I'm never talking to you again!
April 28, 2007 5:45 AM   Subscribe

Help with my immature self: if someone offends me, my response is to not speak to them - and I can drag it out for ages, too. Worse still, I've found this to be quite an effective technique, so I'm consistently experiencing a degree of positive feedback. However, I do know that it's rather immature and not particularly constructive, so I'd like to know how better to deal with such a situation - what's a more mature technique/ what works for you? (I'm 35...).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
it's not a technique, it's life experience, you'll soon realize that acting like that may be tempting but is ultimately self-defeating
posted by matteo at 6:28 AM on April 28, 2007


(it's called growing a thicker skin, by the way, it's an acquired skill for many)
posted by matteo at 6:29 AM on April 28, 2007


I usually just stop spending so much time thinking about the person. Sometimes it takes a bit to get to that point, but distraction works--if I find myself feeding a grudge, I just go do something else. If you end up bumping in to that person (in an unplanned manner), then try for pleasantness...not noticeably cold and not that icky fake "Oh, SO nice to see you!" Just smile, nod, and keep going on with whatever you were doing. If you pretend that seeing someone doesn't bother you one way or another for long enough, it will actually end up becoming truth.

(My first reaction is WTF do you really want out of someone who has offended you? What are you trying to do by making a point out of ignoring them?)
posted by anaelith at 6:33 AM on April 28, 2007


It sounds like you don't believe that others can sense the depth of your offense without some kind of punishment phase, as if they were children. I think if you were to force yourself to explain how you were offended, you'd see that most folks, surely the ones that matter, will react in a way that lets you save face, truly resolve the conflict, and remain friends.

My dad and his brother were good at grudges and the silent treatment. My dad had a fight about toy trains with his brother in the 1950s, and held a grudge like you're describing until they both died. That showed him, eh?
posted by popechunk at 6:35 AM on April 28, 2007


It depends. Do you want to, or have to, maintain relationships with the people you stop speaking with and what do you mean by effective? Do you enjoy their response? Are you getting some kind of benefit from how they come around? Is it some kind of Passive-Aggressive control thing you've got going?

I agree that it's not constructive; it's not constructive and it's a pretty negative use of your energy, because if you have any emotional investment in the person you're snubbing, you have to work at it. Not constructive because at some level, it's not sitting right with you to the point that you're using energy thinking about it.

What are more effective responses? Developing a thicker skin, a greater appreciation of the absurdities of life and giving others the benefit of the doubt -- and that all means communication and a willingness to realize you get to choose how you respond to your world and the people in it.

It's easy to make a snap decision and stop there. My advice is to take the time to talk to these people but don't do this until you can do it in a calm and respectful way. Let them know how you feel and find out why they did or said what they did or said. Then leave room and see what happens.

You'll feel better if you do, even if you don't end up reconciling with these people.
posted by nnk at 6:40 AM on April 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


hey works for me and the rest of my irish family. maybe it will work for you too?

seriously, some people just deserve that level of refusal to recognize their existence and its the only solution that works to keep them from causing you harm, of whatever kind.

for others, maybe let their offenses wash right past you and don't respond to them, put them out of your mind and just tell yourself they're nuts or in pain and it can't be helped. works for me in dealing with my wife and others that i'm forced to deal with or have some redeeming value. ;)
posted by libertaduno at 6:44 AM on April 28, 2007


It must be an Irish thing... My Dad's side of family does this, and it can last for weeks if not months. Growing up he did that to me as well. He'd ignore me for months sometimes. Not the best way to raise a kid. His parents would go years with not talking. In the end my grandfather basically died alone because of it.

I tried it on my wife when we first got married, and it was corrosive to say the least. It did nothing for our marriage- and did nothing to solve the underlying issue that caused the silence.

If I do anything as a father, it will be to prevent my kids from doing it.

If the individual is close to you, I'd suggest figuring out a better way to voice your objections. My wife and I have had fights, but I force myself to confront what is pissing me off and let her know about it when it happens. I also have to force myself to let some things go and start talking again. I'm getting better. Figuring out a way to talk without loosing my patience is so difficult, but has in the long run, made our marriage stronger. In the end we reach compromise quicker now.

