We’ve all experienced the confusion, insecurity, and uncertainty that comes with the silent treatment. Maybe you keep sending messages to a friend who has stopped replying. Or, perhaps you’ve heard nothing after what felt like a successful date.
No matter the context, you're left with a slew of unanswered questions and uncomfortable emotions. But what should you do when this type of problem arises?
You might feel inclined to bombard the person until you get a reply or you may feel the urge to cut the person out of your life altogether. As it turns out, neither of these extreme responses maximizes your chances of a resolution.
We'll explore the seven most effective steps to take when someone is ignoring you, with a focus on how to display self-respect without accidentally veering into harassment.
Along the way, we'll also give some consideration to how you can reduce your chances of being ignored in the future.
Each time you feel ignored by someone, the causes, and potential solutions will be slightly different. In some cases, it may not be possible to get a full picture of what has happened.
However, regardless of the person, you're dealing with and the extent of the history you have with them, there's a methodical approach you can take that will boost your understanding and help to regulate your behavior.
Try to walk through these seven steps in turn, all of which tackle both emotional regulation and relationship reparation. Self-reflection is important throughout, as is reflecting on the dynamic you have with the other person.
If you feel the urge to bombard the other person with questions and demands, you're not alone! It's common to want to get to the bottom of the problem right away and to seek reassurance.
However, one of the most unproductive things you can do is to send them constant messages, keep calling them, or try to meet them without their consent.
It could not only annoy the person further but also overwhelm them, making the situation worse.
Instead, take a deep breath and give the person time to cool off, reflect and consider whatever has caused them to ignore you. Look at the situation with an objective eye.
Next, try to find other things to occupy your time and attention!
This cooling-off period is just as important for your well-being as it is for the other person.
You both need ample time to consider what actually happened, rather than simply jumping into a difficult conversation when one or both of you is still feeling raw. If a resolution is possible, it's much more likely after a break.
This particular point may sound obvious at first glance, but you'd be surprised at how many people assume they're being ignored when in fact they are not! Think about whether this might be true of you.
For example, have you been hurt often in the past, leaving you with a fear that everyone will eventually abandon you? Alternatively, are you so worried about what this specific person thinks of you that you're likely to be paranoid about their behavior?
When assessing whether you're really being ignored, think about other explanations.
In this latter case, there's no reason to think there's a real problem in your relationship.
However, if you establish that you are the only person involved, it's time to look at more personal explanations for what's going on.
So, you've established that this individual really is ignoring you at the moment. In the majority of cases, this suggests they might be angry at you. What might have caused this anger?
In some scenarios, the answer might come to you immediately. For example, you might easily remember an argument that you had recently. Or, there was a time you didn't invite the person to a group event.
Alternatively, maybe a guilty moment when you gossiped about them behind their back. Think about your behavior and actions towards the person recently.
Once you think you know why the person is angry, you can begin to work out how to talk to them about it.
Don't forget to put yourself in this person's shoes. You may not have done something objectively bad, so think about how they might have read too much into your actions or how they could have been over-sensitive about a conversation topic.
Remember that even if you don't think the anger is justified, understanding it will still help the relationship.
When you know for sure that someone is ignoring you, it's so easy to jump to all kinds of dramatic conclusions. For example, you might assume that a friend will never speak to you again, that a potential partner has replaced you with someone else, or that a colleague is going to ask for a transfer out of your department.
In the majority of cases, being ignored is temporary and doesn't mean that something awful is going to occur.
And, in fact, you can reduce the likelihood of a bad outcome by ensuring that you don't overreact.
This advice applies both externally and internally, so try to avoid lashing out as well as stewing in your negative emotions. Reason with yourself, reminding your mind that many such situations get resolved peacefully, and deliberately recall times when you have felt similarly yet have ended up mending fences with the person.
When it comes to internal overreactions, the aforementioned advice to stay busy will certainly help. Devote extra time to your favorite hobbies, and to the things that you know you find relaxing.
Journaling or talking to a sympathetic friend can also be useful and can help you release pent-up emotions that might otherwise explode. Take time to socialize with other people you feel comfortable around.
Whatever you do, the important thing is to avoid letting this difficult situation consume you.
Not only is it bad for your mental well-being, but it will also increase the chances of handing things worse when you do speak to the person again.
One thing that might help is to limit the time you're allowed to spend thinking about the situation.
You might tell yourself that you can reflect on it, write about it or discuss it for half an hour, but that you will then move on to other topics and not return to thoughts about this conflict again until tomorrow.
Eventually, though not in all cases, you'll probably end up talking to the person who has been ignoring you.
