how to deal with the silent treatment

How to Deal with the Silent Treatment and Gain the Upper Hand

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So you want to know how to deal with the silent treatment and gain the upper hand, huh?

You can almost smell victory.

And among the thousands of articles out there, all promising you instant results and an immediately healed life, one has caught your fancy.

Just ignore the narcissist, they say.

But there’s a problem.

You’ve heard a lot of good things about ignoring a narcissist.

You’ve also heard many bad things.

What’s true? What’s fiction? Can you really rely on ignoring a narcissist to successfully deal with the silent treatment? How can you effectively navigate the perilous silent treatment waters?

That’s what this post’s about.

An unvarnished look at how to deal with the silent treatment, warts and all.

Let’s get to it.  

But first, let’s figure out if you are being given the silent treatment as a form of abuse…

Is the narcissistic silent treatment abuse?

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 needs of 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.

Narcissists use the silent treatment as a tool for exerting power over someone or creating emotional distance. If you’re on the receiving end of this kind of treatment, you might feel completely out of favor.

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 they always find a way to insert themselves back into your life with barely a hitch.

What many targets of narcissistic abuse confuse for love is actually 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 narcissist in their life. 

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 this sounds like your relationship, then you are being subjected to the silent treatment as a form of punishment, and this is most definitely abuse.

So, how to deal with the silent treatment and gain the upper hand?  Read on for seven tips:

1. Don’t Make the Mistake of Assuming the Narcissist Cares

Don’t ever assume that the narcissist has genuine feelings or cares. This can be one of the toughest realizations for a kind, caring person. It can be very hard to believe that another human being is really that cold and calculating. We have a tendency to go into denial about this sort of thing. But just try to drill this into your head: Narcissists really don’t care.  This is especially true when they use silent treatment to punish you. 

They don’t have the same feelings of longing and remorse as you do after spending time apart.  And they certainly don’t feel guilty about it.  Accepting this will be part of your journey.

2. Don’t Second Guess Yourself with the Narcissist

You don’t need to justify yourself to the narcissist. But, that’s the game they are going to play with you. It’s all about making you doubt yourself and your perceptions.

What narcissists typically engage in is an insidious psychological technique called “gaslighting.”

On a very simple level, it goes like this:

The narcissist does something selfish, and you confront them about it. The narcissist then twists this event around to make it sound like you were the selfish one.  To drive their point further, they disappear off the face of the earth.

Narcissists are experts at reframing reality in a way that makes them look good and you look bad.

While it can be infuriating and confusing, don’t fall for it. Stick to your guns.  The silent treatment is never a healthy or functional way of dealing with problems in your relationship.  

Learn 10 Ways Narcissists Use Silent Treatment to Punish You in this video:

3. Don’t Think That Blocking the Narcissist is Giving Your Power Away

Many people are worried about “letting the narcissist win” or “making the narcissist feel powerful” and use this as a reason not to block the toxic person from their devices and social media. Unfortunately, this form of self-sabotage can keep you stuck for years, never being able to move forward or live a life free from abuse.

 The fact of the matter is, if you block the narcissist, they will feel offended and angry, but they certainly won’t feel powerful. Quite the opposite. They will be riddled with rejection and feel powerLESS.  

They feel powerful, however, when they see you’re trying to move forward with your life but have left them with complete access to contact you. This makes them feel like a GOD (or GODDESS), especially if you have a new partner in your life.

This tells the narcissist, under no uncertain terms, that they still have a place in your mind and in your life. They see it as an invitation to send you random crippling abuse via SMS, to send out the occasional “dipping” message (to see if they can hook you), and to continue to keep you participating in their mind games…and this is exactly what happens when people don’t block the narcissist.

 What most people don’t realize is this — while it may be a power struggle to the narcissist – you should not see it the same way. This is a matter of emotional survival. I have seen people out of the relationship for a while – who haven’t blocked the narcissist – and these are the same people who deteriorate to the point that they lose their jobs, lose their homes, and sometimes even custody of their own children.  

This kind of relationship instills trauma, and it should be treated with the same seriousness as any traumatic event. Would we run in front of a shooter because we want to show them we’re not afraid? Would we invite a rapist into our home to show them they don’t have any effect on us? Of course not…and we should feel the same way about blocking the narcissist. It must be done.