If the individual is not close to you, I'd try and figure out if you need to have any kind of relationship at all. If you have a professional one, then measure the pro's and con's of at least staying civil. In the past I've blown people off, only to realize that maintaining some type of civil discourse is an advantage to me.
posted by rryan at 7:12 AM on April 28, 2007


Kudos for realizing this and wanting to change it. You're almost there already.

From my armchair it seems like the silent treatment is, to you, a winning argument of sorts: if you don't give the person anything to respond to, you can keep telling yourself that you're right and they're wrong because as long as you're not talking to them, they're probably not going to figure out what they did and say anything that would give you reason to question your lofty moral/logical/(etc.) position.

You say that this is satisfying for you, and I don't doubt that it is. Perhaps what will help you get past this is to take the satisfaction out of it: to realize that giving someone the silent treatment is an empty victory because there was really nothing to win -- no argument, no confrontation, no chance for the other person to defend him or herself.

So the next time you get the urge to shun, remind yourself that you're going to 'win' fairly. Tell the person calmly, "you know, that offended me," (or whatever would be appropriate in the situation) and give the person a chance to explain and apologize. If it's not worth a confrontation, then it's not worth the energy of a silent treatment, either. Just roll your eyes, brush it off, and think about something else.

If all else fails, just remind yourself that you don't want to be "that guy/lady who's always giving people silent treatments" and just... knock it off.

Good luck; and really, pat yourself on the back for being self-aware enough to even question this behavior, not to mention wanting to make the effort to change. I think you'll be fine.
posted by AV at 7:30 AM on April 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


Advice that my father gave me still rings in my ears: "Nobody dumber than me is ever going to upset me."
posted by jbickers at 7:35 AM on April 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


My MIL has done this all her life. She's old, now, and lives in a very tiny bubble of people who have never offended her - or whose offense she's been willing to tolerate. Everybody despises her - they'll be happy to see her dead.

Think of that the next time you take pleasure in cutting someone off. Think of how small and empty and wretched your life will be when you're old. I can tell you, it's been a learning experience for me.
posted by clarkstonian at 7:45 AM on April 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


You clearly need to punish the person. You're doing it by saying "I'm punishing you by not speaking to you." It's an anger over-reaction to a given situation. After all They have wronged you

You're right. You need to grow up.

The adult way is to say "wow, I found you doing x and y really offensive. If this is the sort of thing you do often, I don't know if I can be around that." You've at least managed to let the person know what's bothering you.

You can't control them, but you can control your reaction.
posted by filmgeek at 7:58 AM on April 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


...I've found this to be quite an effective technique, so I'm consistently experiencing a degree of positive feedback.

I really don't understand this, and I can only speculate about how it could be "effective." And I just deleted a cute semi-snarky comment about that

Kudos to you for recognizing that this is a problem. There's great suggestions up-thread for how to act: Take responsibility for your feelings, identify them, let the other party know how they offended you in a calm way, etc, etc. In doing this, you are also giving them an opportunity to rise to the challenge and act like an adult. You both win.

On the other hand, if some of these items are trivial offenses -- you didn't really specify -- just blow them off. Some things are worth fighting for, some things are not. Mature adults choose their battles carefully, and ultimately, make peace.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:27 AM on April 28, 2007


I think trying to understand how this behavior works is key for changing it, so props for taking it there.

You're getting some sort of emotional payoff from this. Figuring out what that is, and then recognizing it's cheapness will hopefully be enough of a deterrent.

My guess is that by denying others the chance to address the way they've hurt you is possibly born of several things:

You may be protecting yourself from them by not acknowledging the hurt they've caused, pretending that "you're so busy" that what they've done didn't even hit your radar. This doesn't work though, because these people go out of their way to kiss your ass and try to make up and you both secretly know what's going on. You don't want to admit it. And you don't want to give them the opportunity to call it out.

You might be so insecure that you're afraid that they won't take the offense as seriously as you, or understand how important it was to you. So you test them by not speaking to them. This gives them the opportunity to "prove their worth and intentions" to you by making them jump hoops to win your friendship back, thereby validating it.

Maybe you have so much pride and self-worth that you feel as though you must teach others a lesson. Maybe you feel they're not worthy of your words, and their insults to your character/whatever have lowered their standing with you so much that anything other than ignoring them would be a trifling waste of your time. This would be done as a defensive way to make yourself feel better. If someone cuts your worth, you cut back by making them not worthy of your time. The problem with this is that your new elevation of status is not one built out of respect, but of petty immaturity in the other's eyes. They are simply trying to get the respect they had for you back, not the other way around. That, and they do get your time, covertly, because you expend lots more energy avoiding them. Maybe you see that as the cost of admission to make them Believe you don't care.

