The Narcissistic Silent Treatment

silent-teatment-narcissistNarcissists will invoke the silent treatment upon a partner for days, weeks, and even longer, often with no explanation, as a way to control and demoralize their victim. 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. 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 to a person that they supposedly cared about.

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.

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.

READ  Silent Treatment Appreciation - Part 3 (of 3-Pt Series)

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.

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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….

Share your thoughts! Only first post is held for moderation. Zari does her best to reply to all:)

  1. Ah and I forgot to mention. He has a lot of troubles at work too, he is lyng a lot and even if caught in a lie he keeps on lying. He never accepted my career choice and with little comments here and there made me feel insecure at all times. I was always walking on eggshells around him, being the diplomat who tries to keep the peace as you never knew how he would react. If I was for example sick, he would have something worse. If I blamed him for something or called him out he would say he needs to rest he’s tired. He has no empathy at all with other people, I told him a common friend was sexually harassed and he freaked out why I would tell him stories like that it holds him back at life, people get murdered and raped every day it’s non of his business. When I said he has changed he just said yes I did. If he does something I don’t like I am supposed to cope with it whereas he gives me the silent treatment for a month now because I told this common friend about our relationship, was asked for drinks by a male colleague (I said no!) and have too many friends and stories about them apparently. I was always good at spending time by myself so this year I went on holiday alone it was all planned before I met him and he managed to make me feel like crap every day with his little comments I couldn’t enjoy the holiday at all. Then other times he would just not call for days and weeks even if he said he would. I was always forgiving when he returned back and didn’t blame him for a second to value the bit of time we had within all his stress. Then I cried every time he left not knwoing when I would hear from him again. Sorry this got a lot longer than I thought, just getting everyhing out here.

    Thank you!! xo

  2. Hello Zari, first of all thank god i found you and your books, and all the people suffering from the same thing, thank you!!!

    I assume my boyfriend is a Narcisisst, he fits all the criteria, the relationship does as well!

    He’s giving me the silent treatment for over two weeks now, before our last meeting where he blamed many things on me it was also two weeks. For a few months he disappears and then shows up again an der everything is fine. I never really complained as I know he has a or of stress but he changed immensely since the beginning. We have been dating since April.

    So now my question, do you think someone can be a “first time n”? He only had a very short relationship before last year and always blames the girl form dumping him but he is a Muslim and was a virgin before we met. Everything changed with me, he told his parents, talked about marriage and kids, then he changed. What doesn’t really fit is the whole betraying and other women as it’s an absolute no go for him I’m sure of that. So you think his silent treatment towards me is just a coward and I could try and safe the relationship (although I have to admit I felt miserable for months, but I love him dearly) or is he a full blown n? He always made me feel insecure, has zero empathy with anyone and thinks highly of himself, calls himself strange and a monster but with an attitude that lets you know he enjoys it. He swept me off my feet in the beginning as I said, but then everything changed

    Thank you!

    • Hi Tessa,

      How much do you really know about this guy? Because of his culture, he can easily make it “appear” that he was a virgin before you but I’m not so sure if I’d believe that. The fact that he is so confident, sure of himself, and shows the cocky attitude as he calls himself a monster – I dunnnooo. Narcissists are like they are their whole life but it’s in adulthood that it really shines through. If they’re very young, they might not be so polished. I mean you have to have experience giving people the silent treatment if you want to do it right. know what I mean?

      And not for anything but I know all narcs are bad but Muslim men who are narcissist can be just awful. I speak with several women who are overseas (mostly UK) who have long distance relationships with Muslim boyfriends and it’s horrific. They can rule the entire relationship from a cell phone and Facetime and they are masters at it. They use the cultural difference to fly on many things and say what they need to say to get what they want. Families, it appears, will cover for them.

      Let me know a bit more information but just the fact that you found your way to my site tells me that you have your finger on something. Trust your intuition, sister, because it is never ever wrong.

      Zari xo

      • Thank you so much for your reply Zari! I am depreate by now, I tried to reach out to him by text several times. We work together so when I saw him there and once contacted him about something for work he was funny and nice as always but doesnöt respond to any of my texts. I am sure he was a virgin, he had barely any idea about sex and was pretty shy and most of all had such a bad conscience that for several times we decided to let it be but always restarted somehow. I donöt knwo what to do anymore, I know something is wrong with him maybe everthing has just been too much and he wanted space and doesnöt want a relationship and is scared to say it. In our last conversation about a month ago he said he couldn#t say yes or no to a relationship right now he needs to gather his thoughts but before we barely saw each other for months, it was always on his terms. He turned into someone very grumpy and harsh and provokative. I hope from the bottom of my heart he comes back and was just scared even though things were not going well, but I am not even sure he would. If he does, I need to be sure he is not a narcissist though the stories I read here are unbelievable. When we got together he was proposing me a realtionship like a kind of business deal, which made me angry but then he convinced me somehow and I fell for him. He alway said this is serious for him he doesn’t want to be together for two years to see how it goes. And now he just disappeared. It’s breaking my heart my appartment and work and the whole city is full of him.