4. Make sure they can’t reach you by phone or social media

Although you may feel an overpowering urge to leave the lines of communication open for them despite their ghosting you, it’s best to ensure they can’t have their cake and eat it, too.

Narcissists often can’t contain themselves and may check in to see if they’ve successfully ruined your life.  If they’re able to get through to you, they can be very convincing by pretending to care about your well-being.  However, once you’ve told them how you’re having a hard time and can’t get motivated to do anything, they’ll hang up with a smirk on their face because 1) they obliterated any progress you may have made and, 2) they know they’ll have an easy in once they decide the new supply needs a good ghosting of their own.

Remember, when the narcissist reaches out, it’s not because they miss you or feel remorse for how they’ve treated you.  When they return, it’s often due to an initial Silent Treatment they’re giving the new supply.

To the narcissist, it’s never too early to plant the seeds of rejection and abandonment.

Block their number and remove them from your social media accounts.  In fact, don’t post anything on your social media about their being gone.  This way, if they open a fake account to spy on your mental state, it will appear that you couldn’t care less that they ghosted you, which would be wonderful redress.

5. Remember that the narcissistic silent treatment has nothing to do with you as a person

It’s easy to imagine that there’s something about you that triggers the narcissist to pull their disappearing acts.  This is precisely what the narcissist wants you to think.  Because, if you believe it’s all your fault, they can avoid taking responsibility for their abusive behaviors. 

In fact, the narcissist’s entire pathological agenda is geared towards making you feel responsible for everything they’re doing wrong in the relationship, which almost always involves various stages of relationships with other people

This reason alone is why they must disappear for days or weeks.  The added bonus for them is that this also succeeds in strengthening any abandonment vulnerabilities you have. 

You may believe your love can change them, but it simply won’t.  The only way to win is not to play. 

6. Don’t fall for their ‘horrible childhood’ or ‘family of origin wounding’ tales

The narcissist is keenly aware that you have a caring, compassionate heart.  They know you like to help people overcome their pain, striving to make life easier for them.

This is precisely why, when they come back after a round of silent treatment, they will often tell the woeful tale of how they are so scarred from childhood, they get a little wonky when they feel they are getting too close to someone.  They can’t help it.  It’s some deep, unconscious drive to bounce when the relationship gets too serious.

You’re not going to leave them alone and vulnerable, are you? *cue the furrowed brow and single tear*

Don’t be deceived.  If the narcissist pulls the same disappearing act every time you want to have basic, adult communication, it’s not due to wounding, it’s due to their being highly manipulative and abusive.

7. Never believe that there is a way to successfully communicate to the narcissist that the silent treatment hurts you

There are reams of articles that give you very unfortunate advice on how to deal with the silent treatment.

Dig deep into the reasons why, they suggest.  Respond to the silent treatment with calmness.  Clearly state your boundaries.  Talk to the person kindly.

These recommendations might be helpful if you’re dealing with a normal person, but the major flaw here is that normal people don’t use the silent treatment on a regular basis, and trying to implement these steps with a narcissist is downright laughable because they will never work.  In fact, they might cause the narcissist to lash out even harder! 

You simply cannot use logic to deal with an illogical person.  Narcissists tend to do the polar opposite of what you’d expect in a reciprocal and rewarding relationship.  This is why you can never seem to ‘make them get it’ or help them finally see the light. 

They don’t want to see the light because they’d rather keep you in the dark.  This explains why years of couple’s counseling and therapy never help in the long term when you’re dealing with a narcissist.

NEVER believe the narcissist will be a decent person. 

It’s so easy to fall for their false friendliness because people like you and I always want to see and believe in the goodness of others.

But when it comes to the narcissist in your life, you cannot fall into a false sense of security and believe they will do the right thing.

Don’t throw caution to the wind just because, in a brief moment, it feels like the two of you are friends and you want to give them the benefit of the doubt. This will backfire on you. Every time. 

How to Deal With the Silent Treatment

One of the first steps out of Narcissistic abuse is the realization that one is, in fact, dealing with a Narcissist.

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

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.

It is in comparing one’s own experiences with the experiences of others who have endured similar (Narcissistic) dysfunction and abuse that one finally becomes aware of the problem of Narcissism and all that it entails. With awareness comes choice, and with choice comes change.

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.

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.

