Feeling wronged by others is an inevitable part of life. When this happens, honest communication that promotes mutual understanding can greatly strengthen relationships. This, however, is not so easy to do under the influence of anger. Anger robs people of their ability to communicate their own feelings in a sensitive manner. It causes people to be explosive, hurtful, and offensive in their communication.
In order to prevent the pains of angry miscommunication, many people temporarily remove themselves from the emotionally overwhelming situation to “cool off” and communicate again later with a clearer mind. When this only takes a few hours or a day at most, many agree that this strategy is acceptable and even healthy. But as soon as this strategy takes longer than this allotted time, all of a sudden it becomes unacceptable. Many highly sensitive people who just happen to take a longer time at cooling off are then wrongly accused of giving the “silent treatment.”
Highly sensitive people just take a longer time to cool off from their overwhelming emotions.
Even though the two may look the same from the outside, the motives behind cooling off and giving the silent treatment are very different! Cooling off serves to protect relationships while the silent treatment aims to attack, hurt, and punish others through emotional abuse.
So how do you determine which one it is that your highly sensitive partner or friend is doing?
Many people examine the length of time it takes their partner or friend to communicate with them again after a fight. In this approach, any form of withdrawal that takes too long (whatever “too long” means…) can be interpreted as the silent treatment. This approach falls apart, however, because it assumes that all human beings experience emotions at the same level of intensity. This assumption, of course, is not true. Highly sensitive people experience emotions much more intensely. Those intense emotions just happen to need more time to cool down.
The unsettling truth is that you can never really be too sure which one it is unless your highly sensitive partner or friend communicates openly with you about the reasoning behind his or her withdrawal. Communication as simple as “Sorry, I am still trying to cool off” can go a long way in saving loved ones and friends from feeling abandoned. It also saves everyone from the trouble of wrongly guessing what is going on.