The Narcissist’s Silent Treatment

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Silent Treatment
Silent Treatment
n. Informal

Maintenance of aloof silence toward another as an expression of one’s anger or disapproval


Although the narcissist’s frequent use of the silent treatment may seem like a relief from their criticism and rages, it can be just as damaging to the victim as other forms of emotional and psychological abuse.

 The Silent Treatment

The silent treatment is a common punishment in many relationships. It is manifested by one partner who completely ignores the other: going through their typical day as if the other person were invisible or absent, even if they are standing right in front of them or talking to them. Some have argued that the silent treatment is more abusive than physical harm as it can be more appropriately thought of as a form of torture. This is especially true the longer it goes on. It is usually used to express contempt or disapproval. The term was first coined in 1947; the silent treatment is very common and used by a lot of people.

Narcissistic Silent Treatment

The silent treatment is frequently utilized as a lever to gain control in the power struggles of many relationships. Never is this more evident than in the conflicts of a narcissistic relationship. When a narcissist uses the silent treatment with someone, they take it to the extreme. A narcissist may refuse to speak to or even acknowledge someone for great lengths of time- and then demand an apology that is out of proportion to the perceived offense. By demanding this apology, it supports the narcissist’s inflated view of himself or herself. The silent treatment is a common form of abuse used by people who cannot tolerate being on the receiving end of someone else’s self-assertiveness. The silent treatment effectually cuts the victim off from the abuser; it sends a clear message to the victim about how insignificant they are and how easy it is for the abuser to live without them. It is utilized by insecure people with a poor self image who cannot keep up their end of a relationship through dialogue. When the victim does something that displeases the narcissist, they cease to exist for a certain period of time-most often extensive and disproportionate amounts of time.

The narcissist also uses the silent treatment, apathy or a general current of hostility to throw their partner off balance. The narcissist does this to find out exactly how much control they have over their victim. The most typical reason is to “punish” their partner for something they failed to do or some wrong they did (and probably are unaware of). Of course, if the partner directly asks the narcissist about it they will deny it.

It seems plausible that the narcissist also uses the silent treatment as a way to get a reaction from his partner. All narcissists use the silent treatment as a way to validate and assess the amount of control they have over a person. Typically, the victim would ask a narcissist what is wrong, why are you ignoring me, etc. This gives the narcissist power and control. It allows him or her power to do whatever they wish; if the partner doesn’t accept their behavior, or rejects their behavior, narcissists will then use the silent treatment again to draw them back in to the cycle.

Learned Behavior

It’s theorized that some narcissistic personality traits, as well as the use of the silent treatment, are learned behaviors. If a child’s emotional needs are not being met, or if clear boundaries are not established, he or she may develop narcissistic personality traits as a response. Children may also observe others using the silent treatment and copy it as a way to punish others or get them to comply with the child’s wants. While these two things may be learned and displayed separately, often those children who learn narcissistic traits will also learn to use the silent treatment.


The silent treatment is issued to hide vulnerabilities and awareness of who the narcissist really is. By completely ignoring their partner, the abuser does not have to deal with any outstanding issues; this is a very unhealthy way to cope with problems in a relationship.





About Alexander Burgemeester

3 Responses to “The Narcissist’s Silent Treatment”

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  1. Catherine says:

    Hi Alexander, I have read a number of your articles and they all describe my husband’s behaviour accurately. For a long time I’ve been bewildered by his behaviour, from the very beginning of our relationship actually, 5 yrs ago. After a lot of reading and research I discovered he most probably had NPD and that allowed me to put a name and a reason to the things he did. Before knowing why I tried so hard to please him and when we spoke about our ‘problems’ he even gave me suggestions as to how I could please him, including sexually. Imagine my dismay when I followed his suggestions to the letter and still got nowhere with him and even was accused of not making any efforts at all. I discovered he watched porn a lot and was very deceitful in covering up just how much he did watch. Your comments in your article about relationships and sex very accurately described what he was doing to me. What I’m wondering though, you say not to play the game, not to catch the ball they are throwing. For a long time after reading a bit on how to deal with abusive behaviour authors say and I think you have also said to remove yourself from the situation saying that you have something to do etc, not just walk away or slam down the phone. What happens when I do that (probably obviously) is that enrages him even more, he follows me around harassing me, abusing me further or alternatively goes into a very long bout of silent treatment where he pointedly treats all around me with love and care, laughing and smiling. What should I do so as not to give him any power in the situation? What I currently do now I go about my daily business, working and doing whatever just keeping away from him. After a couple of days he will burst through my office door or bedroom door after I’ve gone to bed and say the most terrible, nasty, soul-destroying things to me, ending our relationship, talking about me as if I was leaving him and what he’s going to do after I’m gone. I have unfortunately reacted with such frustration with him standing at my door going for me I’ve lashed out at him and pushed him. I’ve also tried to punch him. He, whilst shocked I have attacked him, seems to revel in it, calling me crazy. I’ve gone to see a lawyer and gained some advice which I’m sure he hates. It seems that because I work from home and have my children who live with me from a former marriage I’m more entitled to stay in our house than he is and I can get a court order to remove him from the house if I want to. I have told him this and ever since he’s been trying (pretending) so hard not to cause any problems. He’s been ‘good’ for months now. Sam Vaknin in one of his videos says that if you can get the narcissist to be financially dependent upon you then you may be okay. Mine is financially dependent upon me. I am using the losing of the house and lawyers as leverage to keep him under control and so far it’s working. I shouldn’t have to live like this I know. Is there anything else I can do? I am pretty annoyed about the porn and his compulsive lying and sneaking about as well.

  2. annony says:

    just get rid of him havent you enough already?

  3. christine says:

    This article is so accurate and helpful as my partner does the silent and walking away treatment everytime I have an opinion…it Don’t even get to a row before he walks out and don’t contact me for weeks… which time he’s even been with other women….by reading this it helps to realise it’s not me with a problem it’s him…reading this makes me feel better and have the strength to stay away and try to gain some self worth back..thank you

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