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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242 Comments

  • Bob

    December 9, 2014 at 9:38 pm Reply

    Interesting read, especially all the responses. I dated a narcissist for a long time but never really fell into her web of games, although she often deployed the silent treatment as a method to exact punishment, or to “sort things out”.

    Talk about a hypocrite: she would often complain about her husbands verbal abuse, but she is a notorious “button pusher” herself with her snide remarks; she talked at length about her ex husband’s distant and cold ways, while she had this sinister habit of putting me in silent treatment mode out of the blue just to mess with me; she whined about her ex husband’s controlling nature when she is actually the one who manipulated her environment, image, me, her ex, etc. in any way possible. You get the drift. But I called her out on all of her deviant mannerisms and she would immediately freeze, because in true “silent treatment” fashion she was unable to handle face to face confrontations. She once made a remark about how someone compared her to a mythological figure who seduced men but ended up leaving nothing but emotional carnage behind……and she got a kick out of that. I told her that she needed help if she perceived the aforementioned comparison as some sort of accolade.

    My gut instinct tells me that those who resort to the silent treatment game are probably exploring other “options”, and doing things behind your back, until they feel it’s time to let you back into their lives. People who use and abuse the silent treatment tactic with their partners have a strong sense of entitlement and need for control.

    • Zari Ballard

      December 20, 2014 at 3:57 am Reply

      Bob wrote.She once made a remark about how someone compared her to a mythological figure who seduced men but ended up leaving nothing but emotional carnage behind……and she got a kick out of that.

      Hi Bob,

      Thank you for sharing and forgive me for the delay in responding. It never takes me this long and I promise you it never will again. The holidays are crazy for everyone. I copied a blurb from your post above because I found it very amusing and amazingly familiar. After the first time that I snapped and called my now-ex a narcissist, he became secretly fascinated with his own bullshit disorder. At first, of course, he stomped around acting highly insulted but soon after (a couple weeks) I started finding that he’d been googling phrases containing the word “narcissist”, etc. on my spare computer. Then he actually started using it to get back with me after a disappearing for weeks at a time. He’d puff on his cigarette and start chit-chatting…”Wow, can’t believe I’m a narcissist. I always knew I was different…” and I had to remind him…”Dude, it’s not a good thing – not by any stretch of your fucking imagination”. LOL This would usually usher in the next silent treatment even faster!

      As I talk about in all of my articles about the silent treatment on this site, a narcissist is ALWAYS exploring other options and more than likely staying with another person during the break. Just because you can’t catch them in the act doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to a narcissist. A make no mistake, a silent treatment is just a break-up in disguise (but, as you know, without the confrontation), thus giving the narcissist all the entitlement needed to be somewhere else. The bigger point of the silent departure, however, is far more sinister because, in leaving without a word, the narcissist intends to instill in the other partner just enough of a doubt that he/she will in all likelihood wait for the narcissist’s return.This is why the silent treatment works as well as it does…and, believe me, over 13-years I was subjected to literally hundreds of silences and it nearly drove me to the brink. Yes, the narcissist is NEVER alone no matter how hard they try to convince you otherwise when they return. And you can always be certain that when the narcissist returns, someone else somewhere is getting the silent treatment. This is fact and there’s no other way to spin it. Your “gut instinct” is always right!

      I am nearly finished with my book on female narcissists so please look for the promo pic on my sight. I am a true believer that the girls are far worse than the guys when it comes to narcissistic evil and that society participates, making it easy for these evil witches to get away with almost anything. I do not envy any guy who has suffered this type of abuse at the hands of a female N and I am here to support you.

      Again, please forgive me for the delay in responding. Take care and feel free to share anytime – it’s always appreciated!

      Zari xo

    • Christine

      December 20, 2014 at 7:12 am Reply

      This woman sounds sinister. It sounds to me like she might have been doing some projecting here and accusing her ex of all the evil things SHE was doing. I agree they’re exploring other options during their silence–in fact, suspected my narc of that. I sometimes wondered why they don’t just explicitly break things off with us first, if they want to be with others. However, Zari’s right that they want to give doubt as to whether there’s an actual break up, so we still wait for them. That is truly sinister, to play with people’s minds like that. I also suppose they want to keep us in reserve in case they want to use us again later, for something their others can’t do for them. So they wouldn’t want to have that definitive break up and lose us as options. With mine, I felt like a toy he was starting to get bored of, just from not being new anymore. Yet he didn’t want to completely throw me away either because he still might want to “play” with me later when he inevitably also got bored with the others (or as a backup when other supply ran low).

      I got sick of this stupid mind game and sent him one final text ending things–to let him know I was on to him and wouldn’t hang around waiting for him. Then I blocked him. I still think of that as the move that saved my sanity. I’m still astonished that they feel entitled to try controlling us this way, with no regard for our feelings or needs.