They might suggest talking on the phone or exchanging messages via text or online, or perhaps you might even think you'd prefer one of these modes of communication.
However, be aware that they come with serious downsides. In particular, you can't assess body language or offer your own reassuring body language. This means it's more likely that there will be a misunderstanding or that one of you will imagine the other is angrier than they really are.
Whenever you can, make the conversation happen face-to-face. The other person might refuse, in which case less personal options are better than nothing.
To make the suggestion of an in-person meeting more palatable and less intimidating, suggest a public place (such as in a coffee shop) and make the time boundaries clear (e.g. scheduling a meeting from 2-3 pm).
Finally, if you're dealing with someone who has been ignoring you because they're hurt or angry about something you've done, it's often the case that an apology is the quickest way to move on.
Assuming you really do believe that you've played a part in causing things to go wrong, offer a sincere and explicit apology that stresses your understanding of what you did.
This proves you're serious and not just lazily doling out a token apology.
In the event that you don't really think you've done anything wrong, you can, of course, apologize just to mend the relationship.
However, you'll need to reflect on what this means for the future.
Are you setting yourself up for a dynamic where you're blamed and are constantly in a submissive position? If that seems likely, it may be more sensible to stick to your guns, even if this means it takes longer to reach a resolution.
And if you want to clear negativity entirely from your life, take the next step today.
It's always worth adopting an empath mindset with someone who is refusing to communicate. In particular, try making any attempt at conversation about them, what they need and what they have experienced.
If you are gentle, non-confrontational, and genuinely interested in their feelings, you might be able to open the door to a real conversation.
This is an especially effective method when someone might be struggling with hurt feelings, insecurity, or humiliation.
Once they realize that you will be non-judgemental and compassionate, they may well let their guard down and accept that there is simply no need to defend themselves.
It's important to make space to express how you feel and to let the other person do the same.
When relationships of any kind break down, it is often because one or both people do not feel heard and acknowledged.
Before you try to resolve any conflict or negotiate about the future, invite this person to have an honest conversation about the feelings on both sides.
Here, you can try active listening techniques to ensure you fully understand, such as paraphrasing what the other person has said and reflecting this back to them.
By doing this, you can catch any misunderstandings before they spiral out of control.
While it's natural to feel wounded and disrespected by someone who is giving you the silent treatment, try to remember that this may not be a deliberate outcome. Patience is key here for a couple of different reasons.
Firstly, if something relatively minor has caused the communication break, you might find that it simply passes if you give the person time to move on.
Secondly, even if there is some deeper underlying issue, hanging back allows the other individual to reflect on whether they might want to approach you first.
They may well realize that they value you enough to make the first move.
When we feel ignored or hurt, it's tempting to act out, inflicting wounds that mirror the ones we feel.
In the case of the silent treatment, this might mean making it very clear that you are also not interested in conversation or in a resolution.
However, try to stop imitating others when their behavior is maladaptive or toxic.
Silence on your end will simply create a stalemate and may spell the end of your connection with this person.
While it may be appropriate to stay out of their way for a time, this is very different from making a show of your disinterest.
Similarly, the power imbalance that you feel when someone is giving you the silent treatment can tempt you to “win” against this person in some way.
You might, at least temporarily, think that the only way to feel empowered again is to beat them by hurting them more or making them feel helpless in some way.
Remember that there are lots of ways to take back your power, including simply choosing to press pause on the relationship until the other person is willing to initiate conversation.
The key is to make any such decisions on the basis of what will build you up, not what will tear the other person down.
Finally, if you do manage to break past the silent treatment, the next goal should be working out how to improve your relationship.
It's likely that you will both be feeling sensitive and raw, so try to discuss the aftermath carefully and clearly.
Tell each other what you need – even if that is some space to recover – and think about how you want your communication to look going forward.
For example, you might want new boundaries around how you talk to each other, or how often.
Or, perhaps you can even come to an explicit agreement that the silent treatment causes more harm than good.
We've been considering how to respond when someone ignores you, and we've seen that there are lots of effective strategies at your disposal when dealing with silent treatment.
And if this is a one-time experience of the silent treatment, you may move on mostly unscathed and with a clearer agreement about how you'll treat each other.
However, clearing negativity in your life sometimes involves ending a relationship with someone who does not treat you with respect.
If someone is repeatedly giving you the silent treatment or cannot talk openly with you about what caused the rupture between you, the relationship starts to become abusive.
To stop negativity from infecting the rest of your life in such cases, sometimes you need to make a clean break from a person who isn't ready to have a mature relationship.