Everyone needs quiet time now and again, but there are times where someone may be purposefully giving you the silent treatment. Someone who is not mentally ill may have reasons that are comprehensible, but one diagnosed with Borderline may be harder to read. It may anger you as you try to understand what they are so upset about, and it could seem entirely illogical, but to that individual, it makes all the sense in the world.
Someone diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder will get very emotionally involved in a situation and take things to heart. A miniature comment with no true significance can destroy them. If you are an individual who is not entirely emotionally connected, understanding the heavy relation to emotion may be a complication, and cause you to be cold-hearted towards your loved one who is struggling. In response to the overwhelming emotions and the distance they sense from you, they may give you a harsh silent treatment as a defense mechanism.
They believe that their providence of the silent treatment will get a message across to you, and possibly encourage you to apologize and make things right again. It could also be for much needed space.
What is causing the silent treatment?
Anger & Hurt. A diagnosed BPD individual will sense emotions much more harshly than someone who does not struggle with a mental illness, and in an attempt to cope with the emotions, they may hush up. It may be a way to blame you, and make you reliable for their feelings, which is not your responsibility. It could be a tactic to get you to come to them, as they may feel that they always come to you. And though it may seem unkind on their part, they desperately want communication with you, and in an emotional state, have put a barrier and want to stick to it to the very end.
Mistrust. This is a strong topic with the diagnosed individuals. Mistrust comes along when you have toyed with their emotions, lied, are avoiding them, getting angry when they open up, etc. The may feel that they have been cheated, or that they made a mistake by bringing you into their life. Their silent treatment could be their time to reflect on the situation and come up with a final decision, or get you to come to them with an apology and an offer to be more trustworthy.
Testing. This isn’t something Borderlines like to admit, but we are the leader of many games and tests. We may be evaluating your behaviour to our rejection of communication. Are you okay with it? Are you going to show up at our door with roses and fancy dinner reservation? Are you going to get frantic like we do? We evaluate our observations and take note of your reactions like you’re a lab rat. In the future, we may use it against you as well.
Stress & Dissociation. Dissociation is not overly talked about, yet is something that is quite common in a Borderline diagnosis. In situations of stress or high tension, possibly with discomfort, we may dissociate and no longer be mentally present. We may not be in control of our reactions, nor realize what we are doing. Our mind is so overwhelmed with constant thoughts, and we lose track of ourselves.
Abandonment Perception. Abandonment is a hot topic amongst those with BPD and one of the core reasons an individual would get diagnosed initially. It is written in the disorder that we are terrified of abandonment and may abandon ship when we think we are about to be abandoned. Someone diagnosed with Borderline will feel loneliness very intensely, and large distances between the ones they love will leave them with a sensation of loneliness and loss, and possibly abandonment. They may blame the other individual involved irrationally and assume they no longer care. It could very well be perceived as the silent treatment, when in reality, it is us abandoning you first. We want control over that situation and so we take it. We take it and disappear without a word, leaving you stunned in our mess.
Defense. It is quite simple. Being silent when we are constantly taking initiative is taking control back. Constantly communicating with someone and being turned down creates vulnerability, and ceasing that behaviour gives us the impression of self control and power.
In the end, we all want to feel like we matter. Whether we’re testing you, are being defensive or want you to come to us, our silent treatment is valid to us, and we need it to be understood by you.
How can I better the situation?
Sometimes, you can’t. If it’s been a long period of time, some of us will move on, some of us won’t. I would suggest putting effort, asking them how they feel and offer to change what is bothering them, ensuring that your relationship is important to you. Stress that they matter to you, and try to be present in their life as much as you, especially when they need it.
Refer to S.K. Bosak’s post about how a Borderline feels receiving the silent treatment.