Narcissists & The Silent Treatment

silent-teatment-narcissistNarcissists will invoke the silent treatment for days, weeks, and longer with no explanation as a way to control and demoralize their partners. Narcissists are fond of using the Silent Treatment as a cruel (but not unusual) punishment for you doing nothing wrong at all and, from experience, I can tell you that the affect of this method of passive-aggressive control is sheer torture. The first time it happened to me, I felt as lost, sad, and helpless as the puppy in the picture. I thought my ex surely must be dead on the side of the road to not have called me for three days. Well, those three days turned into six weeks. Little did I know that that particular silent treatment was the first of literally hundreds to come. I simply couldn’t believe that anyone could do something like that on purpose to a person that they supposedly cared about.

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My ex-N of 12-years executed a narcissistic silent treatment, on an average, about every 3-6 months (and, during one stretch, even every two weeks),  depending, I assume, upon how his other sources of supply were faring. Each silent treatment would last anywhere from two to three days to six weeks to six months before he hoovered back or before my begging at his door and endless onslaught of desperation letters forced him to give in. The Silent Treatment, for my ex and for many others, is a powerful narcissistic ploy and/or tactic and it gets the point across.

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No matter how he goes about it or why it happens or when it happens, the Silent Treatment always sucks. The fact that the victim of a narcissistic partner rarely knows why they are receiving the silent treatment only compounds the mental torture. I remember reading an article where the writer described the narcissist’s silent treatment as particularly demoralizing because the N is clearly making a statement – in unspoken terms, of course – that you, the recipient, aren’t even worth acknowledging…aren’t worth a moment of his time…that, in fact, you are a worthless piece of shit on his shoe.  How true that is? We all get the point and fast!

“How long will the Silent Treatment last?” is always the big question. Will it go on for a day, a week, a month or even longer? Keeping us in the dark about when it will end (or even why it’s happening) is an intentional strategy designed to create as much anxiety as possible in the recipient. And it does. The longer it lasts, the worse the separation anxiety becomes and the more likely you are to feel depressed, jealous, confused, isolated, unworthy etc. The more desperation we feel, the harder it is to follow the no contact rule and to give up the need for closure. We become the puppet and the Narcissist, the Puppeteer.

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The silence is meant to hurt you. It is meant to teach you a lesson. And, make no mistake, the silence is always a way for the narcissist to buy himself some free time for being with someone else or for hustling up new sources of supply.

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Most victims  – myself included – will describe the days and weeks of silence as an agonizing torture that leaves us broken and desperate, willing to try anything and everything to get a response. If this means apologizing for the sole purpose of apologizing even though we know have done nothing wrong, then so be it. When you’re in the thick of it, the pain of the silence is far worse than the pain of being a doormat. Meanwhile, the narcissist goes on about his/her business until, for whatever reason, he feels his victim have been punished enough or the girl he’s seeing does something he doesn’t like. When this happens, he will usually return offering no explanation – or at least no logical explanation – and he will expect to pick up right where he left off and as if he’d never been gone.  So dismantled and dejected, the victim often demands no answers anyway, keeping her mouths shut and choosing, instead, to revel in the fact that her anxiety has passed. This particular response, by the way, is an intended result of the silent treatment so that the N gets away with the entire debacle. This is just another narcissistic strategy for managing down our expectations so that we expect less and less and he gets away with more and more.

Understand that a partner using the Silent Treatment for any type of punishment – let alone one for a crime not committed – is not normal under any circumstances. When a narcissist uses the silent treatment, it is just one more requirement he has filled in the overall pathological relationship agenda. No one ever deserves to feel unworthy of attention or undeserving of love and loyalty. No one …not even one time.

In my book, Stop Spinning, Start Breathing, I devote an entire chapter to a step towards recovery that I call Silence Appreciation. By learning to actually appreciate the silence given and by using the time wisely as yet another step towards mentally freeing oneself from the narcissist, you’re life will begin to make miraculous changes. It did for me and I know it can for you as well….

