I had a friend that would give me the silent treatment anytime I did or said something that emotionally injured them even if I didn’t realize it was hurtful. I would experience a silent treatment until I apologized or assumed I did something wrong, so I’d still apologize. I, then, had to experience a timeframe where the person was detached and dismissive until such a time that they determined I could be back in their good graces. Eventually, I got mad about the silent treatment, so I would dig my heels in and be silent back refusing to apologize as I didn’t feel like the silent treatment was fair. (My own emotional immaturity coming through.) Usually a mutual friend would guilt me into saying something, so I would acquiesce my stance and apologize/beg for forgiveness. Then still have to tolerate the dismissive and detached treatment until I was allowed back in their good graces. It was a cycle with this individual I couldn’t seem to break even once I learned about boundaries. Eventually, I walked away from the friendship.
The Gottman Institute researched conflict discussions and found the Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. While these are typically used around the subject of marriage (and the subsequent divorce rate when these methods are used in conflict), they can be useful in understanding conflict conversations in general.
Mistakes happen while in relationship (friend, family, partner, etc) with people. Sometimes you know you did something wrong. Sometimes you might not realize it. In that mistake, there’s an ownership piece in which you need to hold space for the person whose feelings were hurt, take accountability, and, when appropriate, face boundaries/consequences. Notice that I said consequences or boundaries and not punishment.
As children, we were taught that accountability meant punishment. Punishing someone who has emotionally injured you, however, becomes more of an escape from the uncomfortable feelings and a marker for emotional immaturity as well as, possibly, abuse. Abuse of any sort is never ok. Consequences look like fully communicating with the injured party. Consequences mean the injured party also fully communicates. That doesn’t mean the injured party can’t take some space to grieve, heal, or work through other challenging emotions. It does mean that the injured party needs to communicate the need or boundary.
At some point in my own growth and healing, I realized that I deserved humanity and communication even in my errors. When in a relationship, saying or doing the wrong thing should warrant communication and, when warranted, consequences. However, we need to be very careful that consequences do not turn into punishment. When we take away a friend’s/family member’s/significant other’s humanity, then we are just serving our own egoic injury, while contributing damage to the safety of the relationship container.