Silent Treatment: The Sanitized Version of Murder
By: Rick Thomas, Biblical Counseling Coalition
Expressing anger through silence is a common, albeit unfortunate form of communication in relationships. James described the silent treatment and other types of sinful anger as murder—a sobering descriptor that requires every Christian’s attention.
While we know physical murder is the severe, dramatic, and permanent erasure of someone’s life and is consequentially and exponentially far worse than the silent treatment, there is a similarity between these two forms of anger.
- Physical murder says, “I do not like you. Therefore, I am going to make sure you do not exist by killing you.”
- Silent treatment says, “I do not like you. Therefore, I am going to treat you as though you do not exist by not speaking to you.”
The silent treatment is the sanitized version of distancing yourself from another person. Though the consequences are radically different, you can accomplish the desired “virtual erasure” of an individual from your life through the silent treatment.
The silent treatment is not about an inability to communicate, but a voluntary choice to not speak to someone. While thinking through these things, one of our Mastermind Students came up with the following questions for the person who resorts to the silent treatment.
The questions are in three categories: (1) Motive, (2) Trinity, and (3) Community. These “question sets” would be great for any inter-personal discussion. Perhaps working through them in the context of a small group would prove transformative for the relationships and the group.
- What are you trying to achieve, accomplish, or prove with the silent treatment?
- What are you trying to protect yourself from by choosing silence? Is this a defensive tactic?
- What are you trying to control when you use the silent treatment?
- What are you afraid of by engaging the person in conversation?
- What is it that makes you so angry?
- How does God treat you when you sin? (See John 3:16; 5:8)
- How does your silent treatment affect your relationship with God? (See 1 Pet. 3:7)
- Do you feel comfortable admitting your sins to God and others? (See 1 John 1:7-10)
- Which is the more significant problem: your sin against God or what someone has done to you?
- Are you aware of how this sin affects your family?
- Are there any other people in your life you treat this way?
- How does it make you feel when you are ignored and alienated?
- Do you have anyone holding you accountable for this sin?
- Will you change now? Will you stop doing this?
Below is our popular “Anger Spectrum.” It’s a helpful tool when thinking through the many iterations of anger. James used the word “murder” when talking about anger, which you see at both ends of the Anger Spectrum.
What causes quarrels, and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder (James 4:1-2).
Grace for the Humble
While your form of anger may never come close to physical murder, it would be humble of you and helpful to others if you saw your anger the way James did. The temptation is to compare our sins with the sins of others, but that is not a redemptive way to think about our sins. Perhaps if we saw our sin as the same as any other sin (James 2:10), we would be motivated to change.
Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding (2 Cor. 10:12).
While all sins are not the same consequentially, any sin is wretched enough to motivate a man to die on a tree (Rom. 3:23-24).
Question for Reflection
Are you motivated to find help if you use the silent treatment as a way to punish others?
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