Among the many things you usually think about when you think about a narcissist, the silent treatment is probably low on that list. Brash, arrogant, loud, selfish — yes, but silent? That just doesn’t seem to fit, but the truth is that narcissists often use the silent treatment as a means to devalue you and gain control over you. What’s more, their silent treatment is particularly effective because it is the ultimate discard of your worth, but how can you get them to stop ignoring you?
There are several strategies to use to get a narcissist to stop ignoring you, including shifting the focus from the narcissist to you, understanding their weaknesses, and returning the favor by ignoring them. Most importantly, you must understand why you’re being ignored to regain your power.
Narcissists use the silent treatment for different reasons, and it’s vital to understand why they’re ignoring you to be able to deal with it effectively. Read on to learn more about the different reasons a narcissist will employ the silent treatment and what you can do about it.
Why Do Narcissists Ignore You?
Narcissists will ignore you to control you. What’s more, narcissists are very skillful at using the silent treatment. They know how to make you feel terrible. The narcissistic silent treatment is often much more effective than what you experience when anyone else in your life might ignore you.
This is due in part to the fact that it’s a statement from them about your worth, and though they don’t say that directly, you feel it. It’s such an extreme difference from the loving, attentive person you thought you knew that it’s easy to buy into the idea that you somehow did something terribly wrong.
In the mind of the narcissist, you did, and they want to teach you a lesson with their silence. They want you to know that you are expendable to them even though the truth is they can’t live without the people around them and the narcissistic supply they provide.
Even more disturbing is the fact that the narcissist may use the silent treatment for no apparent reason. It’s a great way to keep you off balance so they can maintain control. They will have you fretting over what exactly happened. There’s usually a reason, but the narcissist may elect to never reveal that to you.
When most people first experience being ignored by the narcissist, they are often extremely confused. The loving, wonderful, attentive soulmate they thought they had found is suddenly acting like they don’t care at all about you, as if you don’t exist at all.
That can cause you to agree to almost anything to get the stonewalling and disappearing act to stop, but once it works for the narcissist, it will become a common pattern of behavior. In essence, by ignoring you, the narcissist is invalidating your existence.
What are the Different Ways a Narcissist Uses the Silent Treatment?
There are a number of different ways the narcissist will use the silent treatment to affect your behavior and gain control. They vary in severity, but they can all be extremely effective. Let’s explore each of these circumstances.
Routine Silent Treatment
If the narcissist is triggered by you and suffers a narcissistic injury, they will often use the silent treatment to punish you for what they perceive you have done. This may or may not be something you realize you have done. It can happen in an instant, and it is almost always effective because you naturally wonder if something is wrong.
If you inquire as to what happened or if you have done something, the narcissist will often respond with short, almost cryptic answers. Unlike a healthy person, the narcissist won’t just come out and tell you what you said or did that hurt them. Instead, they will play this game with you to get you to almost beg them to tell you what you did wrong.
This is designed to trigger insecurities in you, and it usually does, at least initially. Most people don’t like being ignored, and they aren’t accustomed to someone simply refusing to talk about what’s bothering them. When the narcissist refuses to tell why they’re upset, you naturally begin to question yourself.
That’s exactly what the narcissist wants you to do because it keeps your attention focused on them and your interactions with them. It’s also easier for them to get you to acquiesce to any demands they have for how you treat them. That’s in part because humans are hard-wired to be social as a survival mechanism.
Being ostracized from the group in our ancestors was a direct threat to their survival, and so, our behaviors have evolved to prevent that from happening. The narcissist loves to exploit that vulnerability to get you to do exactly what they want. Once you react to their silence, they’ve successfully pulled you into the game. Even if you don’t react, they will just up the ante until you do.
Ignoring You When You Need Support
This is a particularly cruel form of emotional abandonment because just when you need support from loved ones, the narcissist is nowhere to be found. When you need support as happens with a loss of any kind, the problem for the narcissist is that it takes the spotlight off of them and prevents you from giving them their much coveted narcissistic supply.
The narcissist realizes when you’ve suffered a loss, they can’t become openly enraged at you for focusing on that instead of them, but they are truly enraged by it. They don’t have the capacity for empathy, and thus, they can’t put themselves in your place and understand your feelings. They only know that you are no longer focused on their needs.
Since they have little concern for your feelings and needs, when you stop focusing on them for any reason, they feel as though you’re abandoning them. They respond with rage, but though they might express it openly, they will often also give you the silent treatment.
It matters little to them the reason why your focus is elsewhere, and so, even if it is because of a loss you’ve suffered, they still feel slighted. While other friends and family may be responding with kindness and warmth, the narcissist turns icy cold.
They’re Ignoring You for Fresh Narcissistic Supply
Often when a narcissist is ignoring you, it’s because they are either looking for sources of fresh narcissistic supply or they’re trying to generate fresh supply from you. They might be feeling as though you’re getting wise to their emotional abuse or that they have gotten everything they can from you.
If that’s the case, they may be off looking for someone new or trying to find a replacement in the event you discard them. This doesn’t necessarily mean they will discard you, because narcissists will often cycle through friends and family, going from one to another as one source becomes exhausted. They will typically come back into your life even if they discard you.
It’s important to realize that narcissistic supply is like a very addictive drug to the narcissist. They crave it, and they believe they need it because they don’t have healthy internal identity mechanisms that can support their self-esteem. That’s why they need other people to validate them.
