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The Impact of Silent Treatment in Caribbean-American Mother-Daughter Relationships

By Ann Dillard, LMFT


In Caribbean-American households, the use of silent treatment as a form of discipline is not uncommon. This behavioral pattern can have a profound emotional and psychological impact, leaving daughters feeling isolated and manipulated. The relationship often resumes without discussion, leaving behind a trail of unresolved issues and emotional scars. Dr. John Gottman’s work on 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' identifies stonewalling, a form of silent treatment, as one of the key factors that predict the demise of a relationship.


The Emotional Toll


Impending Doom

The silent treatment often casts a shadow of impending doom over the household, creating an environment where the daughter feels like she’s walking on eggshells. The tension is palpable but unspoken, leading to feelings of isolation.


Emotional Manipulation

By withholding communication, mothers wield enormous emotional power. This form of discipline creates an unequal power dynamic, which manipulates the daughter into compliance without ever addressing the core issue.


Uncertainty and Suppression

Without discussion or repair, the daughter is left questioning what went wrong. This lack of clarity often leads her to suppress her desires, needs, and feelings in order to maintain a cordial relationship with her mother at the cost of her own emotional well-being.


Psychological Damage: Dr. John Gottman’s Perspective

Dr. John Gottman refers to stonewalling as one of the 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,' which are behaviors that, if not addressed, often lead to the end of a relationship. Stonewalling, or the silent treatment, creates an emotional wall that blocks communication, problem-solving, and, ultimately, the possibility of reconciliation. This leads to an emotional disconnect that can be psychologically damaging over time.


Steps to Avoid Stonewalling


Open Dialogue

One of the most effective ways to break the cycle is to foster open dialogue. This might be challenging in a culture where authority is rarely questioned, but it is crucial for both the mother and daughter to express their feelings respectfully.


Seek Professional Help

Sometimes, the emotional burden is too heavy to lift without help. A family therapist can offer a safe space for both parties to communicate, providing neutral ground to address deeply rooted issues.


Implement Time-Outs Instead of Silent Treatment

Rather than resorting to silent treatment, implement a structured time-out where both parties can cool down and collect their thoughts before reconvening to discuss the issue constructively.


The use of silent treatment in Caribbean-American mother-daughter relationships can be emotionally and psychologically damaging. To foster a healthier, more communicative relationship, breaking the stonewalling cycle by encouraging open dialogue, seeking professional assistance, and replacing silent treatment with healthier coping mechanisms is essential.


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