If I were you, I would find other things to do with your time when you have all this extra energy. Energy that could be spent avoiding people can be used to focus on projects, sport, and hopefully eventually on dealing with issues head-on.

Another thing to try might be going back and analyzing past examples of avoidance. What were the things that turned you around? Did you get bored of the game and then start talking to them again? Did you warm up after a grand demonstration from them about their desire for your attention back? Was it a simple apology after they hunted you down? My guess is that there is a pattern there. If you can find it, it will help you determine what it is you're ultimately seeking with this behavior.

Apologies if I'm way off base here. I am not a psychologist. These are just merely suggestions. If they don't fit, then you know what the problem is not. Good luck to you.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:05 AM on April 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


From my armchair it seems like the silent treatment is, to you, a winning argument of sorts: if you don't give the person anything to respond to, you can keep telling yourself that you're right and they're wrong because as long as you're not talking to them, they're probably not going to figure out what they did and say anything that would give you reason to question your lofty moral/logical/(etc.) position.

Amen. Having been on the receiving end of the silent treatment, I can tell you that it can be incredibly painful. In fact, for me, it's the most hurtful thing a friend can do, and half the time I have no idea why he or she did it. In every single instance in my life, after a few months, the friend has gotten back in touch with me after he's "deigned" to forgive me for my offense. There's never an acknowledgment of the pain inflicted on me. There's also never recognition that no matter how angry my friend has made ME in the past, I've never resorted to this tactic. I question why I'm attracted to these people in the first place, but that's another post...

Talk to the person before you make this decision. You'd be surprised how often your friend had no idea what set you off. At least give them a chance to apologize before you break off all communication.
posted by Evangeline at 9:17 AM on April 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well- I am a pretty sensitive person and I realized very young if I shut out every one that was mean to me once or offended me I would soon be all alone.

I guess with enough interactions with people something is bound to affect you- whether it is because you were feeling sensitive that day or they were just a bit thoughtless that day. Everyone offends and gets offended maybe if you tried to focus on how common it is to offend others and to be offended it might help. It's really a part of life.

Sometimes people may not even realize that they are offending and by you shutting them out you only appear a bit socially strange.
posted by beccaj at 9:23 AM on April 28, 2007


If we were friends and you suddenly (and for a prolonged period) gave me the silent treatment, it would permanently end the friendship. I would probably not get over it and not be able to resume the friendship when you later felt like talking to me. This wouldn't be due to spite on my part. It would be because I'd never be able to trust you. I'd feel like any lapse on my part might lead you to cut me off again. I guess I have abandonment issues or something, but I don't think I'm alone in feeling this way.

However, there's one thing you could do that would change my reaction and yet still get some distance and communicate your disapproval. All you need to do is say, "After what you did, I need a break for a while. So I'm not going to be hanging out with you for the foreseeable future." After saying this to me, you don't need to say anything else, and if I get upset and start questioning you or defending myself, you don't need to reply.

I will, of course, be upset. I will feel chastised. I will feel all the things you probably want me to feel. But I also feel that you were honest and direct with me.
posted by grumblebee at 9:26 AM on April 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think it would help if we had some idea of what level of offense is causing this reaction. Because sometimes I do think it's valid to cut people out of your life, but only in extreme cases -- verbal, physical, or emotional abuse; extreme substance abuse that the person refuses to change; someone sleeping with your partner, etc.

For less extreme cases:

1. Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity. Most people aren't thinking about your feelings nearly as much as you are; in fact, no one should be thinking about your feelings as much as you are, unless you're a three-year-old and that person is your parent. Most of the time, people say offensive things because they aren't thinking, not because they're specifically trying to hurt you, or specifically trying to do anything, really. They're just living their lives, and they inadvertently bumped into you. If you start out with the assumption that however they hurt you was unintentional, it's a bit easier to say, non-confrontationally, "Hey, can you not do that in the future?"

