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.
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.