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152 Comments

  • angiep

    June 7, 2017 at 12:29 pm Reply

    Thank you for your great articles! They ve been so helpful.
    My story..I had an affair for a few months.He is 55 and a famous journalist.I’m 39. It was all great until 2 months ago when I visited his city for the weekend.After that he disappeared for a few days when he reappeared he said he had been thinking about his family and kids and if he is ready to leave home and he isnt but he continued talking acknowledging the difficulties of the situation. After Easter I asked him where we stand he felt pressure he told me things are difficult but he hasn’t made any decision and we re just talking and he has no idea when we can next see each other since we live in different cities.And that was it.He disappeared for 2 weeks.He then appeared with a happy month text which I didn’t reply to and 2 weeks later he texted again have a nice week. So I replied that these casual texts are meaningless and if he wants to see how I’m and explain what happened all this time he had disappeared he could just call me.He replied that he texted because he cared and he doesn’t understand which of his texts I find meaningless and there are obviously boundaries I can’t cross. So I just called him to clarify things but he never picked up.That was 3 weeks ago. Silence since then. I don’t understand what has happened nor what he wants.What is all this?

    • Zari Ballard

      June 12, 2017 at 12:00 pm Reply

      Hey girl….just responded to your second post!

  • Li

    May 26, 2017 at 8:48 pm Reply

    I was with the same narc on two occassions. First time lasted 2 years of on and off, finally ended with him disappearing. I was miserable but got over it in about 6 months or so. I moved, met someone else and had a baby. Fast forward 8 years and I am single again and meet him by chance. We were together about a year and a half and got married. I dont think there was ever a honeymoon period. He was a big sullen lying baby from the beginning but he swore he loved me and I wanted to believe it. After 2 and a half years of drunken, lying narc bullcrap, I started to figure I had to leave. It took around 4 years to get on my feet but I left. I used to ignore his silent treatments, when he called me names I called names right back. When he threatened divorce I said go ahead and left first. I dont care what his barfly family or friends think about me. He called recently after 5 months of separation to say he loved me and never cheated and I told him I believed he cheated, he is a drunk, a mommas boy, his mother is a troll…I didnt hold back. When he threatened to hang up I did first. I sent a few choice text messages to finish my thoughts and then left it alone. The only prob I have with the silent treatment is that I can’t continue to tell him what an a-hole he is. And I’m not going to bother calling back to do that. I figure in good time he’ll call again and at that time I can continue my thought process. I am comforted knowing that he’s still an alcoholic, he still drunk dials, he still says the same garbage, and I know whoever he might have been with or is with now is going through the same garbage I did. He’ll never change and that gives me alot of comfort since I can and will defend myself and change for the better.

  • Flippy

    May 1, 2017 at 6:42 am Reply

    OK, so I have been with my suspected Narcissist girlfriend for a year and a half and the breakups, the beatings and the fits of rage keep on coming. We have been in a breakup/reconcile cycle for its entirety. Normally, the cycle goes that she hits me over the smallest arguments (which she causes) and I end up throwing her out. Things will then go dark for a few weeks/a month and then all is back on.

    The most frustrating thing about this is that I keep on falling for her and letting her back in to just beat me once again. This is a great article that sums up why I should not go back to this but regardless of how much I read, I am obsessed with her.
    I am now in a breakup phase after I allowed her to move in to my flat where in 3 days I was hit again. As I ejected her I told her that she has to go and get some serious help to control her anger/violence (will this ever happen?), until I can consider us. It was a risk as I never wanted to lose her but the aggression must be addressed.

    After the most recent episode she pleaded to be back and for me to not let go and that she would change. So powerless that she even offered an ultimatum of ‘if you don’t take me back right now then I won’t come back’, to which I said no.
    I am now completely blocked from contacting her after she found somewhere else to live and I am in a position where I cannot stop thinking about her. I love her (or what I think is love) from the bottom of my heart and will do anything to get her back. I even emailed her yesterday to say I’m moving on but, I am not even there in my own head.

    She has a very mixed background and mentality where her father used to hit her and she believes it was because he cared.
    Has anyone been in similar and thoughts on reconciling, or at least trying? I keep using her background to justify her behaviour…

    I do have a specific question – by contacting, am I feeding the N nature and allowing her to still feel power and even though I want her back (and I do) will she ever address the problem, as in will love conquer all?

