When I was 13 my sister married. A male family member photographed the wedding. I, as a member of the bridal party, sat at the main table, in the middle. The wedding cake sat nearby, on the table, in the middle. The photographer had a grudge against me and was determined to hurt me and so made sure I was in very few of the photos by making sure that the angle of the photos put the wedding cake in front of me. The photographer had higher standing in the family than I did. I knew that complaining got me—got any of us in the family—nowhere. So I said nothing. I still remember the helpless, hopeless feeling I had at that wedding.
The more such slights affect us emotionally, the more we can suppose they have been used against us in the past—sometimes in such a distant past that we have no recollection of it. This is especially true if we were inculcated into this freezing out technique when we were very young. Also called the Silent Treatment, to ignore or overlook a child is extremely cruel when applied by a parent, caregiver or person in authority.
A child is someone who does not have a fully developed ego, identity or sense of self. It is this undeveloped state that we consider precious. A child MUST HAVE reflection and validation to develop a sense of self—or even HAVE a sense of self. To ignore a child is to deny that child a sense of self. To ignore a child—to not include them, to overlook them, or intentionally freeze them out—is equivalent to psychological murder. The silent treatment, when applied to a child, is abuse.
And, again, we can likely tell if we ever received the Silent Treatment or were overlooked or ignored if that technique causes us anxiety and distress as adults--whether we remember experiencing it or not.
The Silent Treatment and Anxiety
A few years ago I was involved with a man whose mother came to visit. The three of us spent the weekend together and our interactions were pleasant. A few visits into the weekend I began having anxiety and anxiety attacks. I had had them a few years previous and I was horrified to have them back. What on earth was causing them?
I turned to my favorite solution to my own psychological mysteries and journaled and meditated and then journaled again. Then the three of us went out in the evening, I had a glass of wine, and to my shock and horror and the shock and horror of my boyfriend and his mother, I said something completely out of character and extremely inappropriate. Mercifully, I don’t remember what it was, although I do remember that it was sexual in nature. My boyfriend stared at me, stunned. I went home and journaled some more.
And then it clicked: his mother had never looked at me! For about two days, she had never actually given me eye contact. Ah-ha! There it was! And, apparently, that caused me anxiety and, apparently, I would do anything, including embarrassing myself, to get her to look at me!
What About Eye Contact?
I had, years before, realized that, as a child, I had been the victim of the Silent Treatment. The technique had found its way into some of my intimate relationships as an adult. A component of the Silent Treatment is a lack of eye contact. A truly adept passive aggressive person chooses a stealth form of the Silent Treatment with what I now believe is its most effective component: to effectively deny another person eye contact.
With relief I continued to participate in the weekend and was able to see that, indeed, the woman couldn’t look at me. And her bland responses to me were only there to make it seem as if she were being courteous. And now that I knew what was going on, I could go into observer mode. I probably continued to journal with a great deal of enthusiasm but my anxiety disappeared and I made no more compulsive remarks.
Eye Contact Is Crucial
In the years since, I have become more and more conscious of the presence—or absence—of eye contact. I sometimes see casual social interactions between two people where someone isn’t giving eye contact and the other person, apparently thinking it is a positional thing, tries to move into the line of sight of their conversation partner—usually with little success. I notice that I have relationships that include eye contact—and when they don’t, the relationship ends.
How about you? Can you begin to be conscious of your desire for eye contact? When you get it and when you don’t? And could there be a hidden cause of anxiety in your life?