Today we’re going to take on a very common issue in narcissistic relationships called the silent treatment and how the narcissist uses the silent treatment to control you.
If you’ve ever experienced it, you know what it is. The silent treatment is definitely one of the key weapons in the narcissist’s handbook.
The silent treatment is exactly what it sounds like, now let me give you an example: One day you have an argument with somebody narcissistic or difficult in your life. Maybe you criticised them or they just didn’t like something you said or did. So they just stopped talking to you. Now if you don’t live with them, they may stop answering your calls. They may stop responding, stop reaching out.
If you do live with them they will live in silence with you and if you talk to them, they will either ignore you or if it is essential they’ll give you a one-word answer.
Now if you have ever lived with any of this, you know it and it is miserable. You would almost just rather have the fight than deal with this. It is an uncomfortable and very difficult way to live and it’s always kind of hanging over your head, this idea that “Oh my gosh, the silent treatment is going to come again.”
The most common reasons for the silent treatment
Stonewalling / Manipulation
In other words what they’re doing is using the silent treatment as a way to maybe draw out an apology, to punish you, to get you to do something that they may want you to do.
The reason it’s considered to be a form of manipulation is because it becomes a way of using their silence almost as a source of power.
It manifests as stonewalling, with the result of manipulation and then you end up behaviourally doing something they want. One way or another, they get their needs met.
When somebody gives you the silent treatment it almost feels as though your reality is being absolutely denied. You are in a room and you’re with a person and they are not talking to you. You’re thinking “Is this really happening?” and then you might even start blaming yourself. “Maybe I was wrong?” “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that?” “This is my fault”.
Instead of seeing that the silent treatment is completely unacceptable, you may actually start twisting your reality in a way that you’re blaming yourself. That in some way this silent treatment can actually feel like it is acceptable and it’s not.
Manifestation of their lack of interpersonal skills
When you think about what the silent treatment is, it is very childish. It’s very much “I’m not getting my way” and it’s a tantrum, it’s a quiet tantrum but it is nonetheless a tantrum.
So when somebody is throwing a tantrum as an adult through the silent treatment it very much is a manifestation of their emotional immaturity and lack of interpersonal skills.
It really highlights their incapacity to communicate about something they find uncomfortable. Because narcissists find it so difficult to take personal responsibility for anything, their lack of interpersonal skills mean instead of having an adult conversation they will just simply do the silent treatment, which ultimately is a form of manipulation. Their intention is to make you be the grown-up.
Dysregulation is the inability to regulate emotions in any way, it is why narcissists are so prone to rage. Something happens to them and they blow up, instead of having an adult conversation.
When we look at dysregulation with the silent treatment it’s as though there’s so many strong emotions, that instead of being able to regulate them, they are actually manifesting this absolutely dysregulated anger by being completely silent.
It creates exactly the same tension as a rage episode would, but because they can’t manage strong emotion they either fully explode or completely withhold. Either way the emotion is not being communicated. Whether rage or silent treatment it can still be used as punishment for the other person in the relationship.
The victimhood driven silent treatment is something you see a lot more often in covert narcissists, but the silent treatment is a part of every narcissistic pattern:
“Nobody understands me”
“It’s more difficult for me”
The victim narrative is the root of their inability to apologise or to be accountable for their own actions. It is also the reason that they justify being so cruel, heartless and abusive to their victims.
There is this very victimised sense about all kinds of narcissists, the silent treatment becomes a kind of passive aggressive acting out that ultimately leaves you sometimes even taking the blame in these conversations.
Will talk to others
This is what happens when they won’t talk to you, but they will use other people as messengers.
“Will you please tell your brother that the vacuum is downstairs”
“Will you please tell your grandad that I won’t be joining them for dinner”
This is kind of a pseudo-silent treatment, because they’re making this dramatic show of it all. You’ll recognise this if you grew up in this triangulated theme. Where one narcissistic parent will use you ‘the child’ as the communication device to be able to punish the other spouse with the silent treatment.
These are really the primary ways of how the narcissist uses the silent treatment. It can manifest in many different ways:
- One word answers
- Absolute silence
- Talking through other people
They are all classic parts of a narcissistic relationship.
How to Outsmart The Silent Treatment
How do you master it? Don’t give in to it. You can outplay them, it’s a bit like a staring contest. They’re going to give you that silent treatment and you’re often going to fall into that trap of “Maybe this is my fault? Maybe I need to apologise?” Because you just want to break that tension of the silent treatment, but you can train yourself to not give in.
You can out silent treatment them. Now, I’m not saying that this is healthy. I think the healthiest way is to communicate in a respectful way, but since they’re likely not going to do that, you can also show yourself respect and say I’m not going to blame myself for this.
The next time they’re giving you the silent treatment, pretend you’re at a silent meditation retreat (call it The Silent Treat) and try to make the most of it. The reason narcissists get away with the silent treatment is because often we enable it, because we give them the results they want. We apologise, take the blame, take the responsibility and do anything we can to start the conversation again.
Most importantly, view how the narcissist uses the silent treatment as a warning sign of a very unhealthy relationship dynamic. The next time it happens the one thing you should be hearing loudly in the midst of all this silence is alarm bells, because you’re looking at one very big red flag.