  3. Hiya Zari and thank you so much for sending me your book. I haven’t had chance to read it yet but when I finish work today I will get stuck in. Once again thank you so much I am finding out so much about narcissism that it frightens me but I cannot put your book down When love is a Lie. Thank God for people like you bless you and Sky Marilyn xoxo

  4. Hi Zari read your book When love is a lie and I now do believe my ex was a narcissist. Like you said I could see myself on every page. What gets me is the constant lying why????? and the denial of everything that they have done. Your story was tragic Wayne what a plonker ( sorry I am from UK) plonker is someone who is not on the same page as everyone else. I am glad I never invested the time that you and your son Sky did. But I see how you tried to mend the broken toy that was Wayne. I tried to do that with Roy as I say I have a platonic relationship with him now but even that is on the wane no pun intended Zari. Roy is 61 years old now and I would like to think that all his chickens are coming to roost. That his misdeeds are preying on his mind but they are probably not. Zari, could you tell me if some narcissists are gay or bisexual because I always had this nagging doubt that he was and consequently had an Aids test done it came back negative. Love to you Marilyn xoxo

  5. I have been with my narcissist for 2 1/2 years – he has never used the Silent treatment on me before and I am completely lost and perplexed as to what has caused this. He has blocked me so I cant text or call – I have tried emailing him and had no reply, Im now considering going round as I am in a complete anxiety state. I so wish I was stronger.

    • Hi Karen,

      I have been there a zillion times so I know exactly what you are/were feeling. Six days have passed since you posted so please fill us in. You have to know that our suffering changes nothing and this is a very important thing to understand. He’s going to do what he does NO MATTER IF YOU SUFFER OR NOT so you may as well live your life. Please read my book When Love Is a Lie because it is all about the silence and what it means. Let us know…

      Zari xo

  6. My mom is currently and has always given me the silent treatment through out my life. I never know exactly why and when confronted she is short and angry then blames it all on me. Does she realize the damage she is doing? Does she even realize she’s doing anything wrong? She had an awful childhood and grew up in children’s home and foster care. I try to not be angry with her but enough is enough. The emotional abuse is killing me.

    • Hi Bri,

      I am so sorry that you are going through this with your mother. While I certainly know what being given the silent treatment by a partner feels like, I imagine the same by a mom is much worse. I imagine it is very painful. This is your mother, after all, and aside from that sensitive part of it, I have always said that FEMALE narcs are the worst of the worst. It just is what it is. So, does she know the damage she is doing? Maybe. But narcissists, as a rule, DO know right from wrong, they just don’t give a shit. What are you supposed to do with that? They know enough about the world to SEE that it’s wrong but they simply can’t help themselves. The silent treatment is a control tactic and it is especially mean and cruel. With the silence, they get to express all kinds of things without saying a single thing, know what I mean? So, my theory on that is that, in some twisted way, they feel that since they technically aren’t SAYING anything, then they’re not the one truly inflicting the pain. Sure, they may be angry but they’re not yelling and screaming, right? At the same time, they also know that being silent gets the job done…lets you know that SOMETHING is wrong even if you’re not sure what it is. It creates confusion and they like that.

      You don’t say whether you live at home but I hope that you don’t. If you don’t, then you can control your interaction. Understand that your suffering changes nothing – it never did and it never will. So, that being said, when she is giving you the silence, just continue on. Don’t try to figure it out or reason with her. Be happy in your own life. You have no choice. Don’t allow it to kill you. She is always going to do it – whether you suffer or not – so you might as well NOT suffer. It’s a different way to look at it but this is what I did in my relationship. I “suffered” through years of silence and then one day I thought, “Hmmm…so, I suffer during the silence but he either always comes back or calls or whatever…I wonder what would happen if I didn’t suffer? Would the outcome be the same?” And sure enough it was. By not suffering when I was getting the silent treatment…by simply continuing on with my life…untile he came back or however it resolved, at least I didn’t waste any MORE time, know what I mean? Of course, I could have left my ex and I eventually did but you can’t “leave” your mom. You can, however, use the same way of thinking so that your life goes on unaffected by her silence. If she sees that it doesn’t affect you, chances are she won’t do it as much. Remember – it’s all about what they can get away with! I hope this helps, my sister.

      Zari xo

  7. My own Mother would do this to us when we were children. My youngest sister seemed to be the one most affected. I usually blew it off because I figured I was better off when she wasn’t talking to me. My first ex would try that but that did not last long. 5 years and I was done.

