If the silent treatment is a form of narcissistic abuse, does going no contact make you a narcissist? Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of comments from viewers who are worried that they might be the narcissist in their relationship. Most of the time, these comments are on videos related to the silent treatment, ghosting or things narcissists do or say in any given situation.
One of the most common concerns is whether going no contact makes you a narcissist. People learn that the silent treatment and ghosting can be considered forms of narcissistic abuse, and they equate this to the way we treat a narcissist when we go no contact with them.
I get why they feel this way – it’s a little confusing. In both the silent treatment and in ghosting, the narcissist ignores us and/or doesn’t respond when we try to reach out to them. And that’s exactly what we do when we’re using the no contact method to heal ourselves.
So what is the difference here?
How is no contact different from the silent treatment and ghosting?
Are we just as bad as the narcissist for choosing to end contact? Does this make us “one of them?” If the silent treatment is narcissistic abuse, does no contact make you a narcissist? And what are the differences between the silent treatment, ghosting and the no contact rule? Let’s do this.
First, let’s quickly define the silent treatment, ghosting, and no contact.
What is the silent treatment?
In a nutshell, the silent treatment is a manipulation tactic where the narcissist will stop talking to you for days, hours, weeks or even months in order to punish you for some perceived slight. It can cause serious emotional and psychological damage if you don’t realize what is happening.
What is ghosting?
Ghosting is basically exactly what it sounds like – the narcissist disappears on you without a word. This can be for any number of reasons – they may be attempting to punish you for something, or it may be a totally selfish reason in which the narcissist hasn’t even considered the possibility that you’d be bothered by their absence. Remember, they have a lack of empathy, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t consider your feelings. In ghosting, the narcissist might reappear at any given time, ready to consume more of that narcissistic supply they so desperately need.
What is no contact?
And then there’s no contact, which, if we’re being honest, is both a coping mechanism as well as a technique that is practically required to heal after narcissistic abuse. It involves removing yourself from the narcissist’s life. You stop seeing, speaking to, and interacting with the narcissist. This allows you to clear your life of the negative energy they bring into every room.
So what are the similarities and differences here?
No Contact vs. Ghosting and the Silent Treatment
Let’s start with what’s similar. As I mentioned earlier, in all three cases, one person intentionally avoids the other person. And, in all cases, the end of contact can be done without a word to the other person involved.
But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
The differences between the silent treatment, ghosting and no contact go much deeper and are significant. So what differentiates no contact from the silent treatment and ghosting?
1. The Motivation/Intention
As I mentioned, narcissists give you the silent treatment because they want to punish you for something they think you’ve done wrong. Often, this is the result of a narcissistic injury. Ghosting can be done for the same reason, or it can be done out of pure selfishness and a lack of concern for your feelings and wellbeing. No contact is more about protecting yourself so that you can be safe and heal after going through an abusive, toxic relationship. The silent treatment is passive-aggressive and abusive, while no contact is really less about the narcissist and more about you. In no contact, you aren’t trying to hurt the narcissist – you’re just trying to save yourself.
2. What You Get Out of It
Again, the narcissist is often trying to get something from you when they give you the silent treatment. They’re trying to get you to do (or not do) something. Or they’re trying to put you in your place. Or make you submit to their will. But when it comes to going no contact, you want nothing from the narcissist except to be left alone. You don’t have an ulterior motive that involves them at all – you’re just trying to get away from them so you can have the space you need to heal.
3. The Trauma Bonding Part
Another difference between no contact and the narcissist’s ghosting or silent treatment is that no contact is that one of the first steps to resolving the trauma bond developed during your toxic relationship with the narcissist. Since trauma bonding causes you to feel sort of addicted to the narcissist (and you can learn more about that at the video I’ll link for you right there and in the description below), going no contact can be likened to an addict going cold turkey to quit their drug of choice. Like it or not, the narcissist has an almost druglike effect on us after all of the years of the trauma they’ve put us through – in fact, research shows the same part of our brain is affected by them as is affected by drugs. But while most narcissists have also suffered some form of trauma, usually in childhood, their reasons for giving you the silent treatment or ghosting you are usually not directly related to it (but it can be indirectly related since their impulsiveness and lack of empathy probably stem from their reaction to that trauma).
So how do you know you’re not the narcissist?
Often, codependents feel responsible for everything that goes wrong in their relationships, and this is often a result of the fact that toxic people over the course of their lives have conditioned them to feel this way. We know that one of the biggest red flags of a toxic narcissist is that they refuse to take responsibility for anything other than positive things they (or others) do. Anything that might be seen in a negative light or that doesn’t portray them as the vision of perfection they have for themselves? They squarely place the blame on literally anyone or anything else.
So, it’s fairly safe to assume that if you’re worried that you’re the narcissist, you might not be.
Now, there is such a thing as narcissistic fleas – and that might be where your confusion is here. Narcissistic fleas are just little behaviors and habits that victims pick up from narcissists, such as verbal bullying, coldness, or an apparent lack of empathy. The good news is these “fleas” can be eradicated with mindfulness and intention.
