The Silent Treatment is Child Abuse

The damage may not be physical, but it’s there.

As an adult, when another adult gives me the silent treatment, I have to laugh inside. Clearly, the two of us have issues, so does that person really think their silence is a punishment to me? A recent coworker used to do that to me, coupled with a glare that was dripping with contempt. Actually, I viewed her silence as a nice respite, because, let’s face it: please shut up. Please.

I know that eventually these misguided adults will figure out that this lack of communication isn’t going to further their agenda very much, and they’ll either speak to me or they won’t. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to speak to them when the need arises, but small talk will cease. Works for me. It gives me an opportunity to catch up on my reading.

But it’s very different when the silent treatment is directed at a child. I had one relative who would do that to me for months on end unless my mother stepped in and forced her to stop. Until the next time. It was worse than toxic. According to a psychotherapist interviewed for this article, the silent treatment is an abusive method of control, punishment, avoidance, and disempowerment.

You don’t have to physically or verbally abuse a child to damage them. The silent treatment is emotional abuse at its most insidious. According to the article, it is “manipulation, a twisted way of regaining authority over someone, making the victim feel powerless, intimidated, guilty and insignificant.”

The messages I received when this relative hit me with her stone-cold silences were, “I care more about hurting you than communicating with you.” “You are unwanted.” “You do not matter.” “You are insignificant.” “If you don’t want to be ignored and rejected, you have to give in to all my demands, beliefs, and opinions, and squash any of your own.” “If you want to avoid conflict, just shut up and do as I say, no matter how irrational it may seem.” “You have no right to question anything.” “I don’t take you seriously.” “To get along in this world, you should allow yourself to be manipulated by others.” “Anticipate my needs to the point of having anxiety attacks if you want to be loved.” “Doubt yourself.” “Nobody has your back.” “Nobody will stand by you.” “You are completely and utterly alone in this world.” “The best way to communicate is by not communicating at all.”

These are horrible messages to send to a child. Children who are stripped of their self-esteem in this manner are definitely not being set up for success. In fact, quite the opposite. To this day, my gut reaction when someone gets angry at me is that they’re going to stop loving me. I have to remind myself constantly that that’s not true. I should know it. I deserve to be confident about love in times of strife. That was taken from me.

I never thought about this behavior as actual abuse until the subject came up recently with a friend. Then I started reading more about it. Then I got really angry. Then I gained some insight about the person I have become.

My mother was not the best communicator either. When she’d get mad at me, she’d write on her day planner, “You are mad at Barb.” That way she could emotionally color all our interactions with that fact. So I’d sneak in her room when she wasn’t there and erase that note. (Thank goodness she always wrote in pencil.) But even at her very worst, she didn’t hold a candle to this other relative.

For several years during my childhood, I truly believed that if I wasn’t right in someone’s line of sight, I no longer existed for them. That’s why, to this day, when someone does something that shows they’ve thought of me when I wasn’t present, it means so much to me that it often brings tears to my eyes. In a way, I’m glad I have this heightened level of appreciation for thoughtful gestures. It’s the silver lining to this messed up cloud. But the cloud remains.

A healthier lesson to teach a child is that there is a rational way to get through conflict. Talk problems out. Listen to both sides. Compromise. Come to an understanding. Kids should learn that everyone deserves respect. Everyone has a right to be heard. Everyone’s opinion has value, whether you agree with it or not.

Healthy communication is the very bedrock of love, and it provides children with the tools to function well in society. So if you’re supposed to be the adult in a relationship, please act like it. Your ability to do damage is greater than you think.

Read any good books lately? Try mine!

The Wild Swans

Some lessons should never be taught.

You can learn quite a lot from folklore and fairy tales. They were, after all, written to tell a story and teach a lesson. Unfortunately, some lessons should never be taught, such as the idea that in order for you to thrive in this world, you must first be rescued by a handsome prince. Ugh. Don’t get me started.