If this article resonates with you and you know it’s time to stop the chaos, end the mental torture, and begin healing your life. Then I’d love for you to join me our Warrior Inner Circle by claiming your free Beginner’s Healing Roadmap below.

If you’re ready to go deeper and change your life right now, I offer a wide range of effective resources and techniques to protect against toxic people – in my bestselling program, The Essential Break Free Bootcamp.

I’m excited to share with you the psychological tools I and thousands of others have used to heal from narcissistic abuse.

Explore techniques derived from behavioral therapy (vetted by the psychological and neuro-psychological communities) to finally heal your life.

Learn more here!

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Leave a Comment:

Kayla says September 29, 2021

Thank you for this article! My mother in law is a nasty narcissist. She is currently giving our family the silent treatment (again). My husband is a quiet type of man and it pains me to see him silently wondering and hurting from the rejection of his parents. Personally I don’t care if his nasty mother does not like me. But this woman is my husbands mother and that primal desire to make our parents proud and be loved and accepted by family is understandable. I wish I could get him to understand it is not his fault. His mother never forgave him for moving on and creating a life for himself. The depth of selfishness of these toxic narcissists is unending.

She says August 2, 2021

Left a ‘friendship’ with a neighbour10 years ago Have had the silent treatment since. Dicovered she is Narcissist.
It is a small closed community we live in She has recruited flying monkeys (very successfully) from the community and they give me the silent treatent too!(They also help recruit newflying monkeys) Yes I, can rationalise it but it has been very hard to maintain stoic on this.
Recently she made a mistake and used the silent treatment on a new neighbour couple. I am no longer isolated and have been able to share my story with them.
On the whole, have tried to remain silent on this but giving it no oxygen has not killed it!!! Hve take legal advice but hard to proveharassment when nothing is said.
Part of me would like to overtly start to challenge it all and call it out for what it is…
but the other half of me says carry on as I am and keep hoping it wll implode.

JP says July 15, 2021

Your articles are helpful, but I’m wondering if you can on occasion give a bit more focus to those of us with a narcissistic mother. Or is your site meant for those with a narcissistic partner mainly? Thanks!

Anon says July 15, 2021

I have seen the lack of remorse and sadistic sly smiles. I have had enough of gaslighting and verbal assault. The ice water in her cruel veins.
I told her she did not “own her shit”, deflected and blamed the victim and did not care how it made me feel. I then said that she was a toxic bitch.
She got her things and as she walked away said that I “did not understand. “
I hope to hell I never hear from her again. Only trouble and pain. Took many years but I am finally done.

Gina says April 23, 2021

What if the Narcissist is your spouse? It drives me nuts? The pain of the Silent Treatment is unbearable. What to do with the pain? How long do I ignore it?

    Kim Saeed says April 23, 2021

    Hi Gina,

    Sadly, many people suffer narcissistic abuse at the hands of a spouse. Narcissistic abuse is the new form of domestic violence and should be treated with the same seriousness. I generally advise finding a way to leave before further damage is done to you. Ignoring the pain won’t help and is, in fact, impossible to do. Narcissistic abuse doesn’t go away and there isn’t much you can do to heal from it while in the same environment that’s causing your emotional injuries. If you haven’t grabbed my free resource yet, you may want to start there:



Anonymous says March 12, 2020

It is hard because the narcissist is my mother and she has got my 23 year old pregnant daughter ignoring me with the silent treatment and she is the middle person blaming me and telling me its my fault when Ive never shown my daughter anything but love and acceptance. My problem is substance abuse but I have never let it affect my love for my children- it is a personal problem that I am punished for even when I seek help- I have no support system.

    loni says August 9, 2020

    That’s very sad. I think all you can do is tell your daughter you are trying and then take steps to do so. Maybe reach out to her, send her cards, call to show her that you care. Don’t take a back seat to your mother. Be the mother you want to be and the grandmother you want to be too. And continue getting help until you reach sobriety…and every step you take give yourself a pat on the back for making progress. Also let your daughter know that you’re making progress and of course remind her that you love her. I hope everything turns out well for you and that wonderful things happen soon for you.