    • Zari Ballard

      May 8, 2017 at 5:38 pm Reply

      Hi Flippy,

      Look, NOBODY deserves to be beaten – not man nor woman – and that alone creates the most dangerous part of the situation. If you keep allowing her back, one day YOU are going to find yourself in jail for being wrongly accused of hitting HER simply because it is standard to assume the guy is beating the girl. She could even say that you did it after you put your arms out to fend her off, pushing her by mistake. Anything could happen. And, honestly, I’m not buying the fact that she views her father’s physical abuse as a term of endearment. I actually believe she’s making that up as a way to justify to YOU and to herself her hitting YOU. I know she has other narcissistic issues (the silent treatments, rages, etc.) that concern you but right now all I care about is that “beating” problem and, to me, that ALONE is so unforgivable enough that you never have to speak to her again. I may be wrong but I sense that you both are pretty young (20’s?) so there is plenty of life ahead for you. I personally don’t feel it’s your responsibility to “fix” her or to even take her back on the promise that she would get help because then you’d have to hold her to it. Certainly counseling of the most stringent kind would do her good and hopefully she will take it. I can’t say for sure if she’s a full-on narc (I’d have to know more) but she definitely has dangerous issues that even surpass the typical narcissistic kind. I know you love her, brother, but it is just not meant to be.

      Block her and do not email. It will only string you both along and this relationship, for both of you, must come to an end. You sound like a very kind compassionate guy and you deserve more in this short life.

      Zari xo

  • Danielle

    April 6, 2017 at 9:00 am Reply

    I was just discarded by my N. I was living with him. Started dating in Dec. 2016, by the end of Feb., he was talking/texting he’s ex who lives out of state. No explanation, no closure. Just started ignoring me. He is also a functioning alcoholic. I’m 45. He’s 37. Very good-looking. I went to finish getting my things last wknd and he had his ex basically moving in and painting the living room (the project we were talking about doing together). I was shocked and horrified. (She’s in her early 20’s so an easy target/victim). What makes this worse is that he and I were hit by a car back in December. That is when he fell in love with me as he thought he was going to lose me. He’s ok. It took me 4 months to heal the trauma to my legs. A few weeks ago he said he needed to get away for a wknd and I supported his getaway and then found out he went to see the ex. Luckily I own my own house so I was able to move back. In the midst of moving out of his house, he has asked me twice to be friends and sleep with him. I said no. That’s when he turned the blame on me and said I was “catering” to the male roommate who also lives with him the whole time!!! I had gotten him a job just so he could pay my boyfriend rent!!! It’s just all so heart breaking and hurtful. The ex he’s back with even had the nerve to tell me as I was moving my things out that he told her that he never loved me. Haha, she’ll find out how great he is!! Good luck to anyone experiencing this. No contact is the only way.

    • Zari Ballard

      April 9, 2017 at 6:29 pm Reply

      My goodness..what a terrible situation – but you will survive it. Since it’s only April, I can’t tell if you mean that you met just four months ago, got in the accident, and then moved in with him and his roommate? If that’s the case, brush it off and forget you ever met him. Seriously, erase it from your memory and cut off all communication now and for in the future. Block him everywhere. He is obviously not anyone you need in your life as a boyfriend, friend, or anything else. And it sounds like he found a girl that he absolutely deserves. The only thing that I regret for you is that you didn’t punch her in the face OR dunk her head in the bucket of paint on the way out. That’s okay, because if she’s with him, her punishment for being such a mean bitch IS COMING!

      Stay strong and be happy your free!