  • skax

    November 14, 2014 at 1:32 am Reply

    So even when someone does nothing, ie they do not contact you, they are branded a narcissist? God, they can’t win. Do this & that – you’re narcissistic. Do nothing – you’re narcissistic. I’m personally sick of the narcissistic quote thrown around so willy nilly. It’s like society thinks no one has a right to get angry anymore and when they do – NARCISSIST!

    • Zari Ballard

      November 15, 2014 at 3:44 am Reply

      Oh no, no, no….it’s not WHAT they do, it’s HOW they do it. And nobody here is throwing anything around “willy nilly” – not on this site. If you haven’t experienced it, you won’t “get it” and I wouldn’t expect you to. And if you’re personally sick of the “narcissistic quote” (whatever that is), then, by all means, move on until you find something that makes sense to you.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • Kate

        November 15, 2014 at 8:50 pm Reply

        What a great response, Zari. You are 100% right that people who haven’t experienced it won’t understand at all. It still scares me that the words, tactics, timing, responses etc are EXACTLY like my ex & my step dad. None of these Ns around the world have met each other, yet are carbon copies. Given there are so many, the caller by probably will meet one!!

        Hey, what happens when a narc is involved with another narc? Curiosity…

        • Zari Ballard

          November 18, 2014 at 7:26 am Reply

          Kate asked....Hey, what happens when a narc is involved with another narc? Curiosity…

          Hi Kate,

          Nope, it would never happen. Of course, that’s my opinion but, in my mind, it’s impossible. First of all, they wouldn’t even be attracted to each other. The female narc would be what the male narc would view as “a slut” or “a player” and – even though she’s just like him – he would be turned off by that. And it would work in reverse as well. I bet in a bar they’d completely ignore each other while preying on others (the nice people who just stopped at the bar after a hard day’s work for a drink!!!). When a narc first targets someone, it’s not about sex, really, it’s about what he can get from them and then he uses sex if he thinks it will help him get that. Remember that a narc is a people-reading person and he’s/she’s not going to like what he/she reads in another narc. No way. One would see the other as a “know-it-all” or “conceited” right from the get-go. I’m no expert but I’m willing to bet I’m right!!

          Sure wish it could happen though….then they could just kill each other and get over it! MUHAHAHAHA!!!!!

          Zari xxoo

  • Jess

    November 11, 2014 at 10:34 am Reply

    Excellent article. I have a question: 2 years ago I was #1 lady in the harem (didnt know this until after I’d been dumped). Recently we got in contact again and he repated the cycle of woo and discard. It happened quickly as I found out he had 2 much bigger fishes in his sights & I wasn’t as compliant as I had previously been. I went on a brief campaign of wanting to make him suffer. I threatened his reputation by threatening to expose him- with tangible evidence- threatened his property, his beloved car, even slapped him. We fought verbally and physically. Despite all this horrible behaviour (&I’m not proud of my behaviour- I stooped to his level), he refused to block me on facebook. Then his new #1 supply contacted me checking up on his lies. I told him I’d sent her the proof he’d cheated and lied. Told him he was ageing badly, would never be happy and was a financial loser. This time he blocked me. Does this mean he will never seek me out again? Did I threaten him too much that he’s afraid to go near me again after my last “crazy” retaliation? Am I free? Any predictions appreciated. I can’t go through another round of his head games.

    • Zari Ballard

      November 13, 2014 at 7:23 am Reply

      Hi Jess,

      Thank you for writing and it’s hard to tell with narcissists when enough is enough. Sometimes you can cross all his boundaries (such as messaging the new girl, calling him a loser, “outing” him to the world) and, while he’ll certainly get pissed enough to block you on social media and ignore you for a good length of time, there’s still a good chance that he’ll attempt a hoover at some point in the future. It won’t be that he “forgives” you…it’s just that he really doesn’t care. Drama is drama to him and the more the merrier. Don’t forget that these monsters don’t feel the same emotions that we do. Everything that they hate in the world exists on the same emotional level. This is why a narcissist will just as soon give you the silent treatment over not buttering your bread right as he would for messaging his new target and telling her everything you know about him. It’s all the same. Believe me, at various points throughout my 13-year nightmare, I did it all and then some and he STILL would either show back up on his own a few months later or he’d show back up after I had a pathetic change of heart and instigated a hoover. So, it’s hard to tell. I would say that your chances are good he’ll stay away for awhile and hopefully long enough for you to get your head together and start moving on. It also depends on the his new supply….although she called you to confirm the lies and you provided evidence, it’s likely that she’s still “with” him. Like all of us, she’s going to have to REALLY see it for herself to believe it – and even then it’ll drag out because he’ll make sure of it. He could pop back in to see if you’re in the queue or he may not. The point here is that, by asking me “Am I free?” or “Will he really leave me alone this time?” (and I get these type of questions a lot), you are still leaving the end result up to him in your mind. My answer should be “Who cares? If you want it to be over, it’s over!” TAKE CONTROL OF THE ENDING TO THIS STORY!!!