2. It takes a hell of a lot of courage to share your feelings with someone. What you're doing right now is protective, but ultimately cowardly. Regardless of the feeling, letting someone know how you feel is scary; retreating into self-righteous indignation is easy. So reward yourself for taking even small steps, for letting someone know that you're happy, for instance, or that you had a hard day and so you're a bit depressed. Start building up an emotional vocabulary that lets you share what you're feeling with other people before you get to a point where you're seeing red. It will help you feel comfortable talking in that mode, for one, and it will help strengthen your relationships with others so that if there is an offense, you've got a stronger relationship on which to draw to fix what's wrong.
posted by occhiblu at 9:48 AM on April 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've found this to be quite an effective technique

Effective at what? Destroying your personal relationships, or preventing you from being offended? If your goal is to keep from being offended, you are in complete control of what you choose to be offended over.
posted by yohko at 10:30 AM on April 28, 2007


You do realize that by doing this you are gaining a reputation? And not a good one? Keep this up and people who DON'T offend you won't want to have anything to do with you.

If you really want to be superior rather than just feel superior, the best thing to do is overlook the offense. In other words, let it have no effect on you whatsoever. That makes you look good, and will frustrate the heck out of the offender who will realize that you placed no importance whatsoever on their offense.

Either that or their offense was inadvertent and you can work it out and stay friends.

You cannot be in relationship with anyone without eventurally offending or being offended. It is the ability to work things out that is the hallmark of maturity.

If an offense is definitely a serious one, the right (and noncowardly) way to deal with it is to confront it-NOT ignore it. Save the shunning for the worst case scenarios!
posted by konolia at 11:07 AM on April 28, 2007


I have a former close friend who walked out of my life two years ago and has never spoken to me since; I still am not entirely sure why. Her behavior -- which was both cruel and cowardly (which, by the way, is the reputation she has among many other former friends and coworkers of hers) -- triggered months of literal nightmares and a world of questions that will never be answered.

So ask yourself: what kind of person you would like to be? Do you want to be someone who, when hurt or affronted, resorts to punishing and manipulating others with passive-aggression (which is what the silent treatment does)? Further, do you you want to cling to the childish, narcissistic notion that the people around you should be able to read your mind, as well as magically anticipate and cater to your every preference (which is the assumption underlying the silent treatment's aim to "punish" transgressors)? Do you want to have the reputation of my former friend -- of being spiteful, cruel, immature, and cowardly?

Or do you want to be someone who has the grace and respect for yourself and for those around you to simply speak up -- as uncomfortable as that prospect may be, and as imperfect as you fear your words may come out -- when conflict arises? And do you want to have the wisdom to learn how to resolve those conflicts when they do arise in a way that addresses the needs and feelings of all parties involved?

See, as punitive as silence/sulking can be, it's also a protective mechanism -- it saves you from having to articulate your feelings (and you may fear that you won't articulate them well, and/or fear that you'll get upset in a way you find "unseemly," such as crying or yelling), and it sidesteps the actual conflict (which would give the other person a chance to articulate his or her point of view -- which may include their displeasure with you).

The thing is, feeling hurt is a fact of being alive, and having disagreements with others around you is a fact of being a social creature. You will never escape them; they're natural and inevitable. Once you accept that -- once your own feelings no longer become so frightening, and the idea of actually facing disagreement no longer seems so taboo -- you can choose the way you want to handle them.
posted by scody at 11:10 AM on April 28, 2007


Know what I do when someone "offends" me? I find a way to do something nice for that person. And for some reason that makes me like them and the offense (unless it's a huge offense) usually just melts away. So, instead of taking up your energy on the silent treatment - take a moment to think of something you could do for the offender and then do it!
posted by Sassyfras at 11:23 AM on April 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I do agree with a lot of what Scody said about the value of accepting your emotions, and not allowing yourself to fear that your reasons for being hurt are too irrational or unseemly.

However, one caveat: In the quest for emotional honesty, be sure that expressing your feelings of hurt in a sincere way is about being straight with yourself and not denying your hurt..

It should not be about seeking justice.. In fact, the people why have "offended" you and "hurt" you may not respond with understanding and compassion to your feelings. They may write them off as nonsensical and think you are silly...

So pursue communication with people who have offended you for the sake of letting out bottled up feelings and not letting them build up in festering resentment... Loftier goals such as seeking apologies or understanding may not be possible in many cases...
posted by gregb1007 at 12:36 PM on April 28, 2007


People won't know what they did wrong, unless you tell them. Most people don't want to do things wrong, so if you tell them that something is offensive to you, they'll likely try not to do it again.

