Silence as a Weapon: How to Overcome the Narcissistā€™s Silent Treatment

i'm in the relationship narcissistic abuse narcissistic relationships understanding narcissism Mar 21, 2024

Have you ever been in a situation where someone you cared about suddenly stopped speaking to you? No explanation, no argument, just silence. If your answer is yes, then you've experienced the 'silent treatment.'

The occasional silence can be a request for space, but when the silent treatment is used to gain power and control in a relationship, it becomes more than just an annoying habit. Especially when it is used by a narcissist, the silent treatment can be powerful and damaging. By the end of this blog, you will understand how a narcissist uses silence as a weapon to gain control and create pain, and how you can deal with it. 

What Is a Narcissist?

Being a little too selfish or arrogant doesn’t make a person a narcissist. Narcissistic individuals chronically seek attention and admiration. They believe they are superior to others, lack empathy, act arrogantly, are jealous of others, and use people for their own benefit.

How does the silent treatment fit into all this? When a narcissist uses the silent treatment, they aren’t just being quiet. In the narcissist’s hands, the silent treatment is a full-blown psychological attack. Let’s break down the difference between how a narcissist and a non-narcissistic person use the silent treatment.

Why Do People Use the Silent Treatment

Why Narcissists Use the Silent Treatment

They want control. Narcissists are motivated by an insatiable thirst for control. Narcissists crave power over others, and the silent treatment becomes their tool to exert dominance. By withholding communication and emotional connection, they hold the reins, making people dance to their manipulative tune. By withdrawing their presence, attention, and affection, a narcissist gains an upper hand in the relationship. They purposefully create an imbalance of power. The payoff for the narcissist comes when people start to question themselves during the silent treatment, and feel insecure, and start looking for approval and validation from the narcissist.  

They enjoy punishment. Narcissists are also motivated by the ability to punish. When a narcissist feels slighted or when someone dares to challenge their authority, they use the silent treatment as retaliation. Silence becomes their way of saying, "You've crossed the line, and now you'll pay." Malicious narcissists revel in seeing others squirm, and wait for their victims to return and once again provide the narcissists with attention and approval. 

The desire for control, power and the ability to punish are symptoms of the manipulation that sits at the core of a narcissist’s approach to the world. They thrive on controlling emotions, and the silent treatment is a masterstroke in their manipulative playbook. It enables them to keep others on edge and cause them to question their worth. They know that the longing for connection and closure will make people more pliable to their desires.

They are avoidant. Another motivation for narcissists to use the silent treatment is avoidance. This avoidance is unhealthy. Narcissists are deeply afraid to face shame and to come eye to eye with their own faults. They use the silent treatment as an escape hatch when faced with uncomfortable emotions or difficult conversations. Instead of confronting issues head-on, they bury them beneath a veil of silence. It becomes their cowardly way of avoiding accountability and responsibility.

Why Non-narcissistic Individuals Use the Silent Treatment

Non-narcissistic individuals, however, have very different motivations behind their silence. 

They need space. They may need space to process their thoughts and emotions. For a non-narcissistic person, the silent treatment may be their way of taking time alone to find clarity and come to a place of peace within themselves before communicating again.   

They want to avoid conflict. Another common motivation is conflict avoidance. Some people choose silence to avoid arguments and confrontation, or to avert escalation once they have begun. They may use the silent treatment to step back from the situation temporarily in hopes of finding a more constructive resolution later on. Others might resort to the silent treatment because they find it challenging to articulate their emotions verbally.

While a non-narcissistic person may use the silent treatment in ways that you find frustrating, or that demonstrate immaturity, they are not using it to punish, take control, and assert dominance. 

How to Handle the Silent Treatment

The silent treatment at the hands of a narcissist can be a difficult and painful experience. Here are five ways to help navigate through it.

#1 Acknowledge Your Feelings

The silent treatment can trigger a whirlwind of emotions—frustration, loneliness, and confusion. It's important to understand that these emotions are completely valid and normal. We must allow ourselves to feel them without judgment. As the Psalmist wisely said in Psalm 34:18, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." God is with us in our pain and He will bring healing and restoration.

#2 Know Your Worth and Identity In God

After you’ve acknowledged your emotions, you need to know your worth and identity in God. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of God Himself (Psalm 139:14; Genesis 1:27). When the narcissist attempts to diminish your value through their silence, we must remember that our worth is not defined by their opinions or actions. Instead, we find our true worth in God's unchanging love and acceptance.

#3 Find Strength In God

Finding strength in God is crucial during a narcissist’s silent treatment. Unlike the shifting shadows of a narcissist's behavior, God is constant and steadfast. He never changes, and He will never leave us nor forsake us (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8, Deuteronomy 31:8). We can place our hope and trust in Him, knowing that He will provide us with the strength and courage to rise above the pain and manipulation.

#4 Guard Your Heart

Guarding our hearts is another essential practice to endure the silent treatment. The Bible teaches us in Proverbs 4:23 to "Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Recognize that a narcissist is not emotionally safe, and their use of the silent treatment as a psychological attack can be damaging. It's important to prioritize our emotional well-being by disengaging from them emotionally. While it may be difficult, especially if this is someone close to us, we can still love them from afar and wish them the best while safeguarding our hearts.

Remember that the narcissist’s goal is to make you desperate enough for validation that you come back begging for it. Let go of the need for their validation. Seeking validation from someone who consistently uses the silent treatment as a manipulative tactic is futile. It is completely normal. In fact, it is human, to need validation. However, when someone abuses that need to gain control they are not a safe place. Instead, go to God for the validation that you need. Seek out other healthy people who can affirm you for who you are.

#5 Find Other Sources of Joy

It is vital to find other interests, hobbies, and pursuits that bring us joy and fulfillment. When the narcissist gives us the silent treatment and refuses to communicate, we don't have to let them have all the power. We can take control of our lives and focus on our personal growth. If they refuse to engage in a respectful and open dialogue, we can calmly state, "When you're ready to have a respectful and open conversation, I'll be here. In the meantime, I will be focusing on my own personal growth, interests, and well-being." This empowers us to redirect our energy towards activities that bring us happiness and fulfillment.

Conclusion

If you find yourself suffering from the pain of the silent treatment inflicted by a narcissist, take heart in the knowledge that there is hope. You are not alone in this journey.  If you invite God to be in the driver’s seat of your life, He will be with you every step of the way. Your experiences and emotions are recognized and understood by Him. Remember that your worth and identity are rooted in the unchanging love and acceptance of God. Seek refuge in His presence, finding strength in His promises. Cast your cares upon Him, and rely on His unwavering faithfulness. As you fix your eyes on Him, you can find healing, restoration, and a future filled with hope.

Related Resources

  • How to Stay Your Course in the Face of Manipulation [Watch]
  • Top 10 Mind Games that Narcissists Play to Throw You Off Balance and Control You [Watch] [Read]
  • Scapegoat Supply: Why Narcissists Obsessively Depend on Scapegoats to Maintain Their Image [Watch] [Read]

Find more resources in our topic-based catalog

Downloadable Resources 

Want more content like this?

Get encouraging and empowering content delivered straight to your inbox! JoinĀ my mailing list to receive weekly blogs and resources.

By filling this form, you agree to receive quality-filled communications from us. We will never spam you or share your information with a third party.