      I always say that a victim, at any time, can turn a silent treatment into No Contact just by not being there when and if he returns. Simple as that (but not so simple, I know). So, no matter what HE does, YOU take care of yourself and allow the happiness into your life that you deserve.

      Write anytime…I’m always here…

      Zari xo

  • Trapped

    October 26, 2014 at 1:53 pm Reply

    Wow, my life is on this page over and over. It’s a reality I’m still trying to come to terms with. I have been married to my Narc for 20 years. It’s been a roller coaster of some good times, emotional abuse, infidelity and disrespect. After the most recent affair he had (with my best friend) I couldn’t take it anymore and ended the marriage or so i thought.
    It’s been 8 months now and the turmoil continues. Nice one day, angry and abusive the next. We have property and kids so no contact isn’t going well. We also live in a small town so no escaping each other.
    As I gain strength and move forward he pulls me back in only to dismiss me again at will. This dance has been going on for 8 months now. This week on the brink of a nervous breakdown I found my inner strength and sought out a good lawyer a counsellor and the resolve that he can’t hurt me anymore. He noticed he lost control of me and the rage that has followed hasn’t been pleasant, abusive text messages, degrading comments and then my final dismissal and now 2 days of silent treatment.
    I feel broken and beat down and utterly exhausted with moments of thank God maybe this time it’s really over. I dared to unmask him earlier this week and call him out which brought on this latest onslaught.
    I am reading, researching and praying I will make it out in one piece. (He hasn’t physically hurt me but has scared me and come close) I do have days where I feel he is so unstable that we are in danger. My lawyer after reading 10 messages he sent me in one hour when he couldn’t reach me urged me to get an order to keep him away but I fear this will make his anger worse.
    I am sheltering the kids from what I can.
    You ladies on here are such sn inspiration to me and I ionly hope I can muster the same strength that you did..
    I do have a question, have you or other ladies ever been in a position with the narc that he knows you have evidence against him that could destroy him both professionally and personally (it’s not my intention to ever do that but I don’t think he would be thinking that ). It scares me to think that he knows this.
    In closing I must admit that I only understood who I married a few months ago although I always sensed he wasn’t the knight in shining armour I thought I married.
    Please tell me this nightmare will end. I have tried getting on with my life but he either texts me insanely, insists on going with me if I go out or just plain abuses me.

    • Zari Ballard

      October 31, 2014 at 3:33 am Reply

      Hi Trapped,

      Thank you for writing and please forgive me for the delay in responding. The crazy thing is that when I first read your post, I immediately recognized the story as if I had just read it and answered it. But when I double-checked, I realized I was thinking about another post written here under another article that I had responded to. Her story and your story were identical!!! I’m so glad you are reading through the comments and perhaps you will come across it. Unbelievable…it sometimes appears that we were all involved with the same guy, I swear.

      I promise you it can – and will – end but you have to make it happen. It’s hard but you have to do it or you will never have the happiness you deserve in this life. I understand that having the N as a co-parent makes things more difficult (and I do write about this) but it’s STILL not impossible. You can still separate yourself from his drama by refusing to engage in it, by detaching emotionally from everything he does and says, by going “no contact” in as many ways that are humanly possibly. He will use the kids (no matter how old they are) as pawns in the game when all else fails (and even before this happens). Don’t fall for it. THIS IS YOUR LIFE AND YOU DON’T OWE HIM ANYTHING.

      If you haven’t read my books, please do. All of them are available as downloads on Amazon…cheap and easy reads that will EMPOWER YOU, I promise. Start with When Love Is a Lie and then Stop Spinning, Start Breathing. My third book, the newest one, is Breaking Up With a Narcissist and I do have a chapter in it that discusses co-parenting and what you can do to DETACH. I really believe that these books will help you. Validation, confirmation, and empowerment are the three elements you need right now. You will see yourself on every page, my friend.

      I know you can do this. It’s YOUR time to stand up for yourself. He has NO RIGHT to invade your life and your personal space ANYMORE. You know as well as I do that he EXPECTS you to be there when the silent treatments over. I suffered through 100’s of silent treatments (my books go into this in detail) and it nearly made me insane. The abandonment aspect of the silence was beyond fathomable to me. THEN I discovered how to begin appreciating the silence (like you are obviously doing) and this was my ticket to mentally breaking free from this ridiculous abuse and utter nonsense. You CAN break the cycle, my friend…and you must.

