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If you feel something, say something

(Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)

Dear Carolyn: I wanted to chime in on your oft-repeated statement that the silent treatment is emotional abuse.

Sometimes people are silent because they are too upset to talk about it, and know trying will only make things worse. Sometimes, an emotional reaction can take a while to settle down. Some people have huge emotions accompanied by visceral reactions that make rational communication difficult if not impossible. Some people have histories that make tangential situations feel much bigger to them than they seem to others, and need time to wind down. Some people severely filter stories in order to make themselves appear the put-upon hero being punished by an emotionally abusive freak.

Seeing as how you have never once had the other person’s point of view as to why they have chosen to go silent, I cannot fathom why you keep stating this tidbit as if it were a fact. I hope you will stop.


Anonymous: I won't. Each mitigating circumstance you cite — usefully, thank you — still allows a better alternative than silence without explanation or recourse, which is how I've defined the silent treatment.

People who are too upset can say, “I’m too upset to talk about this. I need an hour/day/week to process it.”

People who “have huge emotions accompanied by visceral reactions” can prepare loved ones before any conflict arises, laying a foundation for silences that won’t leave others dangling and waiting to be let out of emotional jail.

People who “have histories that make tangential situations feel much bigger” can do the same — and seek therapy to help them develop healthier reactions, for their own sakes as much as for others’.

When some people “severely filter stories” to cast themselves as the heroes, yes, they do undermine the work of third-party advisers like me. Which is why my column so often discusses the warning signs of emotional abusers, who rely on tactics like this to gaslight their intimate partners.

The silent treatment is torture for people on the receiving end. It is abuse. I will not condone it, excuse it, soften my stance on it.

For people with the emotional tendencies — or scars — that make it too daunting to talk things out right away, there is always the option of preparation. "Just letting you know, when I'm upset, I need time before I can talk about it." Develop a code word even, a hand signal, anything that lets people know a silence is to restore you, not punish everyone else.

Dear Carolyn: I teach children’s swim lessons. I look up from teaching to see ALL parents glued to their phones. I truly have not seen as widespread an addiction as this.

Some of the parents take video of me in the water with their child. No one has ever asked my permission to do so.

I am a larger lady. I am totally confident getting in the water and teaching. I simply do not wish to end up on a social media in my swimsuit. Thoughts on how to approach this new invasion of privacy?

No City or Name

No City or Name: You're in charge. "Please no video without my permission." No apologies.

And don’t forget: Some people “glued to their phones” are working or reading, arguably liberated by what you see as a chain.

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