Too late.

This all had me thinking of a particular tale written by Hans Christian Andersen called The Wild Swans. I’m sure you’ve read his more well-known works, such as The Princess and the Pea, and Thumbelina and The Emperor’s New Clothes. I actually enjoy his writing, when I take it in proper context, but the Wild Swans, while a gripping story, teaches a lot of anti-feminist lessons that cause me to struggle with its whole concept.

The Wikipedia page gives a more detailed synopsis of the story, but for our purposes I will tell you that the Princess Elisa has 11 brothers, and they are cursed by their evil stepmother. All the boys are turned into swans and can only take human form after dark. The rest of the time they are birds who are forced to fly away.

So, clearly, the boys are more curse-worthy because they are ahead of Elisa in, basically, all things, not the least of which is the acquisition of the throne.

But Elisa is told that if she knits each of her brothers a sweater made of stinging nettles, she can rescue them. But she cannot speak at all during the process, or they will all die.

So not only is she expected to take on the burden of this torturous task without question, but she’s also expected to shut up and not complain about the pain, and not explain her strange behavior to anyone.

Somehow, during all this silent hand torture, a handsome king stumbles upon her, and despite being unable to converse with this odd girl, he falls in love, and proposes. Clearly he wasn’t after her intellect. And it matters not what you’ve got on your plate, ladies. If a handsome prince proposes, you should say yes, without question. Hmph.

But, as strange as she has been acting, she eventually gets accused of being a witch, and of course she can’t speak up to defend herself. She’s sentenced to be burned at the stake. She continues to knit, even as she’s being hauled off to her death, because women are supposed to be just that dedicated and nurturing.

But, of course, it wouldn’t be a fairy tale without a happy ending, so her bothers fly in and rescue her. She then throws the sweaters over their heads and they become fully human again. And it’s a darned good thing, too, because before she can redeem herself to her royal fiancée, she faints away from exhaustion, leaving her brothers to do the talking. And then the king steps in and revives her, and they get married.

So basically, a woman half kills herself to take care of the people she loves, she is completely misunderstood, she is shown to be incapable of taking care of herself, and the very people whom she’s been working so hard to rescue become the gallant rescuers instead.

The story does indeed teach lessons, but they’re not ones we need to learn. The true takeaways are more about what the author believes you need to think, and they shine a spotlight on the prevailing attitudes of the culture in question at the time they were written.

Maybe this story is why I never learned to knit.

Stinging Nettles. Ouch.

The best way to travel vicariously is through books. Try mine!

Letter Boarding

It’s nice to be reminded that someone is on your side.

My husband and I have gotten into a delightful habit. We have a changeable sign in the kitchen, with an array of 1 inch tall letters, and every once in a while, one of us will write a positive affirmation thereon. No, I won’t tell you what we say to each other. Get your own sign. But it’s along the lines of, “You rock.” “Thank you for…. (fill in the blank)”.

It’s always fun to come home after a particularly hard day and see something in black and white that reminds me that someone is on my side. It also is a great way to get yourself into the habit (if you weren’t there already) of thinking of positive things to say to your partner, and actually articulating those thoughts.

None of us are mind readers. Communication is the key to a good relationship. There’s nothing more irritating than hearing someone say, “She knows I love her.”

Maybe she does, but what’s wrong with saying it? Why keep your positivity to yourself? It’s not some pot of gold that you have to hoard. Share the wealth. It will come back to you tenfold.

Letter Board

A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving!


The Light Brigade Network

One of the things I love most about this blog is that it has allowed me to meet a lot of fascinating people who have taught me a great deal. For example, Linda Cooke, a member of the North Texas Light Brigade, introduced me to this fascinating international organization.

