Is the narcissistic silent treatment abuse?
Feeling included is crucial to the human experience. Humans must feel connected to each other to be happy, even introverts who enjoy a large amount of independence.
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the need to belong and feel accepted falls under the basic needs of food, water, and safety. In fact, this need can be so strong, it can override the need for food and safety.
Psychologists consider the narcissistic silent treatment a form of abuse. It’s a popular form of mental torture used by narcissistic individuals, whereby they cut their victims off by not talking to them for extended periods of time. Sometimes days or weeks, which keeps the victim in a constant state of fight-or-flight during which they feel isolated and rejected, as well as physically sick.
The body’s physical reactions to this mental anguish are real. Headaches, stomachaches, and a general punched-in-the-gut feeling are the most commonly reported symptoms.
Narcissistic Silent Treatment is Done With Malice
It’s important to remember when you are at the receiving end of the narcissistic silent treatment to not take it personally. This is not the narcissist’s first go-round. They have been using the silent treatment to manipulate people long before you came along.
However, knowing this doesn’t really take away the pain when it’s happening to you
When the narcissist ignores, shuns, and ostracizes you, it’s more hostile and aggressive than if they’d verbally attacked you. In fact, narcissists give their significant others (and even their own children) the Silent Treatment to intentionally inflict emotional distress.
The narcissistic silent treatment slams the door on connection, diminishes the relationship, and manipulates the recipient into a place where their human, emotional needs are shamed, ridiculed, and reduced. It is scheming and tactical.
They want to send a very clear message to you —
You do not exist! You are unworthy! You are not important!
Because this type of abuse is harder to specify, it can be harder to heal from. When someone is ostracized it affects the part of their brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. Silent treatments trigger what is called “social pain” in this part of the brain, which also detects actual physical pain, leaving just as many internal scars as if it were done to your body.
But, the narcissistic silent treatment is often more painful than actual physical pain. If you try to recall physical pain, you might not remember much. But, remembering emotional pain can actually stir up more negative feelings and pain than old physical pain. Thinking about emotional pain hurts more than thinking about physical pain.
The depth of pain from the silent treatment depends upon the intensity of the narcissist’s ignoring. The pain detected by the brain then makes the victim feel lonely and rejected.
It lowers self-esteem and the victim thinks their life is unworthy. It causes great harm to the sentiments of the victim. This condition may even cause critical conditions and permanent damage to the victim’s psyche.
Narcissists use this fear to keep you in a perpetual cycle of anxiety, causing you to crave their return when they give you the Silent Treatment, knowing they can do whatever they please and you will take them back with little opposition. You might verbalize your dislike of their choice and explain how hurtful it is, but take away the words and the fact is that they insert themselves back into your life with barely a hitch.
Narcissistic silent treatment is an aggressive measure of control and punishment for something you did; a sadistic form of “time-out”, ostracizing you as motivation for you to behave. It is the ultimate form of devaluation, causing you to feel voiceless, alone, dismissed, negated as a person; invisible.
The detrimental, holistic effects of the narcissistic silent treatment include:
- Emotional – Since it is a form of social rejection; it provokes a mix of negative emotions including frustration, intense anger, and eventually, resignation and despair.
- Psychological – Psychological effects of the silent treatment include low self-esteem, a sense of loss and not belonging, increased stress, and loss of control.
- Behavioral – The constant fear of receiving the silent treatment casts a shadow of uncertainty in your life, you begin to second-guess yourself: Am I doing the right thing? Am I saying the right words? You try hard to avoid it, which changes you to a person that is no longer YOU.
- Physical – Different levels of emotional stress often lead to physical symptoms and illnesses, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cognitive decline, weight loss or gain, blood clots, and even certain types of cancer.
Examples of Narcissistic Silent Treatment
- You point out that something they did was unacceptable (i.e., cheating, lying) and the narcissist leaves and stays gone for a week. Then, comes back to your door as though nothing ever happened.
- The two of you exchange text messages regarding an important issue. The narcissist texts “Bye” and you don’t hear from them again for five days. Or, they say they’ll come over then never show up, nor explain their absence afterward.
- You sit down beside the narcissist to talk about something that’s bothering you and they proceed to read the newspaper.
- You ask the narcissist a question, and they carry on as if they didn’t hear you, even if you repeat the question a second or third time.
- The two of you get into an argument. The narcissist packs their suitcase and stays gone for a month with no attempt to contact you and ignores any texts you may send them.
- Your beloved pet dies and instead of being there for you emotionally, the narcissist reacts with cold indifference and perhaps even expresses “disgust”, accusing you of taking advantage of the situation to get a shred of emotion from them.
How to Handle the Narcissistic Silent Treatment
When you love the narcissist, it’s almost impossible to even think of ways you might stand up for yourself due to the threat of the narcissist disappearing again.
But, what many victims of narcissistic abuse confuse for love is really a manifestation of their fear of abandonment, which has been magnified by frequent silent treatments, as well as the devalue and discard phases carried out by the sadistic narcissist.
As a result, they remain in a constant state of fight-or-flight, with no seeming choice but to suffer through panic attacks, loss of appetite or binge-eating, rapid heartbeat, sleep disturbances, mood swings, and horrible, undying fear and obsessive thinking.
If someone in your life has used this form of emotional abuse to get you to comply with their demands, you should consider using the opportunity to initiate No Contact. Do not reward this passive-aggressive abuse tactic, as it will lead to them doing it even more since they derive a sense of satisfaction (if not “guilty” pleasure) at seeing the negative effect they can have on you.
When a narcissist uses the silent treatment against you, he or she is playing an emotional game of chicken with your mind. You will be tempted to reach out and speak first. When you do, the narcissist will have considered your reconciliation action a form of “flinching.” In their gamebook, they win, and you lose.
Since narcissists don’t experience emotions the same way most people do, it is much easier for them to keep their “cool” and not flinch or swerve in their emotional chicken game.
Don’t send pleading text messages or lengthy emails asking them to respond to you. From their perspective, it proves to them that they are highly important, even more important than you are to yourself.
Do, however, be prepared if the narcissist tries to hoover you. You might erringly believe that they are trying to contact you because they miss you or because they are having second thoughts about the way they’ve treated you.
But this is not the truth at all. The narcissist only reaches out after a bout of narcissistic silent treatment to see if you’ll allow them to get away with their bad behavior.
After a week or more of the silent treatment, many narcissists will absolutely test you to see if you are still willing to engage with them as if nothing happened. If there are no consequences or boundaries in place to stop them, a Narcissist will do whatever suits their needs of the moment. In this case, this includes dropping in and out of your life whenever they get the urge.
Implementing No Contact during the silent treatment in a relationship would put you back into a place of power because when they prance back onto the scene believing you’ll fall to their feet, they’ll encounter nothing but the sound of crickets.
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