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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178 Comments

  • Dawn

    March 29, 2017 at 1:04 am Reply

    I have left my N husband after 25 horrendous years but he took control and divorced ME on some exaggerated and other completely fabricated grounds. My daughters and I are starting again and they are both getting therapy for the torture of growing up with his cycle of ‘adoration’, rage and discard. I feel so wracked with guilt for the damage he has done. He could go for a few months between rages but was always controlling. He would manipulate me, accuse me of affairs, call me lazy for not working, then tell me I couldn’t earn a decent wage anyway so it wasn’t worth spending money on petrol to commute if I was offered a job. He would interrogate me for hours, rip my whole personality to shreds and if I ever stood up to him he would threaten abandonment. It took my eldest daughter to tell me we had to leave. I am very ashamed of that. We had to leave our lovely home and stay with mother while I found financial help. My mother is also abusive (now I see clearly that she is N too and always used triangulation with my sister and I). She threw us out when we were already in a crisis. I have not seen her in almost a year now though she texts me and is unapologetic. She had twisted what happened. I am now getting a tiny flat for my daughters and I to live in. I have no family or friends to help with child care but am looking for work that will fit in with looking after my girls. I have no pension or financial security so it is scary and I am nearly 50! What a mess I have made of our lives. The worst part is the complete lack of closure from my ex and my mother. The things they have done are unforgivable and inexcusable yet he has gone on to get a good sum of money from the divorce, still has his career and is buying a nice house. I can’t afford a place with 3 bedrooms so will sleep on the sofa for the foreseeable future so my daughters have a room each. He said in the divorce this is my fault for not working through out our marriage but he made it impossible. I did some small jobs which fitted in to the school day because of the lack of support with child care and my own lack of confidence I suppose. All I hear is the voices in my head of my ex and my mum telling me I’m useless and my own inner voice telling me I’m a coward. How do you keep up the strength to move on when the abusers never admit to anything and nothing is ever resolved? We will never see my ex husband or mother again my girls have only me now. I have so much to do but sometimes I fund it too exhausting and want it just to end. I am giving my girls all the support I can but worry about supporting them financially and undoing all the damage that has been done by having a narc father and grandparent too.

    • Zari Ballard

      April 14, 2017 at 2:07 pm Reply

      Hi Dawn,

      Here I am again apologizing for being so late in responding. Do NOT beat yourself up, sister, because time will heal the wounds and children are resilient. They can see that you are trying to make a life for the three of you. Bravo for you about finding the flat but while I appreciate you giving each girl a room, my thinking is that they can SHARE a room. You deserve to have your own space after not having any space at all for all those years. Stop punishing yourself. You deserve your own room. As it stands, it will probably be quite a while before you can afford a bigger place with a third bedroom SO YOU MIGHT AS WELL DO IT NOW. If you had a boy and girl, that would be different but two sisters can share a room!! LOL

      You are an awesome mom and you have done all the right things considering your situation. It’s OKAY. Don’t worry about “undoing” the damage…just be the best mom that you can be right now and going forth and the damage will undo on it’s own. Stop beating yourself up – it’s nonproductive – and the truth is that your ex likely blamed you for everything throughout your life together anyway. Why continue the legacy into your recovery???

      Bless you and your girls, my sister! Feel free to write anytime. I am here to support you….

      Zari xo

  • Sam

    March 15, 2017 at 9:36 pm Reply

    My story is one of the craziest, I did met this woman, and I fell for her, I thought she was my soulmate ( love bombing ) We got married just 6 months after we first met ( she was pushing for it ), by that time I did feel that there is something is just not right, but I was hoping to bring the woman I first loved back, After we got married I felt like i was living with a cloud of negative energy ( hate, anger, irresponsibility, more anger) and seemed nothing I did was good enough for her. I am a real empath, loving , very warm yet very independent. So i did call her out on many occasions. As a result she just moved back to her mom’s and VANISHED and never had any conversation, closure or was able to talk to her ! I did try to reason with her , address our issues to save our short marriage, but I received nothing but SILENCE. I did divorce her. I have been on no contact for months now and It is still feels like a soul crushing experience ( NIGHTMARE )