    • Hi Suzanne,

      I’m so sorry that you went through that as a child but THANK GOD you recognized it down the road. You deserve so much better than that in this life. Silence is so awful and a punishment that never ever “fits” the “crime”. I learned that first-hand myself. Be happy, my sister!

      Zari xo

  8. Hello my name is Jennifer and i read your article. I’ve read many articles on narcissists and my ex fits the description perfectly but something that i have not found yet in any article is narcissists having extreme jealous tendencies my ex and i have a daughter together when he found out i was pregnant one day he picked up and left with no goodbye no explanation no nothing 2 years later once the baby was almost one year old he came back saying he wanted to work things out and be a family. i went through hell right from the begging with his jealousy. i had to get rid of all my friends and he had to have the passwords to all my accounts and as time went by it got worse and worse he wanted to know where i was at all times he would work on and off and when he was making decent money he would spend it on me and the baby eating out or buying her shoes and helping me pay for her daycare but that would only last once or twice every blue moon he would always blow his money and expect me to help him pay for uber rides to get him to work or he would want me to pick him up at 2:00 am from work and when i would say no he would blow it more than any regular human being I’ve ever come across with before. then he slowly started doing coke and around the time i found out about the drug abuse he started sending me pornographic videos constantly accusing me of being in them with other men it would always be different videos at different places with different men and you could never see the girls face the first few videos i would try to rationalize with him, after a while i gave up i knew there was no way he would believe me, it came to the point where he would force me to watch the videos and then he would come out with all crazy kinds of stories about how he knew exactly who the guy was…. it got so much worse over time and at this point i dont know if it was the drugs or him in general because even when he stayed clean for a while he still was paranoid about everything and very controlling. To make it short he blamed me of cheating again for the last time and accused me of sending people out to kill him changed his phone number because i was “tracking” him and now im as confused as ever, hurt and ashamed i let it get this far… it’s been 3 months no contact and im scared he’ll show up out the blue…

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Yes, I do talk about the extreme jealousy but as a tactic only because that’s what it is. A narcissist only acts jealous to distract you from what he’s really up to. If he accuses you of cheating, that’s what he’s been doing. If he accuses you of lying, then there’s something he’s been lying about. He’s not really jealous of anything you’re doing because even a narcissist knows that we’re too busy worrying about keep him happy to be doing anything under the table and if we were cheating, we’d likely be gone for the better pasture. By the way, mine did the same thing. He would accuse me of having people follow him, of having a “boyfriend” vandalize his car, of putting a tracker on his vehicle, blah blah blah and then he’d leave me, changing his number. They are so full of shit. What happened is that he was getting pressure from his other “girlfriend” and needed to start some shit with you so that he could leave.

      I always suggest that instead of defending ourselves against the accusation, we just listen to what’s being said because they are giving themselves away. And as far as the friends and family, this is all about isolating you so that no one can advise you to leave him or offer you deserving sympathy. He may just return someday so be ready but more than likely he’s stuck somewhere and won’t show up until he is absolutely forced to. Be ready to tell him to go to hell. Do not fall for the ruse again. Let this be YOUR decision. Life is way too short to waste time with these fools….

      Zari xo

  9. Hello my name is Jennifer and i read your article. I’ve read many articles on narcissists and my ex fits the description perfectly but something that i have not found yet in any article is narcissists having extreme jealous tendencies my ex and i have a daughter together when he found out i was pregnant one day he picked up and left with no goodbye no explanation no nothing 2 years later once the baby was almost one year old he came back saying he wanted to work things out and be a family. i went through hell right from the begging with his jealousy. i had to get rid of all my friends and he had to have the passwords to all my accounts and as time went by it got worse and worse he wanted to know where i was at all times he would work on and off and when he was making decent money he would spend it on me and the baby eating out or buying her shoes and helping me pay for her daycare but that would only last once or twice every blue moon he would always blow his money and expect me to help him pay for uber rides to get him to work or he would want me to pick him up at 2:00 am from work and when i would say no he would blow it more than any regular human being I’ve ever come across with before. then he slowly started doing coke and around the time i found out about the drug abuse he started sending me pornographic videos constantly accusing me of being in them with other men it would always be different videos at different places with different men and you could never see the girls face the first few videos i would try to rationalize with him, after a while i gave up i knew there was no way he would believe me, it came to the point where he would force me to watch the videos and then he would come out with all crazy kinds of stories about how he knew exactly who the guy was…. it got so much worse over time and at this point i dont know if it was the drugs or him in general because even when he stayed clean for a while he still was paranoid about everything and very controlling. To make it short he blamed me of cheating again for the last time and accused me of sending people out to kill him changed his phone number because i was “tracking” him and now im as confused as ever, hurt and ashamed i let it get this far… it’s been 3 months no contact and im scared he’ll show up out the blue