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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Silent Treatment Is Justified in Cases of Bad Behavior

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm in a sticky situation at my college. During my freshman and sophomore years I was bullied by a group of five men. They made fun of me to my face, and they spread mean exaggerations and untrue rumors about me inside and outside class. This happened almost once per week.

The situation became so overwhelmingly humiliating, frustrating and infuriating that I completely cut off communication with one of the men. I do not talk to him or look at him ever, even though we have mutual friends and see each other frequently.

The problem is that I feel immature for using the "silent treatment." However, communicating with this guy has resulted in extreme humiliation, to the point that I became depressed.

In this case, is the "silent treatment" acceptable, or is it still juvenile and rude? The pros are that my reputation and self-esteem are safe(ish). The cons are that I look rude, he knows he's won, and it doesn't solve anything. What do you think?

GENTLE READER: That it solves your having to deal with a bully.

The "silent treatment" that is rightly condemned generally refers to the refusal to speak to someone with whom one must get along, typically because they are in the same household or workplace. When a community does this to punish one of its members, it is called shunning. What makes it cruel is that it leaves the target isolated while unable to settle the problem through discussion.

What you propose -- refusing to socialize with someone who has behaved toward you in an uncivilized manner -- is different. It is what is known as administering the cut direct, and should be used only in cases of extreme bad behavior, but this appears to be such a case. Miss Manners only asks you to do this without making a spectacle of it that would attract attention.

Read more in: Work & School | Abuse