Let them know what they did wrong. If they're willing to put forth the effort to understand or change, then yay.

Being passive aggressive is pitiful. It gets nothing done because it gets nothing across. I've been working at telling people what's wrong, and honestly it has made me a lot happier, and made my interactions with people better.
posted by that girl at 12:39 PM on April 28, 2007


Like most others have mentioned, the first thing you need to do is just somehow learn to not be so offended, and to recognize when you're overreacting. I won't go into that really. The advice I have to bring into this is that in those cases where you've really looked at the situation, and someone really has offended you deeply to the point that you feel the need to ignore them, don't let yourself do it indefinitely. Tell them that you just aren't ready to discuss it right now. Apologize in advance for anything you've done to make them mad, and let them know you'll think that over (and do it). Tell them you just need to cool off for a few minutes/overnight/maybe a few days at most, in really extreme cases, and tell them that you'll talk to them then. Also remember that different people solve conflicts different ways, and with some of your friends, this will not fly as well as it will with others. Make sure you know who those ones are. With those ones, don't take so much cooling off time. If you can, try your very hardest to solve it on the spot (see strategies from other answers). If you do absolutely need time to cool off, make sure they know you recognize that's not their preferred approach, but that you really do need the time to cool down, and that you'll make your best effort to cool down as soon as you possibly can.

After reading some other comments more closely, here's a few last words: I disagree with grumblebee that you should tell someone that you'll be indefinitely not talking to them. At that point it's really no different than the silent treatment. It's hard to say when you'll be able to talk, but you need to in order to show others that you're doing this for a reason, and that you're not just punishing them. Also, as many have pointed out, the silent treatment is just a way to escape difficult situations. Let the other person know you're doing this because you're concerned the argument may escalate and come to no resolution. You want to take some time to think about it so you can talk about it more rationally. Also let them know you'll be examining your own actions so they know you're not just doing this to escape criticism. Then follow through. When you talk again, be ready to articulate your feelings. Come ready to apologize for some of your actions. If you're not any more prepared and calm than you were before, people will see through it as a way just to make yourself look better while not really changing your ways. And finally, once again, do this only as a last resort. It is sometimes, but rarely, ok to just walk out of a disagreement, and it must be done in the right way.

Ok, and on preview:

People won't know what they did wrong
Yes, make sure that before you decide to take this last resort that they know what has offended you, and that you've both tried to talk it over, and that didn't work.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:51 PM on April 28, 2007


They're just living their lives, and they inadvertently bumped into you. If you start out with the assumption that however they hurt you was unintentional, it's a bit easier to say, non-confrontationally, "Hey, can you not do that in the future?"

Chiming back in to underscore this. You will be amazed at how much of the small, day-to-day offenses just melt away if you start from the premise that people are innocent of the (negative) motives you may be attributing to them.

In other words, it's possible that in addition to learning how to deal with hurt feelings and conflicts more maturely and respectfully, you may need to learn how to avoid getting so offended so often in the first place. What I said in this AskMe might apply to you, too: looking for subtext everywhere, in every action or comment made by the people in our lives, is crazy-making. So resist the temptation. Consider this: what if there really is no message intended for you to receive, no slight for you to manage?

What if, in the absence of clear, definitive proof otherwise (e.g., an explicit, unambiguous statement), you assume the best (or at least neutral) motives to everyone in your day-to-day life? You might find there's a certain liberation that comes from the realization that you're not the center of everyone else's universe. Because unless an alarming number of your friends and family have bona fide personality disorders, you can be assured that the vast majority of them aren't trying to offend, hurt, or disregard you on a daily basis. As occhiblu says, they're just living their lives.
posted by scody at 12:53 PM on April 28, 2007


I work around behavioral psychologists all day, and here's the most commonly recommended plan for discussing others' behavior:
Try to be immediate and specific. When someone says or does something that offends you, try to point out that specific behavior right there and explain why you find it offensive. The more you focus on the actions or words, the less you emphasize the other person's personality or self; you don't want it to be a personal attack, but a suggestion for a change in behavior. Just let them know how you feel. If it happens again, remind the person how and why you are affronted and suggest an alternative that would achieve the same goal without offending you ("I think the word ass-hat is so much funnier than retard."). You may also want to lay out a consequence ("If you do this a third time even though you know I find it offensive, I will stop spending time with you.") so people know where they stand. You won't necessarily come off like a bulldog for standing your ground. Once is usually enough to remind people not to do things like that again (at least not in your presence).
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 12:57 PM on April 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I-message: I felt hurt when you did x, the message I'm getting is y.
posted by brujita at 1:33 PM on April 28, 2007


I think that it is a mental issue, before a behavioural one.