But how could this be? We are so different from narcissists. We feel deeply and we aren’t bullies.
Well, look at this logically for a moment: when we spend a lot of time with someone, we naturally tend to pick up certain habits and speech patterns from them. For example, when I moved back to the St. Louis area after college, I recorded my outgoing message for my voicemail. After being back for six months or so, I called it one day and totally freaked out – I sounded completely weird to myself. During my years in college, I had picked up a bit of the country twang that people in my college town all seemed to have.
And, on a slightly more relevant note, when my ex-husband would be in the wrong mood, he’d take sort of a bullying tone with communication. He’d always talk in sort of an accusatory way – and even if he didn’t directly accuse me of something, it always felt like he did. A year or two after I left him, I found myself using a similar tone with a friend at one point. Luckily, I recognized it and did my best to change it.
When someone accuses you of being a narcissist
But what if the person you believe is a narcissist turns the tables on you and tells you that you are in fact the narcissist, and not them? What is going on when the narcissist calls you a narcissist for going no contact?
Their logic seems to go like this: “Well, you said that the silent treatment or ghosting is narcissistic abuse. You aren’t talking to me and won’t see me, so you must be the narcissist. Could they be right? Are we all toxic narcissists because we choose to go no contact?”
I think you and I both know the answer to that one. But just to make it perfectly clear, let me fill you in. There are two things to consider here.
The Hoover Maneuver
First, the narcissist is intentionally trying to manipulate you into responding to them, so by accusing you of being the very thing they are, they tempt you to respond to them and reengage – they hope you’ll argue with them so they can hoover you back in, one way or the other. Hoovering is what we call it when the narcissist tries to “suck you back in” after the discard. This can be drama-related or it can be an attempt to reconcile the relationship or to get you to break no contact. In other words, the narcissist will call you a narcissist to get you to accept the blame for everything that they’ve done wrong (plus anything you did in reaction to said wrongdoing) and then get you back into their little circle of narcissistic supply. Don’t fall for it. That brings me to my next point.
Projection, Gaslighting, and the Smear Campaign
And second, in addition to projecting their own bad behavior and qualities on to you, the narcissist is, in a way, gaslighting you with this kind of accusation.
In case you’re new around here, gaslighting is a pervasive and highly-effective tactic the narcissist uses to manipulate you into doubting your own reality, not trusting yourself and your perceptions, and questioning your own sanity. This little mind game is quite effective, especially when done over the course of several years in a relationship, and it helps the narcissist sort of brainwash you into doing what they want.
While self-awareness is scarce among narcissists, they seem to intrinsically and systematically extract narcissistic supply from anyone who allows it. And, whether you were raised by, married to or otherwise engaged with the narcissist in your own life, you KNOW they know they can get it from you. You know they have a freaking map to every button you’ve got – and they won’t hesitate to push them.
So, if the narcissist can insert even a small amount of doubt into your head about the fact that they are the reason that your relationship would ultimately fail? Well, they feel a strange kind of validation and satisfaction. Plus, they’ll use this as part of the sob story they’re going to tell about you in their inevitable smear campaign.
That’s where they’ll tell everyone you know (and even some people you don’t know) about what a horrible partner, son, daughter, sister, brother, employee – or whatever – you are, so that they can get attention from other people, who will feel sorry for them and give them more narcissistic supply – you know, attention, validation, pity. The stuff that narcissists need to keep going.
So, what is the bottom line here? Basically, if you are going no contact, you’re doing that in order to prevent further abuse and trauma being inflicted on you by a person who has proven repeatedly that they will never stop hurting you. You are not doing anything TO them, other than not allowing them to be part of your life. It is not a move meant to hurt them or get revenge on them. It is simply a move to save yourself so you can heal. If someone is giving you the silent treatment or ghosting you, they do not necessarily intend to completely end contact with you – they simply intend to hurt, manipulate and control you. Or, in some cases, they simply just don’t care or don’t think about how their behavior would make you feel. And even if they do, they are unlikely to be bothered by your feelings.
Take the Narcissist Test
How can you be sure you’re not the narcissist in all of this? How do you know you’re not just justifying your behavior by telling yourself that you’re going no contact, but secretly you’re just ghosting a perfectly nice person?
Ask yourself two simple questions:
1. Do you care how people feel and sometimes change your behavior because of how someone else feels?
2. How did or does the person you’re going no contact with make you feel when you spend time around them?
If you are a narcissist, you would’ve answered “no” to number one and you would have varied answers to number two. If you are not, you would have answered yes to number one and most likely, you’d find yourself feeling terrible, unlovable, worthless or otherwise negative when you have spent time with the person in question. They hardly ever make you feel good these days, but they may have once made your heart soar. Still not sure? You can take our narcissism test here.
Question of the day: Have you ever worried that no contact, ghosting, and silent treatment were all the same thing? Have you ever worried that you might be the narcissist? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, and share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it!
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.