The Silent Treatment: weapon of control.

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The silent treatment is a psychological weapon all narcissists use, even those lacking the cunning or Machiavellianism to successfully use more complex weapons like triangulation or gaslighting (I’m not sure they really require intelligence since it’s probably programmed into them and I’ve known plenty of dumb narcissists who are great at controlling and manipulating others in these ways–they are like trained monkeys).

We’ve all been victims of the silent treatment.  We might have even used it ourselves on occasion.  It’s not exclusive to narcissists so is probably not a good red flag, but all narcissists use it–and they use it a lot more frequently than other people do.

If you’ve been a victim of the silent treatment (also known as “stonewalling”) you won’t forget it.  You know the drill. It’s when they just stop speaking to you or even acknowledging your existence.   Usually, it’s in response to an insult of some kind.   You tell a narcissist their new haircut looks nice, and they get mad at you because you didn’t say it makes them look like a runway model (that’s how sensitive some of them are).   But they don’t tell you what made them mad.  No, you’re supposed to be a mind reader!  Instead, they don’t talk to you.   No matter how many times you ask them to tell you what upset them, their tongue is locked up like Fort Knox.   You beg and plead and soon find yourself apologizing even though you don’t even know what you’re apologizing for.   Anything to get them to talk to you!  It’s torture.   But it’s supposed to be–you are under their control and just where they want you to be.  It’s a brilliant psychological weapon and requires nothing from the narcissist other than a refusal to speak.

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While the silent treatment is most often used in response to an insult of some kind, this isn’t always the case.  Sometimes a narcissist will use the silent treatment for seemingly no reason at all.   I remember a man I dated for a short time before he devalued and discarded me and moved onto a new victim.  We were driving around New York City in his car, and having what I thought was a good time. The radio was playing and we were laughing about something or other.   Suddenly, for absolutely no reason, he went silent.  No matter how many times I begged him to tell me what was wrong, he wouldn’t.  In fact, my questioning seemed to piss him off.   It was weird. One minute he was laughing and had his arm around me, the next he was silent and stony faced.  I didn’t get it.    But he wasn’t done with me yet.  Suddenly, he pulled the car over, and told me to get out.  It was nighttime and we were in a terrible neighborhood.  I reminded him how dangerous this area was at night, and asked him for money for a taxi. “No,” he said coldly. “Take the subway to your bus stop,” he said callously, practically pushing me out of the car.  I managed to get home without being raped, robbed, or killed, and the next day this jerk called me and wanted to see me again.  He acted like nothing had happened.   I didn’t dare ask why (I didn’t accept his invitation though).   In retrospect, I think he did what he did because he could.  It was fun for him, and while he was doing it, he felt big and powerful and in control.

And that’s what the silent treatment is all about.  Control.  You are completely at their mercy, bewildered and confused–and they love that.    It makes them feel powerful.  If they’ve suffered narcissistic injury, giving you the silent treatment restores their equilibrium.   It’s also a handy way to punish you.  But sometimes they do it just because they can and there’s no way you can fight back.   If a non-narcissist uses the silent treatment, it’s a reaction to legitimate anger or hurt.   They are so upset they don’t want to speak to you for the time being.  But it isn’t being used to manipulate or control you.  They will talk to you about it later.  With a narcissist though, you will probably never know what upset them–if anything at all did.

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About luckyotter

Recovering from BPD and C-PTSD due to narcissistic abuse from childhood. Married to a sociopath for 20 years. Proud INFJ, Enneagram type 4w5. Animal lover, music lover, cat mom, unapologetic geek, fan of the absurd, progressive Catholic, mom to 2, mental illness stigma activist, anti-Trumper. #RESISTANCE
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12 Responses to The Silent Treatment: weapon of control.

  1. Pingback: The Silent Treatment: weapon of control. — Lucky Otter’s Haven – Parental Alienation

  2. eightyape says:

    the silent treatment plus the “reset” button,, the idea that they can erasethe past in their mind so you must be able to do this too?
    you can “just calm down” or “just forget about it” or they were “just having a bad day” or they were “just” etc etc etc.

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  3. The silent treatment is also isolating and think about it, not speaking to somebody requires so little effort, there’s no effort, yet it can cause so much misery on the victims part. More bang for the narcissist buck! Too much!

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  4. lynettedavis says:

    The silent treatment is what I remember most about my mother, that and triangulation between me, her and my sister. She wouldn’t talk to me and I couldn’t talk to her for days and sometimes week, unless she was giving me instructions to do a chore. She would act as though she was mad (and maybe she was about some unknown injury that I wasn’t aware of) to keep me at bay. Their behavior is totally uncalled for and down right scary, especially to children.

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  5. Ten years. That’s how long my former husband didn’t talk to me, with the very rare exception of when he needed to tell me something, about once a week or so. And then he used as few words as possible.

    He talked just fine during our first two years of marriage. Then I made the mistake of telling him that my ” love language” is verbal conversation.

    Oh but he talked volumes with sighs, glares, cold facial expressions and body language. And I put up with it for ten years, because “at least” he wasn’t cheating on me and hitting me and verbally abusing me, like my other ex.

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  6. My dad used to do this to my mom. It was horrible.

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  7. eightyape says:

    my dad does it to anyone and everything he doesnt deem worthy of his attention, including my mother who does it too but keeps the whole ruse going by trying to qualify him as “just normal” when you challenge this? you get the silent treatment,,,after the sudden tactic of invalidate in a sentence to tell you shes been listening and she will attack anything you might have said on principle, an act of actual telling you basically using passive aggression that the only interaction will be one they control ,,,,where their opinion is the final say…then the silent treatment,,,in the hope you will be more deferent the next time you communicate…
    and then it goes silent for them forever, so they “reset” and start to hoover any way they can, to gain influence or control…they still want rpoviding with details about my life in order to try to sound like they are offering sincere advice,,,,in their minds? the delusion of who they are is in completis it seems….

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  8. My mother in law is master of the silent treatment. I am torn about whether or not to share this with my husband. When in doubt say yes. Or say something rather than nothing,

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