The Narcissist’s 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.