I love it when people get creative with their activism, and the Light Brigades have done quite a bit of that. It all started in Wisconsin, with the Overpass Light Brigade in Milwaukee. Their illuminated messages on highway overpasses had quite an impact, and the idea has spread throughout the country, and also to Croatia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Some of the groups are more radical than others, but some of the messages that these groups have attempted to  literally enlighten the world with are:

  • Unlearn Racism

  • Film the Police

  • Medicare for All

  • Wage Hike or Strike

  • Save the Bees

  • Teacher Solidarity

  • Stop Monsanto

  • No Keystone XL

  • Pipelines Leak

  • Be Visible

  • Dream Act Now

  • No Water for Profit

  • Piss off the GOP and Vote

  • Divest from Fossil Fuel

  • Hands Up – Don’t Shoot!

  • Water is Life

  • Practice Peace

These eye-catching illuminated signs are short but sweet, and given that our attention spans seem to be limited these days, I think this is an effective way to spread the word about important causes. Check out the Light Brigade Network to see if there’s an active chapter near you, and if not, consider starting one!

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Okay. Just three words. Rompers for men.


Who in God’s name thinks that this is a good idea? I mean… come on. Some things are just  really, really ill-conceived. For example, I know darned well my miniskirt days are over. But I’m okay with that.

I’m sure several of my regular readers are going to argue that people should have a right to wear what they darned well please. I agree. And heaven knows I’m not exactly an arbiter of good taste. But sometimes you have to accept that what you wear sends a message.

As an adult male, I would not want to send the message that I’m really three years old and there ought to be a flap in the back of this get up so I have an easier time going number two. And anyone who has the slightest beer gut is going to walk around looking like one of those tomato pin cushions your mom had in her sewing kit.

All forms of infantilization drive me up a wall. I’ve discussed baby talkers before. I also think grown women in pig tails or with ribbons in their hair, or senior citizens who dress like pre-teens, are rather silly.

Even 75-year-old rock stars who haven’t figured out when to call it quits would not be caught dead in rompers. That’s just a guess, of course. But I think it’s a fairly safe one.


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For Pete’s Sake

Many years ago, in the virtual world of Second Life, I made a friend. Let’s call him Pete (so I can have a cool blog entry title). It was purely a friendship. We were both in relationships at the time.  I enjoyed talking to him. He had a very creative mind, and was very good at banter, which is something I appreciate quite a bit. So we’d banter.

He lived in Seattle, and at the time I lived in Florida, so the odds of ever meeting face to face were pretty long. (I remember saying on more than one occasion throughout my life, “Who would be crazy enough to live in Seattle with all that rain? Depressing!”)

As time went on, I was in Second Life less and less, but we’d keep in touch. Exchange the odd e-mail. Flirt a little. Joke around. Nothing dramatic. But it was nice.

Then in early 2014 he moved several hundred miles from Seattle. Ironically, I moved to Seattle that August. Two ships that passed in the night. But he gave me lots of great advice on things to see and do here, and good areas to look for housing. That was a big help.

Occasionally he’d pass through Seattle to visit his son, but we never did meet. He always seemed to be here on days I worked, or I’d be out of town, or his time would be limited. He did say he might be moving back to Seattle at some point.

Then, about 6 months ago, he abruptly stopped responding to my e-mails. I knew he was still alive because I’d see him log in to Second Life every now and then. But he didn’t reply to my messages there, either.

I will never know why my friend disappeared. But I have a theory. I think that he’s back in Seattle, and the prospect of actually meeting me was too daunting for him. Was he expecting me to show up for coffee wearing a wedding dress? Please.

It kind of makes me sad. I really did consider him a friend, and it would have been nice to cross paths now and then. If something more had come of it, great. If not, that would have been okay, too.

Instead, as I walk down the streets of Seattle, I’ll sometimes look into the faces of the men I encounter, and I’ll think, “Pete? Is that you?” Sometimes I wonder if he crosses my bridge, and if so, have I ever made him late for some part of his life by opening it?

One thing is for sure: He’s somewhere out there, depriving himself of the opportunity to know a pretty awesome person. What a shame.


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