GIVING SOMEONE THE COLD SHOULDER: WISE OR FOOLISH?
In the above scenario, as Dagwood gets into bed, rather than greet him with warm, open arms, Blondie has turned her back to him. Because she has become angry with him, all that Dagwood is going to get from Blondie on this night is Blondie’s cold shoulder.
What Does it Mean to Give Someone the Cold Shoulder?
When we are in a relationship, if someone does something that results in arousing our anger, we often seek to punish the person whom we believe to be the source of our anger. One way to do this is to act in a manner that is typically referred to as “giving him the cold shoulder.” Of course it is not just women who give guys the cold shoulder; guys do it to their spouse perhaps just as much as women.
Although when I think of someone giving the cold shoulder to someone, the image that typically comes to my mind is two people in a marriage relationship, but the fact is that a friend can do it to a friend as well.
According to Wikipedia, “the phrase “cold shoulder” has been used as a description of aloofness and disdain, a contemptuous look over one’s shoulder, and even in the context of a woman attempting to decline the advances of an aggressive man. Overall, it remains widely popular as a phrase for describing the act of ignoring someone or something, or giving an unfriendly response. “
Is the “Cold Shoulder” Technique Good or Bad?
I have had discussions with people who use this type of punishment and many of them are just fine with it. They report that whenever they use this approach, almost always, after awhile, the argument somehow gets worked out and their relationship, overall, has been wonderful. And they say that they know people who have had a valued relationship lasting a lifetime despite one or both parties in the relationship using the cold shoulder from time to time.
Although I agree that there are certainly worse ways to deal with disagreements than giving the person you are angry with the cold shoulder, nevertheless, I believe there is a much better alternative.
Regular readers of this blog know that I have long advocated that when you see yourself becoming angry, it is wise to provide the other person in your relationship a time out signal that you have worked out when both of you were in a pleasant mood (see ANGER, STRESS AND THE SIGNALING TO BACK OFF TECHNIQUE). This postpones any deep problem solving until you give yourself some time to calm down.
In the Blondie comic that we just looked at, Dagwood’s signal is “Please, Honey, I need a moment…” Notice that he includes in his signal a sweet nickname for her. This can be very helpful. By learning to express your signal in a loving way, it decreases the likelihood that the problem will turn into a more heated problem that will be harder to solve in the future.
Also notice that Dagwood, in this example, says he needs a moment. Sometimes we need more than a moment. There is nothing wrong with taking even a week to calm down and to figure out how to best handle the problem you are experiencing. However, if you do think that it will take you more than 24 hours, I agree with the position that Thich Nhat Hanh takes in his beautiful book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. Before the 24 hours are up, do your best to tell the other person why you think you are angry in a loving manner if it is a family member, or a friendly manner with others. Hanh writes, “Try your best to say it peacefully. There may be some sadness in your voice, that’s fine. Just don’t say something to punish or to blame.”
At the beginning of this post I presented a comic in which Blondie makes it clear to Dagwood that she has no intention of telling him why she is angry. I think that keeping it a secret about why you are angry is simply not fair. And when you do something that strikes the other party as unfair, you now have created an extra reason to fuel the anger in the relationship.
If you agree with me that within 24 hours it is only fair to share in a loving or friendly way a little description of what you are experiencing, at the point that you provide your description there is no need to try to solve the problem. But Hanh and I both agree that you owe it to the person who is in a relationship with you to at least give him or her some explanation for what is going on within you. If you find that you don’t think you can say the words of this communication using a loving or friendly tone, at least try to write a brief note indicating a little of what you have been experiencing.
To help you to make the best use of the time that you are seeking to calm down and to problem solve, I hope you will read the two of the posts in which I discuss this process–BEING A WISE FRIEND TO YOUR ANGRY SELF, PART 1 and BEING A WISE FRIEND TO YOUR ANGRY SELF, PART 2.
Hanh aptly summarizes this process when he wrote:
When we are angry, we have to go back to ourselves and take good care of our anger. We cannot say, “Go away anger, you have to go away. I don’t want you.” When you have a stomachache, you don’t say, “I don’t want you, stomach, go away.” No, you take care of it. In the same way, we have to embrace and take good care of our anger. We recognize it as it is, embrace it, and smile…
Our practice is based on the insight of non-duality. Both our negative feelings and positive feelings are organic and belong to the same reality. So there is no need to fight; we only need to embrace and take care…. You may think that you have to combat evil and chase it out of your heart and mind. But this is wrong. The practice is to transform yourself. If you don’t have garbage, you have nothing to use in order to make compost. And if you don’t have compost, you have nothing to nourish the flower in you. You need the suffering, the affliction in you. Since they are organic, you know that you can transform them and make good use of them.
Well, that’s my post for today. I hope you find within it some food for thought. And please feel free to provide comments or ask questions by typing in the Leave a Reply box at the very bottom of this page.
Have a wonderful week!
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.