  • Jennifer

    March 4, 2017 at 5:01 pm Reply

    I’m in the mist of my second silent treatment. The first was 7 years ago amazingly. Both times he was caught cheating, first an emotional affair, now this time he’s supposedly just “kissed” and did a lot of texting with an employee. Yet he says he needs the time and space to figure out what HE wants. The last few months I’ve had things twisted on me constantly. Including a party where he ignored me while standing at a bar with a woman coworker. I had my monthly visitor and while going to the bathroom I found I had soiled my clothes. Annoyed to still see him at the bar I decided to just go sit in the car and wait for him. He didn’t notice I was gone for 45 min. A lot of other people noticed he did this however and told him how horrible he was. Apparently that was ALL my fault, I even set him up to look bad. He ended up having ME apologize. I’ve given up all boundaries, expected less and less out of the marriage. None of my needs have been met for a long time. While I’m expected to put up with him having all female friends that he should get to go out with. That I should trust him, stop snooping on him (which had I not looked at cell phone records I would have never known). He said since I always thought he was cheating he figured he might as well go ahead and do it. That my insecurities made him unhappy, but I usually always had a reason for when I felt he was doing something. We’ve been married 20 years. Our son is 18, and called him out on his abusive behavior well before I even saw it. It took a therapist to tell me he was a N before it hit me. Yet, here I am in the midst of the silent treatment going crazy in my own head. In so much pain and wanting him back. I know how crazy that is, yet I can’t seem to stop it. He’s agreed to a marriage counseling appointment next week. I don’t really think it’s going to help at all. In fact I worry he will use his sick charms on the therapist to make me out to be the bad guy again.

    • Zari Ballard

      March 14, 2017 at 3:11 pm Reply

      Hi Jennifer,

      I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. After 20 years, it is time for you to get a chance at life. This is never going to change, sister. A narcissist feels falsely entitled to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, with whomever he wants at anyone’s expense…he LIVES by this rule…and he will never waiver. You can stay but this is as good as it’s going to get. Narcissism can not be changed, not with love, therapy, or any magic pill. We only have one chance at this very short life and it would be a shame, now that your child is grown, for you not to get the best shot possible at a bit of freedom and happiness.

      Zari xo

  • Jay

    January 30, 2017 at 11:25 pm Reply

    I’m not dating anyone but this article still helped me. My friend is doing this to me because she was being rude to my other friend and I told her it looks bad on her part to do that. She said she had a lot going on so that is why she was acting that way (she named mostly school and work stuff) and I said that was not a good excuse for bad behavior. She took it very personally and I haven’t heard from her for 4 months. At first I as extremely upset with her because I felt like I didn’t deserve this. I’m mad at myself because I panic and ask one of her friends what I could do to get her to stop ignoring me and she told me to just give her time and that I am supposedly considered a close to friend to her so she won’t stay mad long. I’m almost positive this friend told her that I asked about her which gave her motivation to keep doing this. And then after talking to her friend I messaged her apologizing if I was not being considerate of her feelings, I got no response. 4 months later I still haven’t heard from her. I don’t think I deserve this even if what I said was insensitive I didn’t mean it to be that way. At this point I feel like she is waiting for me to try again but I don’t want to give in. I already tried I’m not going to be ignored again especially over something so petty. So I’m just letting her be upset. It’s hard cuz we are in the same friend group and are both going to be bridesmaids in my friend wedding so I can’t avoid her completely. I don’t know if I’m being stubborn but I’m not apologizing to her again.

    • Zari Ballard

      February 6, 2017 at 6:25 pm Reply

      Hi Jay,

      YOU did nothing wrong. What you DID do was call this person out on her bad behavior and you were right and she knew it. Oh…and they don’t like THAT at all! You weren’t being insensitive at all and you needn’t have apologized but that’s okay, at least you can say that you did it and she is STILL being a complete bitch so let it go. Better friends are to be made. Trust me, you don’t want her back in your life because now that she’s done it once (the silent treatment), she will certainly do it again and life is simply too short for all that nonsense!

      Stay strong!