First of all, what offends you? If an acquaintance makes a sexist remark, sometimes pointedly ignoring that they did so will be the best way for them to learn more appropriate behaviour, so I'm not saying that ignoring is never a good idea.

Secondly, if people are deliberately cruel and snarky toward you, well, again, ignoring their behaviour seems to be a sensible self-protection.

But you're ignoring the person, right? Not just the behaviour? You're cutting people who in the past you have liked and respected, and you're making sure that they're not in your lives. I agree with occhiblu, that is totally approrpriate when there's abuse or a toxic personality but for a grudge?

So, the offenses - what say someone didn't invite you to their daughter's wedding - and you thought you were good friends. What kind of friend does that to you?
* You could ask, you could say, Sally, I'm really hurt you didn't invite to the wedding, is there a reason, like a limit on numbers?
* You could assume the best of people, because despite some evidence to the contrary, I think most people are doing the best they can. You could just assume that Sally would love to have you at the wedding, but she can't afford it, or her daughter has said that, no, mum, we're not having people I don't know at my wedding.
* On the rare occasion that someone has done it to be hurtful, you could assume that the stress they are under has caused them to behave in a way that they wouldn't normally and cut them some slack. You could go out of your way to find out what's wrong with your friend and to offer help, and tea and sympathy.

But, getting back to the issue, to first assume that every offense is a deliberate attack on you worthy of the punishment of ignoring (and this has been covered above), is pretty egotistical. Most people are pretty much mostly concerned with themselves and not out to get other people. If people are out to get you, maybe you have other behaviours than just ignoring which are antisocial.

So the short answer - don't worry about the ignoring, worry about the mind set that allows you to see things as offenses. Lots of good books out there - David Burns Mood Therapy (because I think you exaggerate things or blow them out of proportion), Dalai Lama's art of happiness, stuff by Dorothy Rowe and maybe even Harriet Lerner.
posted by b33j at 2:02 PM on April 28, 2007


I disagree with grumblebee that you should tell someone that you'll be indefinitely not talking to them. At that point it's really no different than the silent treatment.

We're probably more in agreement than I made it sound. I think it's a very sad thing to cut someone off. I would have to be pushed way to the brink and beyond before I'd do this to anyone, because I know how painful it is. So I'm NOT advocating it.

Still, I know that relationships can become toxic to the point that it's unhealthy to stay in them. My point is that when -- regrettably -- this does happen, there are some ways to end things that are better than others. The very LEAST the other person deserves is an explanation and the possibility of closure. If you just suddenly stop talking to me with no explanation, I have no idea what's going on nor whether I should try to get over a failed friendship and move on with my life. I'm left hanging.
posted by grumblebee at 2:21 PM on April 28, 2007


You talk about getting the "positive feedback" you want, but next time this situation arises you might bear in mind the other party probably really hates you for it and resents always having to be the better person. Even if people do stick around you despite this habit, you'll still be lonely when you're old. It's in no way positive when you think about how the other person may grow to feel about you and how this will affect your relationship long-term.


Good on you for wanting to change this.

Seems to me you might be a little sensitive and may need to train yourself slowly to thicken that skin a little.

Maybe next time someone offends you, consider whether it is a big enough deal to tell them straight up "that hurt me, when you said or did x". That way the other person knows what's going on with you and has a fair chance to explain themselves or apologise.

If you figure the offense doesn't warrant such a confrontation, suck it up, figure: "they probably weren't thinking" and immediately turn your attention to something else. Call a friend for coffee or lunch and ask them how they are doing. Spending time with someone else will help to remind you that you are more than this some stupid incident from an hour ago. Don't treat this exercise as avoidance of person who offended you, but as a way to break your negative patterns of behaviour.

Don't be too hard on yourself if this takes a long time, this happens incremently. You'll feel better in the long run.

