Dear Dr. Bill,
I have several friends who have a very annoying habit--when they get upset or angry, they won’t speak at all — in other words, they give “the silent treatment” to the person that upset them. This is very frustrating because sometimes you don’t even know why they are upset, and it may last a long time. Can you help me understand this behavior?
The behavior you describe is called “immaturity.” When an adult holds a grudge and attempts to “punish” a person they’re angry with by giving them the silent treatment, they are basically acting in a childish, passive-aggressive way.
If you’re on the receiving end of such behavior, the best thing you can do is assertively confront it. Say something like, “Karen, during our small group at church on Sunday I felt as if you were deliberately avoiding looking at me or speaking to me. Have I done something to upset you?”
If your friend admits that her behavior was inappropriate and asks for forgiveness, accept her apology and move on. Your friendship will be stronger for it, and she is unlikely to give you the “silent treatment” in the future.
However, most passive-aggressive individuals will react defensively when confronted and deny that they’ve done anything wrong. The book of Proverbs tells us that a wise person will thank us when we confront them, but a foolish person will hate us for it.
You mentioned that there are several people in your life who treat you this way. I’d encourage you to ask yourself WHY you tend to enter into friendships with this type of person. My guess is that someone in your family of origin behaved like this, perhaps your mom or dad. If so, you may unconsciously enter into friendships with passive-aggressive people because the behavior seems familiar to you.
If you’re surrounding yourself with people who constantly hurt you and treat you with disrespect, it’s time to seek out a different kind of friend.
Thanks for writing Amy. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” tab on the Culture Connection page.