      Zari xo

  • Charlie

    January 28, 2017 at 3:16 pm Reply

    I’m a 44 year old male who began working with a female nine years ago (January 2008). Over a period of time we become or so I thought very close friends. There was never any romance involved, I’m happily married and she is a lesbian but we were very regularly in contact, very often went socialising together and went to lunch at work nearly every day. We stuck by each other during thick and thin and shared many our deepest secrets and problems. In fact during 2016 we exchanged more than 2000 whatsapp messages.
    In September 2016 she got another job in the same organisation but different department, although she said ‘don’t worry, of course I’ll keep in contact’, ‘its not goodbye’ and ‘we’ll still go out for drinks/food etc’.
    From day one in her new role though, she immediately appeared cold, dismissive and seemingly put a barrier in place.
    All of a sudden, communication was only one way, she would reply but they were brief and evasive. I would ask how her new job was going and got the reply ‘yeah good thanks’.
    At lunch, all of a sudden she sat on the next table with other people/new colleagues and I was barely acknowledged. In fact from here I ended up finding somewhere else to have lunch, well out of the way as it felt totally awkward and uncomfortable.
    All of this (just as recent as October/November 2016) really hurt me but I managed to keep a lid on it. I did message her that I was missing her badly but received the reply ‘something that can’t be helped at the moment’. I knew she was training for 9 weeks for her new role and thought she might be busy and made this excuse for her.
    In December I asked whether we could go for food/drinks perhaps in the new year when Christmas is out of the way. While not directly answering this, she suggested we go out for the annual Christmas works drink out on the town. I was actually not thinking of going out this time, but this changed things and agreed to meet up. On the Friday before Christmas (16th) I went out and didn’t see her. I sent her a message asking her what was happening, she replied ‘what do you mean?’. Just after this, she did turn up in the bar, saw me and said ‘I didn’t understand your last message, but I’m going off somewhere else with x and y (other colleagues) and promptly left leaving me standing there.
    This straw absolutely broke the camels back with me. I had had a few drinks but wasn’t drunk. I was hurt and upset and sent her a couple of angry message giving her a piece of my mind and how’s she’s been aloof for the past few months, although I didn’t swear or resort to name calling. I was though like a bottle of coke having been shook for a few months, and the top came off! Within moments I discovered she blocked me from whatsapp. I quickly realised we may never communicate ever again, and about 6 weeks later (28th January) we still haven’t made up. Ironically, from victims using the ‘no-contact’ mode, this was turned on me instead.
    I let the dust settle until the first week in January, and sent her a normal text (where I wasn’t blocked at this time) suggesting if we can make up. I got a blunt reply advising that she didn’t appreciate receiving a message like that and thought I had a ‘damn cheek’, then blocked me from this also. She had turned herself into the victim as I had the audacity of being less than pleased about being treated cruelly and like dirt.
    I bit a research suggests since that she may have narcissistic tendencies, plus talking to other people seems to bear this out suggesting that she’s a user and ‘this is what she’s like’. She’s exciting, she’ll make you feel special and alive but will easily drop you when you not needed anymore.
    The autumn/Christmas just gone were some of the darkest and saddest I’ve ever felt at work, I’m now trying to move on and get on with my life while at the same time avoiding her and staying out of her way.
    I thought I had some amazing memories although I can’t now help but feel they have been tainted somewhat.

    I hear now from others who weren’t as close saying how great she was and what a loss she is; this really sticks in the craw as I’ve seen the ugly other side. I just need to heal, be professional and move on. For a while a few months ago I used to wake up most nights in the small hours and struggled to get back off and it occupied my mind constantly, at least now while not at all perfect, it isn’t anywhere near as bad as that.
    I knew in the Autumn that it felt totally like grief, but I had nobody to turn to who could completely understand and felt isolated, after all, nobody had died.

    I re-iterate, there was nothing romantic involved, that could never work for a few reasons but she possessed a force that was magnetic. There was never a dull moment, exciting and fun to spend time with and always kept me on my toes – and I was sucked in!!

    • Zari Ballard

      January 31, 2017 at 11:36 pm Reply

      Hi Charlie,

      I’m sorry for what happened…it’s really awful. She sounds like one of those narcissistic females – all fun, excitement and friendship on the outside, a shallow could-care-less attitude on the inside. Very typical, actually. We don’t have to be romantically involved with narcissists to get the full affect of the blow-off, that’s for sure. You don’t talk at all about your wife yet you say that you’re happily married. Did she know that you had been suffering over the loss of this friendship? I’m thinking perhaps you are not so happily married and the narcissist picked right up on this, using it for all it was worth, giving you the companionship and fun that perhaps you didn’t feel at home…and then BAM she was gone. Again, this is very typical.

      I don’t blame you for losing it with the texts and she deserved to hear it. Don’t worry about her turning herself into a victim…she would have done this anyway. As you know, when they’re done with us, they’re done….that is, until they’re not. Do not be surprised if all of a sudden you get a text from her at some point acting as if nothing happened. Then it will be up to you if you should even give her the time of day outside of a strictly professional level. If and when that happens, I would, if I were you, calmly say no thanks and be on your way. Not worth your time, brother!

      Stay strong!

      Zari xo

      • Charlie

        February 12, 2017 at 3:39 am Reply

        To be honest, I would be flabbergasted if she texts me, she would need to unblock me for a start, I daresay I don’t occupy her thoughts one little bit despite going through so much personally and professionally.
        As for me, being honest it does occupy my mind a lot as it cuts deep. Many people at work know there’s a rift and whenever she’s mentioned I keep talking her down in a humorous way as a coping mechanism and refer to her as the ‘J word’. It easy for people to tell me to move on, if it was only that simple, but to me its not just a question of moving on but also to thrive.
        People defend her actions as her new line of work is very hands on and all consuming, I don’t doubt this but I know and lived through the whole sorry situation.

        But yes, I am happily married, I didn’t mention my wife as it didn’t involve her – my relationship with my narc really was completely platonic. My wife knows of ‘Jess’ although the morning after the Xmas drink with the texts/being blocked etc, I couldn’t hide my low mood and sadness which she picked up on and I did tell her of what happened. Although since then I have kept my thoughts to myself and haven’t mentioned the whole episode since.