      Unless you continually threaten him with the exposure, the fact that you know things that could hurt him professionally won’t have much of an impact on how he behaves. In his own twisted way, he has justified the “evidence” and whatever he did and unless it appears that you are ready to make a phone call, he doesn’t care too much. Moreover, he’s fairly confident that he has broken your spirit and confidence down ENOUGH so that you won’t have the courage to do such a thing (expose him) anyway. Don’t discuss it with him or threaten him and if HE brings it up (“Oh yeah bitch, and I suppose you’re going to tell…”) just make it clear that YOU JUST WANT HIM GONE (“Look, if I had wanted to do that, I would have already done it. All I want now is for you to go away! Exposing you would just make create MORE drama for ME and it’s not worth it. YOU’RE not worth it!! I just want you to go away!!!).

      Please stay in touch and let me know how you’re doing. I hope you get a chance to read the books because I guarantee they will change your perspective!! You can do this and I’m rootin’ for you!!!

      Zari xo

      • Anne

        November 10, 2014 at 1:20 am Reply

        Zary, help

        • Zari Ballard

          November 11, 2014 at 11:20 am Reply

          Hi Anne,

          I’m here to help you…please write in and I’ll respond:)

          Zari xxoo

    • Ellen

      October 31, 2014 at 1:10 pm Reply

      This message is for trapped. To answer your question about having evidence of his abuse the answer is yes.All you have to do is make one subtle remark and his imagination will torture him. In my situation he KNOWS i have “proof” of things. He recently told me it’s like having a gun put to his head. The fear of others knowing what he really is.Right now he’s just trying to sweep me under the carpet and hope i never surface. This man has to keep tabs on you cause your a loose cannon. He’s always relied on your decency to do the right thing because he is full of indiscretions. I know you must be reeling from making this discovery. I was so angry and humiliated. How could i not see this happening? Truth is he chose YOU for very specific reasons.He’s been building a case against you from the moment you said “i do”. He hates the goodness in you so he has to steal it for himself. Like a child that only wants the toy so no one else can have it. To drain your soul so that he can replace it with his emptiness. So hard to believe, isn’t it? Like a spider that drains it’s victims then tosses the carcass to the side. He used you for image and it hurts like hell. My advice would be to do as much reading on npd as you can. Education is your best protection. Emotional blackmail is when your worried about what he’s going to think of what you say or do. He wants you to fear him. When they know you have unmasked them they will slowly slither away. Give yourself time to examine what has happened. Start thinking of YOU and your kids.I’m learning how to take my life back one day at a time. You can too! I want to thank zari for taking the worst pain and turning it into healing for all of us. Best wishes

      • Zari Ballard

        November 2, 2014 at 12:10 am Reply

        Hi Ellen,

        Thank you for responding to Trapped with such wise words and for showing your support! I appreciate you!

        Zari xo

  • venus

    September 26, 2014 at 3:46 am Reply

    Zara,, thank you….I live in south africa, in an almost 7year relationship with a lying, cheating, ungrateful narc. I have spent lots of money and time on him, i have finally left a few days ago….he is just silent…my fault as usual. Everyday in every way I will get stronger. To all kind, caring, beautiful souls in a similar situation, the world is a loving place, we are loving and lovable. I would like to start a global support group as I am a social worker. God bless, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Zari Ballard

      September 30, 2014 at 9:02 am Reply

      Hi Venus,

      Across the continents, I am sending you big, big hugs and a world of empowerment and love! We are all sisters (and brothers) here no matter how far apart we are for the simple reason that we share an understanding of this pain that only those who have lived it will ever understand. And girl, please know that I’m here if you ever need me or if I can help you in any way to get things started for your support group. My books are certainly not masterpieces but they are used and recommended worldwide in women’s centers, domestic abuse shelters, and by therapists and I believe this is because I speak (and tell a story) that is straight-forward, unsympathetic toward the abuser in every way, and very descriptive of what this crap is all about. I’d be happy to get you copies if you ever need to refer – either in PDF or paperback. Or to read for yourself for a a bit more personal reinforcement. 🙂 Just let me know.

      We’ve got to see this type of abuse for exactly what it is in order to climb out of the rabbit hole. And, as you know from being a social worker, there is so much power in knowledge and numbers.

      Climbing out of the darkness is so much easier when we’re all holding hands!

      Stay strong, sister! You are on the right path. He didn’t deserve to spend the last seven years with you at his side – don’t give him the slightest chance to even spend seven more seconds! The silent treatment was nearly the death of me – for 13 years – until I turned it around in my mind and began to see every silent day as Silence Appreciation Day. I had to for my own sanity. Once I did that, the sun came up in a miraculous way. When he finally walked out (after a rather nice day together) never to return, I was sad, of course, but I never shed another tear. I was ready. Finally ready. That was two years ago.

      These guys are lying, cheating con men and what we allow will continue. It must stop for you to have the happiness you deserve!

      Stay strong and keep me updated, sister!

      Zari xxoo

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