      Zari xo

  • OVERDUE

    April 5, 2017 at 8:55 am Reply

    I have been married for 16 yrs and after much researching and reading, I’ve concluded my husband is a narcissist. I am currently going through the silent treatment…again. This time, I caught my husband in a lie about paying a bill. I called the company myself b/c I didn’t believe what he was saying and my gut feeling was right. He was lying the whole time about paying it. He was just walking up into our bedroom where I was at as I was hanging up the phone. I told him I just got off the phone w/ XYZ and they told me xyz. Rewind, prior to all of this, my husband was loving and apologetic from the past incident where I caught him another lie, this time about him going to the dentist, I found out and yep you guessed it, the silent treatment. (STUPID RIGHT?) Fast forward: I told him I’d just gotten off the phone and wanted to know why he didn’t tell me the truth? I didn’t get upset, my tone didn’t changed or anything b/c remember, I’ve been here so many times. I didn’t want to give him the out that I was irrational so he could’t respond. He looks at me and storms out the room. He leaves the house completely. I call him, asking him why did he just leave like that, I was just asking him what was going on? He hangs up on me. He is officially, Dr Jekyll now. Sleeps downstairs, only talks about the kids needs. I’ve cried myself to sleep b/c it’s like I didn’t do anything wrong but find out the truth. I’ve been dealing w/ this nonsense for so many years. He has finally spoken with me and he say’s that I judge him too much, it’s me this me that. Yet he won’t respond to the lies he tells, he won’t respond to the rationale of how he treats me after he’s exposed. I now have developed anxiety about things, I overthink everything. This has affected me in different areas of my life I’m ashamed. I feel like when my friends are just have a normal conversation with me, I find myself picking holes in their words thinking they too are lying to me. I then found myself saying “what the hell are you doing?” I have two children, my son is 16 and my daughter is 11. I stayed this long for them. But it’s overdue, I need to go, I just don’t know how.

    • Zari Ballard

      April 16, 2017 at 2:28 am Reply

      Hi OVERDUE,

      You have to figure out a way and you have nothing to be ashamed about. You have to shift your thinking from worrying about him, what he’s thinking, what he’s doing, and what his next cruel behavior will be and start making a plan for your life. There has to be a way. You are not doomed to forever be in this relationship, sister. Your children will understand and will probably be very glad to be away from the chaos. No more crying and no more wasting time.

      Stay strong and write here anytime! I am here to support you…

      Zari xo

      • Valerie

        June 10, 2017 at 5:50 pm Reply

        I’m giving a Narcissist the silent treatment right now, and I’m going to do it for years this time. (I did it for months last time, and he had the nerve to be surprised. {His face => D8} ) My father was a narcissist, too. I learned very quickly what works _on_ them. I am only learning now what they think works _for_ them! They don’t care, because nobody has ever forced them to care. That can be undone. You just have to stop begging.

        Yes, it’s possible to change a narc, however it is a pain in the butt, because it takes A LOT of work, and consistency.

        If I were you, here’s what I would do.

        1. Since he has already put himself in the doghouse, he needs a dog bowl! Feed him using the dog-bowl and tell him he put himself there, and he can come out of it any time. He’ll probably choose to stay in the “dog house” a little longer out of pride. But, you are turning the guilt and responsibility for his predicament back on him, AND you’re giving him a choice. Making fun of his ridiculously immature behavior drives home the point that he can solve his conceptual problems better than having fits and making everyone else his servant.

        2. Make sure EVERY MISBEHAVIOR HAS A REPERCUSSION. Narcissists have the maturity of a five-year-old. Let him know with your actions you don’t need him, and you don’t have to tolerate his behavior. Next time he throws a hissy-fit, present him with some Midol. When he throws a bigger fit over that, add some feminine laxative tablets (the PINK ones) to help him “get it all out” of his system. (He’ll actually stop and think next time, but he’ll never let _you_ know he got the point!)

        3. Expect the narcissist to try to “get even” with you for standing up for yourself… at first. They are ALWAYS surprised when somebody puts his or her foot down with them, and they react in anger at the shock. -> They will also suddenly respect you more, for a while. Repeated discipline is necessary for this type of “unteachable” monster, so keep your new rules consistent and enforce them mercilessly – even when he whines in pain and you want to reduce the punishment, or its severity.

        Narcissists are demon-possessed and they don’t know it. With demons (or other evil creatures) if you give them an inch, they’ll take two miles. Just keep asking him if he likes the way he treated you, now that he’s getting it back. Then, leave the room and ignore his complaints. This is nothing more than a little child whining about how “boring” it is to stand in the corner for five minutes, and it has only been one minute in. He’ll eventually stop whining.