Good luck.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:15 PM on April 28, 2007


My mother used this technique on me when I was a kid. If I did something wrong, or that she didn't agree with, she ignored me.

A therapist once commented to me some time later that this is effectively emotional abuse, since what you end up doing is making the other person doubt that they exist.

I can say having experienced this type of treatment it makes (some) people grovel and lose dignity just to get that attention and reassurance back. And doing that makes you feel pretty pathetic.

There are definately some people who deserve to be invisible to you-- but you don't need to let them know. Life's too short to invest energy into not talking to someone-- my whole family is in tatters because of this sort of silly behaviour.

"He offended me by saying/doing blah blah blah."

Whoopdeedoodah. Instead of ignoring people you don't like, spend more time on those you do. It'll make you feel less grotty and you'll probably be a nicer person to be around.
posted by gerls at 11:26 PM on April 28, 2007


You've gotten a lot of criticism on this behavior and a fair bit of it is centered on how hurtful it can be to the other party. While I think that the criticism is insightful, what grabs my attention in your post, is you deriving consistent positive feedback from this behavior. If the behavior works for you, then why change it? What motivation do you have? You call it immature, but a negative label won't be sufficient motivation when you're pleased with yourself.

If you were just ignoring those whose offensive behavior marks them as not worth your time you wouldn't be getting much positive feedback from it. It would simply be a way of conserving your time and energy for what you were interested in. The profit comes from retaliating.

Instead of getting your reward from moving towards what you want more of, you find satisfaction in rejecting what you dislike. Noticing this distinction is key. I know you also called your shunning the offender "not constructive" and that is getting at what I'm talking about, but you need to intensify that. The more strongly you identify giving others silent treatment as harmful to your own growth and happiness the faster you'll find other ways to respond. Knowing what nasty words others call your behavior isn't enough.

So, that said, here are some thoughts on passive aggressive behavior and what it might mean for you.

The Wikipedia article on passive aggressive states that it was first used by the military in WWII to describe the way some enlisted men would act as a way to get back at officers. Children who sulk are considered passive aggressive. I'm not mentioning this to denigrate you by comparison. What these examples have in common is an inferior social position, little power, and few if any, other outlets. Your external circumstances are different. When you look to retaliate by withdrawing, you mimic those who are prohibited from being straight forward. You abandon the possibility of being able to achieve your desire and end up denying that you wanted something different in the relationship instead of retaliation.

Passive aggressiveness hinders you in becoming a loving person. Responding to hurt by purposefully closing yourself off can't get you there. It is unkind to yourself as well. You ignore your own desires and needs by masking them in the imagined revenge taken on someone else. This just alienates you from your desires and feelings.

That's the only technique I know which works to reduce my own passive aggressive tendencies. I know that striving to be straight forward is good for me, and that denial destroys my ability to engage. I keep in mind how I want to be, and that motivates me to accept my awkwardness and any other uncomfortable feelings that arise.

It's a vulnerable moment. One of the reasons why it's a challenge is, like gregb1007 mentioned, you won't always get a meaningful response or even interest. And it's not just about honesty, some people handle confrontations more suavely than others. I am not very socially skilled and it's difficult to tell someone what is bothering me when I feel I match up poorly. If someone else is upset at me as well it is even more difficult. I am neither quick witted nor articulate. Still, it's worth it. When I look at it as an argument that I have to win it is much harder to do. I know that I probably won't, and I will possibly come out of it looking poorly. In this context, 'winning' can mean the other person apologizes or changes. That's out of your control. You do it to acknowledge what you feel.

There is nothing more to it than finding the motivation. If you want more motivation, get familiar with what 'ressentiment' is.

P.S. A story:

I know this guy. He served in the military as an enlisted man. When some officer would get on him, in a personal way, that went beyond how he was performing his duties, he would ask the officer for permission to speak freely. Typically, permission was granted. He then told the officer that if they were civilians and the officer had treated him like that it would be a fight and that he wanted the officer to know that. Once he said that, he didn't give the officer any attitude or perform his job in any different manner. Reportedly, most of the times the officer's behavior towards him changed as well.

I'm not offering this as a template of what to do. It's just an example of how someone can recognize and respond to their own feelings in a challenging environment. It also points to how important some see that as being.
posted by BigSky at 11:42 PM on April 28, 2007


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