The Narcissist Silent Treatment is a classic treatment used by the Covert Narcissist.

Let’s begin with a reminder of what drives narcissistic behavior. Narcissists feel they must be in the control seat over you…

Narcissists have an attitude of entitlement and superiority, which perpetuates a condescending attitude. And when you do not fall in line with their program they become quite upset, the narcissist either becomes quite vocal, or you get the narcissist silent treatment. They are thin-skinned and defensive by nature, meaning they don’t introspect, but blame instead. They are bullies and will not rest until they have conquered you.

There are many ways a narcissist can do these things – there is the more vocal side of the narcissist which we will go over in this article, as well as the silent side of the narcissist – the narcissist silent treatment. Which is equally just as horrible.

There are many tactics used by narcissists who want to remind you of their superiority over you:

  • Shouting
  • Accusing
  • Shaming
  • Coercion

These (and other tactics) would indicate overt narcissism. 

But from time to time, they shift gears and go into the direction of covert narcissism. All the ingredients of the narcissistic mindset are still in play, but with a coy, less blatant twist. And a favorite covert tool in their tool shed is the narcissist silent treatment. It can be understood as a means of maintaining control over you, but with the least personal vulnerability.

Let’s suppose, for instance, that you had a disagreement with the narcissist that did not end well. Or maybe you prioritized a matter contradicting what that person wanted. Perhaps you erred or simply managed a task differently, prompting the narcissist to seethe.

In such moments, the narcissist can think:  “You deserve to be punished!”  “You’ll pay dearly for disappointing me.”  “I will not associate with someone as flawed as you.” 

Then reaching into the tool shed for a covert means of setting you straight, they pull out The Narcissist Silent Treatment. Going into shut-down mode, the narcissist refuses to look at you. Your questions will go unanswered.  That person might just ghost you, disappearing for long spells. Or maybe if there is an attempt from you to communicate, you will receive a grunt, or a one word answer, and that’s it.

So what is a narcissist trying to accomplish via The Silent Treatment?

The narcissist wants you to feel unsettled and uncertain.  By using minimalist communication, narcissists hope to put you into a state of emotional confusion.  They love it when you imply:  “Uh oh, I’ve really blown it now, and I have to do all that is possible to gain favor from this person.”  The narcissist wants you to wallow in pain and discomfort.

But let’s ask an incredibly basic question:  “If a person has to resort to such manipulative tactics in the midst of disagreements, how much emotional energy should you invest in that relationship?”

Here are some points to consider as you move forward:

1. When narcissists play the Silent Treatment game, it’s just that, a game. The only way you will lose is if you enter into the contest. And that’s not necessary.

2. Instead, it is your task to discern your own healthy, separate path. While it would be nice if the narcissist joins you, your ultimate well-being does not hinge upon it.

3. Let the narcissist have the space implied by the Silent Treatment game and move on. Invest emotionally in people who have a higher level of maturity.

While you may not be able to separate completely from the narcissist, you can determine to individualize your efforts to be mature. Trust yourself, and when necessary follow your best instincts. The best response to the Narcissist Silent Treatment game is to move forward with your common sense leading the way. And if the narcissist cannot respond with common sense, keep moving. There is no need to waste emotional energy fretting over their moods.

Les Carter, Ph.D.

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narcissist silent treatment, The Narcissist Silent Treatment: Covert Narcissism