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How the Narcissist's Silent Treatment Speaks So Loudly

Updated on November 6, 2018
Gail Meyers profile image

Gail is a mother, grandmother, JD and advocate in Kansas City.

Uses of the Silent Treatmenet

The silent treatment is used to: Control Punish Test boundaries Avoid responsibilities and Issues
The silent treatment is used to: Control Punish Test boundaries Avoid responsibilities and Issues | Source

Introduction

"Included in John Gottman's four horsemen of the apocalypse of relationships, the silent treatment is a relationship killer." Steve Becker, LCSW of Love Fraud. The silent treatment is used to control, punish, test boundaries, and avoid issues and accountability, but the primary goal is control. Of course, everyone who remains silent for a period of time, or even permanently, to a certain person, is not necessarily pursuing control. So, like many other things discretion and discernment are needed to correctly apply the information in the proper context.

After defining the silent treatment, and articulating a couple of exceptions, the discussion turns to the common results of the silent treatment. This is followed by a discussion of how the silent treatment may lead to ostracizing the scapegoat child of a narcissistic mother, including how such behavior violates basic human needs. Lastly, are the silent treatment and going no contact the same thing?

Silent Treatment Defined

The Silent Treatment defined. Artwork CCO free for commerical use via Pixabay.
The Silent Treatment defined. Artwork CCO free for commerical use via Pixabay. | Source

What is the Silent Treatment?

To continue developing the habit of clarifying our terms, the silent treatment is:

"the act of ignoring and excluding a person or group by another person or group."

The silent treatment is a passive-aggressive form of communication that conveys contempt, disapproval, and displeasure. The silent treatment can be used in virtually any relationship for a variety of reasons, but control is the core issue. Narcissistic Mother often uses the silent treatment to control, punish, test boundaries, and avoid issues and responsibilities.

Silent Treatment Exceptions: Acceptable Silence

The idea that some people turn to the silent treatment because they think their mate or the other person should be able to read their mind, does not make this instance acceptable behavior in the relationship. However, it does distinguish the motivation from narcissistic manipulators chronically using it to punish, control, test boundaries, and avoid accountability and unpleasant issues. This person simply needs to understand their mate cannot read their mind, and develop more effective communication skills to accomplish the task of making him or herself clear. Motivation also applies to the person who uses the silent treatment out of fear of the results should they communicate more directly.

Roger S. Gil, a marriage therapist of Love Buzzed mentions in his video, The Silent Treatment: A Great Way to Screw Up Your Relationships, a cooling off period during a hearted conversation is another exception to the silent treatment. It is actually prudent to remain silent for 20 or 30 minutes in order to cool down and not say somthing you may live to regret. Even if the amount of time is 24 hours, if you agree to return to the topic at a more convenient time not too far in the distance, then a cooling off period is also an exception. It is not considered the silent treatment, neither is it destructive and unacceptable behavior in a relationship.

Then there are sons and daughters of narcissistic mothers who have gone no contact. However, their motivation is generally completely different than those who turn to the silent treatment in order to control the other person. When a son or daughter of a narcissistic mother goes no contact for a set period of time, or even permanently, it is generally after many years of trying to cope with the abuse, and the often painful decision is arrived at for self preservation.

Common Results of the Silent Treatment

There are common results of the silent treatment that cause it to be so deadly to relationships:

  1. Anger by the person refusing to speak. Some people use the silent treatment because the expect the other person to be able to read their mind, or to just know what they need or why they are upset without them telling the person.
  2. Anger, frustration, or resentment by the one being given the silent treatment, especially if the one doing it will not even tell them what the issue is.
  3. Even if the issue is clearly know by both parties, the silent treatment prevents any further communication of the issue in order to reach a resolution.
  4. The silent treatment can cause withdrawal in a relationship if it is use habitually. Experts note this is especially true in a crisis.
  5. The silent treatment causes issues to stockpile assuming they are not resolved. So the unresolved issues may come up time after time.
  6. So the silent treatment may well cause anger to increase in the situation while preventing solutions. Therefore, the silent treatment threatens the long term viability of the relationship.

The Stonewalling Silent Treatment

Steve Becker video no longer available on YouTube. Artwork CCO free for commerical use via Pixabay.
Steve Becker video no longer available on YouTube. Artwork CCO free for commerical use via Pixabay. | Source

The Stonewalling Silent Treatment

Stonewalling is defined at Dictionary dot com as: "Behavior to block, stall, or resist intentionally." Steve Becker, LCSW of Love Fraud states, "Stonewalling is shutting down a partner's communication either aggressively or passive-aggressively, the effect of which is to leave the stonewalled partner feeling voiceless, alone dismissed, and negated as a person. While stonewalling, then, can arise from less malign motives, too often it expresses serious pathological aggression, passive-aggression, hostility, contempt, and callousness."

Stonewalling can take many forms, including narcissistic mother carrying on as if you are not talking to her. For example, you are discussing an issue and the stonewaller starts reading the newspaper. Many of us have experienced this one.

Damaging Ostracism

Quote by Dr. Kipling Williams of the Univerity of South Wales, video no longer available on YouTube.
Quote by Dr. Kipling Williams of the Univerity of South Wales, video no longer available on YouTube. | Source

The Silent Treatment and Ostracism

The silent treatment violates basic human needs. Dr. Kipling Williams of the University of New South Wales, has been studying the phenomena of ostracism. He defines ostrism as: "the act of ignoring a person or group by another person or group."

