Silent treatment is quite possibly one of the worst “disciplines” you can receive as a child. It inflicts so much pain without physically causing visible agony.
My mother’s favourite punishment was the silent treatment. I hated it. Not knowing what was on her mind and what could happen next was the most terrifying experience I think I have ever lived through. Unless you have been subject to excessive silent treatment you won’t understand the feeling of loneliness, isolation and despair it can cause.
Another love of my mother’s was to play mind games. Manipulating me into thinking in a certain way or encouraging me to doubt myself was literally something my mother lived for.
I think my first recollection of this type of behaviour was when I was about 9 years old. My head teacher was leaving and had announced that she was running a competition for the whole school to enter a self portrait to be displayed in her new office. I was so excited. As soon as I got home I dug out my best drawing paper and my marker pens and started sketching away. My mother walked past my room and asked what I was doing. I told her about the competition. She looked at my paper in disgust and laughed “I don’t know why you are bothering, it looks nothing like you. You’re never going to win.”
I was so disappointed. I studied my finished portrait and agreed that it was rubbish. There was no way I would win. There were 400 students in my school and there would be only one winner. I had no chance. I handed it in anyway, I saw my friend’s self portraits and they were brilliant. Everyone else was so talented. I remember thinking, I wish for once there was just one thing I could be the best at. My friend’s were so cool. There was the one who could sing, the one who could dance, the one who was super artistic, the one who was a wiz with maths, the theatrical one, and then there was talentless me, the quiet, shy one; whose biggest talent was getting a nappy on a wriggling toddler.
On my Head Teacher’s last day we had a whole school assembly so she could announce the winner of the competition. She said the entries were so good it was really hard for her to pick just one winner; so there would be 3 runner up prizes that received a Head Teacher’s award. Maybe I had a shot at becoming runner up I thought! I suddenly had hope. She called up her 3 runner ups; unsurprising to me my name wasn’t called. My mother was right, I never should have believed my entry could be good enough for this competition. I zoned out until my friend started nudging me, “You won! You have to go to the stage” she grinned. Wait.. Did I hear her right? I won? This can’t be right. Out of all the children, I WON?! I was ecstatic, from that day forward I promised myself that I would NEVER let anyone tell me I wasn’t capable of something. I would prove everyone wrong! Including my mother!
I went home that day and was so excited to share my news with my mother. She couldn’t have been less impressed. She shrugged her shoulders and said “She probably just felt sorry for you”.
Shorty after the competition win we were planning our class assembly of ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ I really wanted to play the part of the hare so I put myself forward. Winning the competition had given me the confidence to believe in myself, I wanted to show people I could be talented too and this was my chance. My teacher said that my attendance wasn’t good enough for me to play the main character, so she gave me the part of a tree. Everyone knew if you played the tree you were just a spare part in the play that couldn’t be placed anywhere else.
I was so upset that when my mother came to collect me that day I started to tell her that my teacher said I couldn’t be the hare, before she would let me explain why she went marching over to my teacher. She was screaming at her asking her why she had excluded me from the play and not allowed me a proper role. When the teacher explained that this was due to my attendance my mother turned to me and snarled “well you didn’t tell me that part did you? Now you have just made me look like an idiot, I am not coming to watch you play a tree!” She stormed off and left me standing there. My teacher could see how distressed I was, just as she went to put her hand on my shoulder my mother shouted over for me to hurry up and come with her. I ran off quickly not to annoy her anymore.
The walk home was horrific. My mother refused to speak to me, I tried to make small talk with her and I just got the silent treatment. I just wanted to burst into tears, but I knew that wouldn’t help the situation. I was starting to realise that my mother was like a ticking time bomb and I needed to be very careful with my approach towards her. I spent the rest of the evening with no conversation from my mother.
The next day, my teacher called me over. She put her hand on my shoulder; like she had wanted to the day before, and whispered “I want to give you a chance. If you can promise me that your attendance will be 100%, I am going to give you the part of the hare. If you miss one day though I will give the part to someone else. There are a lot of lines to learn, so if you struggle make sure you let me know” I was beyond thrilled. I was going to show everyone just how great I could be at this, that they will never doubt me again!
When I left school that day I couldn’t wait to tell my mother the great news; this would be sure to stop the silent treatment I was getting. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My mother wasn’t impressed in the slightest and all I got from her was “She only gave you the part because she’s scared of me. I’m still not coming because you decided to show me up in front of your teacher.”
I was upset, but I cared less than the incident with the self portrait. I was going to do this with or without her support. I perfected my lines and I was the star of the show, I couldn’t have been more proud of myself.
I was attending school more often, I was forming bonds with a great group of kids and I was actually happy.
One day when leaving school I realised I had forgotten my lunch box, I jumped out of line to get it and one of the strictest teachers in the school; Mr Sale, grabbed my arm and pulled me back into the line. It really hurt, I was a really thin child and given the force he used my arm was quite sore. I came out rubbing my arm, my mother saw it was a bit red so asked me what had happened and I told her. She hit the roof; quite naturally. The whole way home was in silence. I felt like I had done something wrong and I didn’t want to add to her anger so I kept quiet.
When we got home my mother was still livid. It was actually quite nice to see that she did care; so I thought. She called the school and demanded a meeting with the Head Teacher in the morning. She then turned to me and said “Right, now we need to go to the police station and report this, but first we need better evidence”. I had no idea what she meant by this until she started grabbing my arm and pulling it to try and make a mark. I pulled away and told her it hurt too much and I didn’t want her to do it again, but she carried on.
Pulling at my arm wasn’t helping, so she folded up a tea towel, wrapped it around my arm and started pulling it to make it tight. I was in agony, I started to fight back and try to get free of her tight grip. This made her pull on the tea towel harder, until she couldn’t control me so she pinned me down whilst my step father tightened the tea towel. I was crying from all the pain and begging them to stop. Eventually the tea towel bought out the bruising from where my mother had been grabbing my arm. She was satisfied that the mark was clear enough. So we went to the police station to report it. They took photos and I had to give a statement. I knew better than to tell them how I actually got the mark.
When we met with the Head Teacher the next day Mr Sale was there too. I was worried he was going to be arrested for something that had been extremely exaggerated. The Head Teacher apologised to my mother over and over again and ensured her that nothing like this would ever happen again. My mother just kept ranting about how her “poor child” had been neglected in the schools care and she wanted Mr Sale to admit he had grabbed me. After an hour of disputing my mother turned to Mr Sale and said “All I want to know is did you or did you not grab my daughter?” When he finally said yes she replied, “Thank you, that’s all I wanted to know” and we left.
I’m still so confused as to what my mother wanted to achieve from this. It was like she so badly needed to hear that he had grabbed me to make herself feel better for the pain she had inflicted on me. Whatever her motive of that day was, I will never know.
As I got older, the silent treatment was more regular. Most days I would come home from school and be ignored. I just put it down to my mother being in a bad mood. When I reached about 15 years old, there were so many things I was confused about in life that I wanted to discuss with my mother. However I feared that ticking time bomb so much that instead I just became more and more isolated. She doesn’t realise that years and years of silent treatment changed me. From the bubbly, confident child that had so much potential, to the reserved, introverted adult I am today, who has fought for everything I have…