Sylvia entered the quiet house. When she had pulled up in the driveway after work, she hadn't seen any lights on in the front of the house, but Jim's car was parked in its normal place. So he was home. It meant he was in the den at the back of the house instead of in the living room. What have I done now? she thought to herself?
Jim always retreated to the den when he was mad at her. The more she bothered him and tried to find out what was wrong, the longer he would stay inside, not speaking to her. It was best if she just went about her business in the house as quietly as possible, trying to stay out of his way and waiting for him to either snap out of it or blow up and tell her what she had done wrong. She couldn't force him to respond, and over the years she had gotten used to his behavior.
No discussion of emotional abuse through words would be complete without including the absence of words as a form of abuse. This is commonly known as the "silent treatment." Abusers punish their victims by refusing to speak to them or even acknowledge their presence. Through silence, the abusers loudly communicate their displeasure, anger, frustration, or disappointment.
Depending on the person, this silent treatment can last for hours, days, or weeks. For some abusers, it is a preferred method of communication because of its ability to humiliate and control the victim. It is used most effectively by those in close relationship, such as a spouse, parent, or child. The silence, the loss of verbal relationship, is meant to exact an emotional toll on the other person, who often will go to great lengths to attempt to restore communication with the abuser.
This level of control is precisely what the abuser is looking for, as well as a way to vent his or her anger at the other person.
By not verbally expressing that anger, by "avoiding" showing anger, the abuser is allowed to feel as if the victim is the only person at fault for whatever wrong is perceived by the abuser. If the victim responds to the silent treatment with anger, the abuser is doubly vindicated.
The above is excerpted from chapter 4 in Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse by Dr. Gregory Jantz.