    JP says July 15, 2021

    Anonymous – don’t blame yourself too much. Your substance problem is surely an escape from the pain you have. I wish you good luck in overcoming it. You can do it. I have, others have. Yes, it’s a daily struggle, but it’s better than abusing.

anonymous says September 26, 2019

How do you suggest interacting with a narcissist who is in a relationship with a close family member that I want to maintain contact with? Even though I am ignoring the narcissist (social media, text, phone) I will sometimes be forced into situations where I have to have face to face contact with the narcissist at family events. My close family member also complains about the narcissist and I don’t want to have any discussions anymore about the narcissist. I just change the subject or make a neutral comment. I absolutely don’t want to lose contact with my family member.

    Anonymous says October 10, 2019

    Self love and self esteem are water to the Narcissistic Abuser fire. As long as you are communicating self love, and encouraging it, all will be inoculated.

Anonymous says August 30, 2019

I had no clue about narcissistic people till my husband left me 5years ago. Slowly I learned about this on my own it was like I was guided to several different things to study about all very knowledgeble. This man was like no other love Id ever felt. I was high on a pedistool for 10 1/2 yrs. But there’s a part of me wishes ID never meant him. That means 19 years of my life was fake and wasted. I had lost everything but my car. He said he had to find himself when he left me. He found himself in the arms of another female that he’d been seeing before he even left. The situation is strange I’m more aware now it’s is traumu. He striped me of my dignity self worth,integrity,my confidence. I will never be the same person again.

Abenna Boateng says August 9, 2019

Kimsaeed. Your site has enlightened me and given me all the information accurately that I have been dealing with as am currently pregnant for my narcissistic boyfriend. His been the best and worse person I ever met. Few days back that’s like 9days he went on the silent treatment after complaining that I was the cause of all the wrong things in his life and without caring if I have to visit the hospital he compares me to his great grandmother who never new antenantal and gave birth healthy. Cursing my family etc I was sick to my stomach when he kept insisting I moved out of his house after making me neglecte my family, quiet my job and presently in court am holding up for him that I committed misappropriation meanwhile he did and am in court with him watching him put everything on me while I just keep telling the judge I used the client fund even thou I studied law and I know the consequences. He appears blameless before everyone. During this silent treatment I would be having morning sickness and no help, no food, water or anything as he left the house came back N would nt even eat when I got money but go out and buy food for himself. I decided to ask only men for help on if I should go back to my mum and siblings all said yes, with lil shame cause it’s better to be ashamed than to move from the masters bedroom where he stopped laying to the attic in my condition. I went home on the 7th August 2019 and to my surprise av been so welcomed that am healing and Kimsaeed gave me that courage. He hasn’t called me to even know if am alright cause he didn’t even see me packing… Ll raise my kid with family and fortunately my mum is a prominent person/barister and he will be served with a writ of summon and pay all child and mother care.thankyou everyone I believe we will heal and life will be most beautiful and worth living. Glory to God

Cindi~Rose Soutter says August 8, 2019

Our son is 20, he is living with me and insists on seeing his father every weekend! I go through hell will my emotions every weekend because I don’t want to keep him from his father, as well has me being 100% dependent on his dad for financial support to be able to live! How does one go no contact knowing it’s best for my emotional and physical health yet be able to go no contact hoping he won’t stop paying the bills? I’m disabled can’t work due to autoimmune chronic pain brought on by this man and I cannot escape!

Ju says August 8, 2019

What should I do if the narcissist is my sister in law… And she keeps sending her kids with grandpa for a visit? Is this a type of hovering? It’s like she knows when I don’t have the time… And them my father in law calls… If I say I can’t… They don’t try again for a couple of months… She didn’t even invite our daughter for her cousins’ birthday… I’m thinking I shouldn’t receive the children anymore…and that sucks…

Lala says July 29, 2019

Feel devastated
Can’t get over with
Don’t understand

    Anonymous says August 29, 2019

    Forget that narcissist punk lala

Charlotte Poth says July 29, 2019

I am so deeply grateful for you and the healing work you are doing, Kim.

It is miraculous that this exact article was waiting for me in my inbox at the EXACT moment I needed to hear this. It really is remarkable.

It’s as if you knew precisely what I was going through and rushed to my aid.

I can’t thank you enough for guiding me through the most heartbreaking, lonely and dissociating experience of my life.

Falling in love with a monster who abandons you over and over again is the loneliest you can possibly be.

Thank you for letting me know I’m not entirely alone.

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