or frustrated may not know how to communicate how they truly feel, and some avoidants feel that they will get nowhere if they talk – their feelings, views and ideas will be dismissed or ignored. And if you frequently argue, fight or if there’s too much drama in the relationship, an avoidant may feel it’s “happening again” and not saying anything and distancing is the better option. And sometimes avoidants use silence as a control measure to avoid saying the wrong thing or to stop themselves from lashing out.
In my conversations with some avoidants, they feel sad and frustrated that they don’t have the skills to communicate how they feel, always feel blamed or “shut down” by a partner who can better articulate and communicate their feelings, is more emotionally expressive, and sometimes louder and more dramatic. So listen to what an avoidant has to say about why they go silent and distance. Take responsibility for where you think you might not be doing your best and do not use this opportunity to bring up “all the other times” he’s done this or that. It doesn’t help. Instead discuss how you resolve things better next time you have a disagreement or things aren’t going well in the relationship.
Last but not least, it’s important to let an avoidant know that if they don’t stop the silent treatment or cutting off ties when you should be communicating and trying to resolve your problems, you are ready to leave. Then give them time to think about it and for things to change. If there are no signs of anything changing, make good on your word and leave. If you say you’ll leave and not follow through, threats of leaving just get incorporated into the manipulation and control – and the “game” goes on.
Remember, you can only be controlled or abused to the extent that you are willing to allow it.
Attract Back An Avoidant Ex: 2 – How They Feel And React