Toxic Silence: Why Narcissists Go Silent and How to Cope

Written by Angela Atkinson

How do you deal with living with a narcissist who is giving you the silent treatment? Someone who will co-exist with you in the same house while literally ignoring you? What if that goes on for days? Weeks?

How do you beat the narcissist silent treatment?

Not only is it emotionally exhausting, but it makes you feel like you’re completely worthless, and it can make you feel like you’re losing your mind! So what are you supposed to do when you’re the victim of the silent treatment?

Most experts will tell you that ideally, this would be a two-word answer: no contact. But in real life, things don’t always work ideally and people sometimes need to live with narcissists – so let’s dig into this.How to Survive a Narcissist Silent Treatment

What is the narcissist’s silent treatment?

Just to be clear, the silent treatment is a manipulation tactic where a toxic 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.

Believe it or not, this is just one of the many signs of gaslighting and emotional abuse you’ll notice if you’re in a toxic relationship with an abusive narcissist.

And, in the case of a covert narcissist, you might often find yourself getting the old silent treatment – AKA the discard phase.

Understanding the Narcissist’s Silent Treatment

The first thing you have to do is to educate yourself about the situation. I always say that knowledge is power, and the first fact you need to know about this issue is exactly why narcissists give you the silent treatment in the first place.

Related: Inside the Devalue and Discard Phase

It’s important to recognize that while many people have times when they need to retreat to think about things, someone who cares about you will never use this abusive tactic to punish you. This isn’t a tactic that a healthy person would use to manipulate you. Normal people don’t punish someone they love for THEIR bad behavior (such as being caught in a lie), but narcissists most definitely will. This should be a red flag for you.

Let’s discuss why narcissists are so prone to using the silent treatment as a way to manipulate and punish you.

Why Narcissists Give You the Silent Treatment (The Psychology)

See, whether they recognize it consciously or not, narcissists are wired to sort of “push your buttons” in order to get what they want.

Now, you might wonder which button they’re trying to push when they just go silent, right? You might be surprised to find out that it’s not about making you crazy from lack of communication or pure boredom – rather, it’s about playing on your own worst fears.

And, I’m betting, one of your worst fears is the fear of being alone in the world with no one to help or support or just be there for you. Am I right? And I’m guessing that, if you’re currently involved (or were previously involved) with a narcissist, you’re thinking of all kinds of little things the narcissist did in order to play on your fears.

Get over your fears and get on with your life! Join my free 5-day fear-busting e-course.

So, by verbally and emotionally “cutting you off,” the narcissist offers you a taste of what life might be without his charming godlike awesome self (did you detect that bit of sarcasm there??).

So, that’s the why – the narcissist ignores and belittles and devalues you because it plays on your fear of being alone. It is his hope that in enacting this silent narcissistic rage against you, he will force you into submission and into being the good little narcissistic supply he needs.

Plus, the silent treatment works particularly well on sensitive, empathic people (who are often quite attractive to narcissists), because we are wired to respond to and attempt to soothe the emotions of the people around us, especially those we love.

You feel me?

You Don’t Have to Take the Silent Treatment Lying Down (How to Beat the Narcissist’s Silent Treatment)

Okay, so how do you deal with this behavior without completely losing your mind?

If you’re staying in the relationship because you have no choice, you can play the game. But in the end, the best option is to leave and move forward.

With that being said, we all know that sometimes it’s easier said than done – and we all have our reasons for the choices we make and for why we “don’t just leave already if it’s so bad.” So, as always, I want to say that if you are being physically abused, none of the following is relevant, and I want you to get help now – stop reading and start packing, sister.

Make No Mistake: The Silent Treatment IS Abuse

The fact is that the silent treatment is painful and it makes you miserable. As someone who is likely codependent, you may feel that you need to fix whatever you did wrong in order to get the narcissist to be nice to you again. But the truth is that this is exactly what the narcissist wants – for you to bend over backward trying to appease them. All the while, the narcissist has no intention of allowing that to happen – they will only stop using the silent treatment when it is convenient for them or they want or need something from you.

But if you work on your self-esteem, and you learn how to set proper boundaries, and you recognize that you are worthy of love and respect – you’re already on your way to learning how to disarm the narcissist‘s silent treatment. You don’t just have to accept it and carry around this false hope that one day, the narcissist will change. (Chances are, they won’t.)

How to Disarm the Narcissist Who is Using Silent Treatment

Picture this. You’re getting the silent treatment again,  a lovely part of the discard phase that everyone who’s ever been in a narcissist’s path can recall. Maybe you’ve been accused of being selfish or of ignoring the narcissist’s emotional or physical needs, of being dishonest, arrogant, lazy or any number of other insulting descriptives.

(But, for the record, what’s really happening most of the time is projection—narcissists project their own inadequacies onto their victims. So as usual, it’s all about the narcissist, not about you.)

Assuming you’re going to play the game, this is what you do to cope with the silent treatment.

The next time you’re confronted with the icy, hateful silent treatment for yet another perceived infraction, I want you to come back here and read this article again. And I want you to remember that this is a game of control – the narcissist believes he can control you with his lack of communication and concern.

The only way to take back the power here is to refuse to respond. You just go on about your life as though he isn’t there, or you do whatever you’d normally do and you blatantly ignore his behavior, no matter how pissed off he gets.

That means:

  • Do not send him texts trying to reason with him.
  • Do not post whiney crap on your Facebook page for all to see.
  • Do not allow him to know that he is affecting you in any way at all.
  • Do not give him what he wants when he behaves this way.

When he realizes he’s not breaking your heart, he’ll try something new. And while this will not solve your narcissist problem, it will stop him from enacting the silent treatment for long. More information on narcissists and the silent treatment in this video.

When the Silent Treatment Ends: Beware the Hoover

One last tip: when the narcissist decides the silent treatment is over and they need your narcissistic supply again, they will do anything in their power to “suck you back in,” a move we call “the hoover maneuver.” Don’t fall for it – it’s not really going to get better, and they’re not really planning to change. In fact, the moment you relent and allow the narcissist back into your heart and life – they’ll go right back to the same old behavior.

This video might help.

Have you ever had to deal with the narcissist’s silent treatment? What did you do to cope? 

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