        4. Next time he threatens to leave, pack a box with his clothes, pack a lunch, and tell him where the door is. (He’ll get angry the first time you do this, but fury is a narc’s last-defense mechanism. They’re hoping to scare you into obedience. It is at this point that I would just laugh.) If the moron leaves, or threatens divorce, change the locks. (Make sure this is legal where you live first.) Next time he is gone for longer than three days, give him the surprise. Tell him his immaturity has to stop. (Yes, he’ll try to return that “punishment” – the next time you go to work, he’ll change the locks on you, out of spite, and because he’s five years old. Always have a back-up plan to get into the house.

        5. Remember, you don’t need him. He is an accessory that has caused you pain and mental torment. He can be replaced. Don’t fall for the candy-and-flowers treatment. He won’t mean it for the first few years. Tell him “No thank you,” ask him to take them back, or ask him why he’s wasting money. If he buys you chocolate, say something like, “I see you bought yourself some chocolate. Nice,”. Don’t even eat one piece of what he buys you. He’ll think his appeasement tactic is working. Treat his “gifts” like dirt. You don’t want appeasement. You want change. Punishment makes the child in a narc _want_ to change, so it does some of the work of “making” him change for you. The severity and consistency of the punishment accelerates this process in the N.

        6. Once the lessons finally sink in, he will want to change. He will see that he was wrong, and he will begin to finally feel shame. How long that shame and motivation to improve himself lasts depends on you. Don’t start rewarding him for good behavior AT ALL when he just begins to half-think about changing his ways. Don’t get “soft” on him, because then he’ll think that merely talking about change is a new appeasement tactic. Wait util he really, REALLY wants to change. Instead, insist on getting him couple’s counseling. (He will refuse – for a very long time. But, if you keep disciplining him consistently, he will have to give in.) Counseling with you in the room keeps him from whining and lying to the counselor to get sympathy instead of actually making progress. (My father was a whiner.)

        7. The purpose of counseling is twofold. First you are teaching your well-disciplined N a new pattern of _thinking_ and behavior. Second, the N will finally begin to evaluate himself for the first time. Narcissists have an extrinsic value system rather than the natural intrinsic value system. I.e., they only “see” something as valuable for what it does/can be used for instead of what something is in and of itself. It’s a defense mechanism that has to be unlearned. The shallow thinking “works” for them for as long as nothing bad happens. Punishment and pain teach the N that his or her poorly-chosen survival tactic doesn’t actually work.

        8. If you want to start rewarding the (now copious) good behavior, wait until about six months into counseling. You may finally start accepting his apologies, instead of rebutting with, “I don’t believe you”. But, keep it conditional. There is a proverb that states: “The truth is like a kiss on the lips, but a lie is like a slap in the face”. Which one does he want, a kiss or a slap?

        • Zari Ballard

          June 11, 2017 at 6:43 pm Reply

          No, narcissists can NOT be changed – not with love, punishment, therapy, or any magic pill. It just doesn’t happen. If you’re able to fix someone, then they weren’t a narc. Narcs do not evaluate themselves, tolerate therapy for any length of time, put up with “being in the doghouse”, realize the error of their ways, or learn to respect you or anyone else. They know right from wrong, they just don’t give a shit. They will be nice if they feel like it and when they don’t, they will not or they leave to go somewhere else until they’re ready to come back. Narcissists are never submissive and never will be. While they can certainly be charming when they want to be (or want something), narcissists will do what they want when they want to do it and they don’t want to be told otherwise. They will lies even when the truth is a better story and all the great sex in the world or love you can give them will stop them from being who they are. Narcissists are MISSING something…that extra DNA strand (or whatever) that makes them feel attachment or real love. This is how they get through life.

          So you can beat someone or train someone into submission in all the ways you describe and if it works, then they WERE NOT a narcissist, I guarantee it. Likely they were just a boyfriend or girlfriend temporarily behaving badly because not even every cheater is a narc. No, narcs have that little bit of extra evil that makes them unfortunately un-fixable. This is why the only way to save your sanity is to go no contact as best you can and get out.

          Zari:)

          • Denise C

            September 14, 2017 at 7:10 pm

            I totally (and sadly) agree with you Zari. A person has to be capable of empathy, insight, and a commitment to equality and connection. None of these are present in the N, and we who have really suffered under its grasp, are well aware of how demeaning it is to even try. It will destroy a person inside and out.

          • Zari Ballard

            September 15, 2017 at 5:35 pm

            I know…sad but true….xo

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