  • Mel

    January 22, 2017 at 4:57 am Reply

    At present receiving the silent treatment. WTF for something I am at a loss to know what I have done. I won’t respond, not this time I have gone back twice but he is not getting a third time out of me. The man is playing a game I know that but for me it is game over. Had enough of this circus. He is not my reality never was, never will be. Mel x

    • Zari Ballard

      January 24, 2017 at 12:33 pm Reply

      Hi Mel,

      I wish you the best. You are spot-on about the silence and the game. Do not give in. I did it for 13-years and it nearly destroyed me. Nothing is as loud and deafening as a narcissist’s silence. Good for you for turning his silent treatment into your NO CONTACT.

      Zari xo

    • Mel

      January 31, 2017 at 10:08 am Reply

      Thanx for your kind words Zari and I am not going back period!! Mel xx

  • Nonny

    January 18, 2017 at 8:46 pm Reply

    My father gave me and his grandchildren the silent treatment for 8yrs! Why? Because he thought I didn’t like the fact that he had moved house. He has been back in my life for mere months and is already dwinding his weekly visits down to fortnightly, with a call today to say he wouldn’t be coming due to feeling dizzy… I have been confronting him on certain issues (making demands on his self-absorbed headspace) so it looks like I’m being “scratched off his list” once again. It’s rather funny in a way because all the family snigger, frustrate, agress, moan, and outright backstab him behind his back, yet I’m be the worst in the world for pointing out why his behaviour is so nasty. I saw it all my life but have put it all together in the past few months.

    This man is a qualified builder / cabinet maker but has never once offered his skills to me or his grandchildren. No cubbyhouse building, teaching them skills, encouraging interest, but he’ll tell us about all the great jobs he’s done for others. He’s even refused to turn on the hospital tv for me. Refused to park in the 15min patient pick-up zone after I had surgery on my rear end, then asked me if I was right to walk down to where he had parked. When I said no, he gave me the silent treatment all the way home. I still wasn’t seeing it at that time (2007). He turned up the following day to continue feeding my cat, bringing his lunch with him but not calling to see if I wanted anything. He said he would have got me something but knew I didn’t eat that sort of thing – meatpies ( I have crohn’s (is it any wonder))! I took one of his pies anyway. I used to go to a Saturday morning market local to him. After the market I would go to the local shopping center, call him and say I was heading around with some pies if he was up ( he used to go to the races Friday night, so I would wile away an hour or so at the shopping center before calling; markets ended early).

    He missed my daughter’s wedding, the birth of his great-granddaughters, and says “I admit I don’t have much interest in them” after me saying what an increasing unique postition he’s in, that these little girls could have a very real and meaningful connection to / memory of their great-grandfather. I’ve never so much as received a hug or kiss from him in all my life. When I started doing it recently he turns to one side, puts his arm out and never even offers his cheek. I’m moving on. Thanks for being here.

    • Zari Ballard

      January 19, 2017 at 1:12 am Reply

      Hi Nonny,

      That is so sad, I sat and cried. I wish I could give you a hug. I’m grateful that you’re moving on because it is the only thing to do. My son’s father, after years and years of this boy trying to please him in every way, just changed his phone number one day and we’ve heard not a word since. That was eight years ago. His only son too. You’d think his family – sister and brothers or parents – would continue to reach out to my son but nothing. The funny thing is, my ex’s mother did the same thing to his sisters and her daughters, living a street a way and driving by every day on the way to work for three years as if they were strangers. Then, one day, she just pulled into the driveway and walked in the house as if she had never been gone, ready to be grandma. It’s a family thing, I guess, and it is most painful. These people are so very defective.

      In my second book, I say, “If you feel you are being erased again, let it happen.” Life is so short, Nonny. These people will never feel the loss and it truly IS their loss. Your father is missing out on his unique position…but it is simply who he is. So sad. I wish you nothing but the best, sister. I’m grateful you are surrounded by little girls because I know they have an adoring grandma in you and the love is returned. Be happy and please visit here any time. Thank you so much for sharing our story and I am grateful that you found your way here…

      Zari xo

      • Nonny

        January 21, 2017 at 6:14 pm Reply

        Thanks so much for the reply and the hug, Zari, both mean the world to me at this time. I also cried for you and your son. It’s just amazing how these … soul-less beings? are carbon copies of each other. I have more than ten relatives – a sister, aunts,cousins all living less than 15mins away, yet none of them called to tell me my uncle and my sister’s ex, someone I’ve also known since my teens, had died. I only found out when my sister called phishing (after sending a belated birthday card last year) to see what use I might be to her mortgage predicament and by then it was almost a yr after these events. Creeps.

        Much love to you and your lad xx

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