Ostracism is known by many different names and the silent treatment can be used while in the presence of one another or physically apart. Examples of terminology used when a person is ostracized and physically removed from the other person or group, including:

  • Shunning
  • Exile
  • Banishment

Examples of terminology used when the people involved remain in the presence of one another, include:

  • The silent treatment
  • Getting the cold shoulder
  • Being sent to Coventry
  • Redung

The silent treatment in it's various forms can be so damaging because it violates four fundamental human needs:

  1. The need to belong. Human beings need to feel connected. Ostracism undermines this sense of belonging.
  2. Sense of control. People need to feel a sense of control, which can be maintined as long as they are able to argue their point of view. The silent treatment removes that sense of control.
  3. Self esteem. Human beings need to value and respece themselves. Being ostracized induces a feeling that you have done something wrong or that there is something about you that is wrong or bad.
  4. Human beings need a sense of meaningful existence, but ostracism can take that away. It can cuase you to feel as if you are invisible and meaningless.


Ostracizing the Scapegoat with Silence

How the Narcissist's Silence Speaks So Loudly by Gail Meyers. Artwork by Pixabay, CCO free for commerical use.
How the Narcissist's Silence Speaks So Loudly by Gail Meyers. Artwork by Pixabay, CCO free for commerical use. | Source

The Silent Treatment Used to Ostracize the Scapegoat

While this series of articles attempts to articulate the dirty tricks of narcissistic mother's one-by-one, it is rarely so clear cut in real life. The silent treatment is often combined with other tactics from the narcissist's bag of dirty tricks.

For example, my late narcissistic personality disordered mother would pull this stunt then immediately inflicting the silent treatment. This is the previously discussed dirty trick discussed in an article entitled, Narcissistic Mother Playing the Victim While Vilifying the True Victim.

The Silent Treatment and Playing the Victim

I confronted my mother about lying about me and spreading vicious gossip about me. She flew into a disproportionate rage, screaming profanity, and telling me to get out of her life and stay out of it. She then told everyone I screamed that profanity at her, while immediately inflicting the silent treatment, and later gaslighting me by demanding an apology from me.

We did not speak for four years during this silent treatment, nor did I make any attempt to. A few months after this happened, when she was getting no response, she orchestrated a big melodrama attempting to cause it to look like I had attacked her when I was not even talking to her. She was manipulating for abuse by proxy, to get the extended family of origin flying monkeys* to punish me because I was not giving her the satisfaction of letting her know it was bothering me in the least.

Hence, the prolonged silent treatment can transition into ostracism of the scapegoat in a toxic family. What she was doing was continuing to attempt to break down my extended family relationships and reputation with more of her lies and maneuvers behind my back while simultaneously having me in intense emotional pain. There was never any empathy or remorse for any of this abuse either.

If you are in this situation, please reach out for support, talk to a trusted friend or family member, seek counseling from a pastor or preacher, find a therapist knowledgeable in this area.

Flying Monkeys: Abuse by Proxy

Flying Monkeys: Abuse by Proxy

Flying monkeys is a term taken from The Wizard of Oz. In the movie, the Wicked Witch sends her flying monkeys after Dorothy. Narcissists often have flying monkeys, too.

The Silent Treatment v. No Contact

Is the silent treatment the same as going no contact? There are narcissists and flying monkeys who have insisted the only distinction between the silent treatment and an adult child of a narcissist going no contact is semantics. This conveniently fits nicely with the ultimate reason many flying monkeys are, well, flying monkeys.

In my experience, I rarely saw even a hint of flying monkeys being innocent or ignorant of the truth, even though that is a lesson it took me years to learn. It often seems much more consistent with the idea that the flying monkeys are also abusive and narcissistic personalities themselves. Of course, this excludes those who appear to be involving their minor children in such matters, as well as attempting to incriminate and mislead you own. They allegedly also may fear becoming a target of the narcissist's wrath if they stand up to them. Then again, they could be members of the same secret society, coven, or cult and potentially be bound in ways others may not even imagine.

That the silent treatment and no contact are essentially the same thing by different names, is one more example of the spin that is put on defining situations and terms in a cult-like narcissistic family. As previously mentioned, the motive is completely different at its core. A narcissist imposes the silent treatment to control and punish. This is usually disproportionate response to something they did not like. It is often akin to a six-year-old informing playmates that if they do not get their way they are taking their toys and going home!

When an adult son or daughter decides to go no contact it may well be in anger; however, in stark contrast to the narcissist's temper tantrum. The adult child comes to the painful conclusion after years of being used, abused, and mainpulated. It is usually a self-protective, albeit often painful decision for the adult child. Secondly, the narcissistic mother's silent treatment or ostracism is intended to be punishment to get you back in line so she can have her way to silence you, avoid confrontation, etc.

It is just one more way a narcissist avoids accountability manipulated and punishes when the adult child goes not contact it is often in order to work on the mammoth load of emotional baggage thrust upon them by the narcissistic family. The thing the adult child is attempting to avoid is being injected with more venom while they are attempting to heal the old wounds to say the narcissist inflicting the silent treatment is the same thing as the adult child going no contact is a ridiculous statement to make if someone is even remotely aware of the true nature of dealing with a narcissistic personality disordered mother. Don't buy it.

Conclusion

The silent treatment is used to control, punish, test boundaries, and avoid issues and accountability, but the primary goal is control. Of course, everyone who remains silent for a period of time, or even permanently, to a certain person, is not necessarily pursuing control. So, like many other things discretion and discernment are needed to correctly apply the information in the proper context.

After defining the silent treatment, and articulating a couple of exceptions, the discussion turned to the common results of the silent treatment. This was followed by a discussion of how the silent treatment may lead to ostracizing the scapegoat child of a narcissistic mother, including how such behavior violates basic human needs. Lastly, the silent treatment and going no contact are two completely different things.

How the Narcissist's Silent Treatment Speaks So Loudly Video by Gail Meyers

© 2018 Gail Meyers

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