Ignoring You After a Breakup
Another reason a narcissist might ignore is if you break up with them. It can be jarring because they will shut you out completely and act as though you meant nothing to them. With a narcissist, there’s no such thing as remaining friends after you’ve broken up.
In their mind, you’ve abandoned them, and for that, you might as well be dead to them. While this can be harsh, it usually doesn’t last forever. Most of the time, narcissists will come back into your life at some point. In fact, you usually have to actively work at keeping them from contacting you if you really want to go no contact.
Once they cycle through your replacements, they will come back to you looking to re-establish what you once had. They know you were a good source of narcissistic supply at one time, and like the addict, they come back to you to see if they can draw you back into their life.
When they do come back, they will often make all kinds of promises about how they have changed and how they now realize you meant so much to them. Unfortunately, unless they have sought and are continuing to engage in intense psychotherapy, it’s unlikely they have really changed.
Another form of the silent treatment is what might be considered a ‘milder’ version known as hostile withholding. This is where the narcissist might not cut off all communication, but instead, they change the way they’re interacting with you. This involves a much colder way of interacting.
The narcissist is still effectively cutting you off emotionally, but they are still talking to you. They will treat you like someone they barely know or in a brusque manner. This can make you absolutely crazy because you know something is different, but the narcissist won’t open up about what is bothering them.
Is the Silent Treatment Narcissistic Abuse?
The silent treatment is absolutely a form of narcissistic abuse. While there may be times when healthy people need time alone to process their feelings and figure out exactly what is bothering them, when someone uses the silent treatment to punish you, that’s emotional abuse.
This can make you feel miserable because it isolates you from someone you care about, and it can drive you crazy as you try to figure out what exactly you did wrong. This is what the narcissist wants. They want you focused on them as you try to determine what you did and how you can fix it.
Of course, the narcissist doesn’t want to just tell you what the problem is, often because the problem is that you’re not focusing on their needs enough. Sometimes they don’t even have a reason for going silent, they just want to make you jump through their hoops as you try to make them happy.
How To Make A Narcissist Stop Ignoring You
So, what can you do to get the narcissist to stop ignoring you? Let’s look at several techniques that are very effective.
Shift the Focus
One of the most effective things you can do when a narcissist is ignoring you is to shift your focus from them to you. Don’t try to get them to talk to you and don’t respond even if they turn up the heat. When the narcissist sees that the punishment they’re doling out isn’t working, they will often break the silence even if they do so by initiating an argument.
The purpose of the silent treatment is usually to get you to start focusing on them and trying to figure out how you’ve hurt them, what you’ve done. If you refuse to do that and just focus on your own life, your own needs, the narcissist will have to change tactics. They might use yet another destructive manipulation technique, but they will stop ignoring you.
You can even use this technique to ‘train’ the narcissist to react in a more healthy way than using the silent treatment as punishment. When you do talk to them about what happened, you can simply tell them, “I will ask you one time what’s wrong, and if you refuse to tell me, I will go about my life as if nothing is wrong. It will be your responsibility to talk to me about what’s bothering you.”
Speak Your Truth
Another effective technique for breaking the silent treatment routine is to speak your truth. This is your opportunity to clear the air about anything that is bothering you. The narcissist will have a difficult time maintaining silence if you begin talking about something — like the repeated pattern of the silent treatment — that is bothering you.
If you start talking about the narcissist’s bad behavior and why you don’t like it, you’re almost guaranteed to get a response from them. They will be hard-pressed to continue ignoring you when you’re telling them about their behaviors that upset you.
This is a great tactic not only because it breaks the silence, but also because it gives you the chance to clear the air. Once you get them talking to you again, you set some more boundaries about how you will handle this behavior going forward.
Change Your Mindset
While this might not be something that gets the narcissist to stop ignoring you, it will make you feel better and you can then move on with your life. You are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness. You don’t make someone happy and you don’t make someone sad. Each person is responsible for their own well-being and their own emotions.
You decide upon your own happiness and you decide that you are important enough to take good care of yourself. The same is true for the narcissist. You are not responsible for their mood, they are and only they can change it. When you change your mindset to accept only those things you are truly responsible for, you can free yourself from the influence of manipulative tactics like the silent treatment.
It’s also likely that changing your mindset will change your attitude and behavior, and more often than not, the narcissist will perceive these changes and they will usually feel the need to respond. They will typically break the silence at this point.
Create Boundaries and Enforce Them
Part of taking care of yourself is creating strong boundaries and enforcing them by implementing consequences for anyone who violates them. Relationships without boundaries are unlikely to succeed given that one person will almost always end up taking advantage of another if that person doesn’t have strong boundaries.
If the silent treatment is a deal-breaker for you, let the narcissist know that it is unacceptable. Set up a consequence if they choose to implement this as punishment.
For example, you might decide that you will leave the room and go do something on your own if the narcissist is giving you the silent treatment. You might say that when they are able to respectfully express what their issue is, you will be happy to listen to them and respond to their need.
When the narcissist sees that their manipulation is getting nowhere with you, they will likely give it up. Sometimes, using these kinds of firm tactics can help the narcissist to change the way they treat you. They will always opt for whatever is the easiest way to get you to address their needs.
If you teach them that respect is the best way to go about that, then eventually that’s what they will do. It’s not that they’re healing issues, per se, but they are at least treating you better.
What Not to Do
Perhaps life coach and narcissistic abuse survivor Angela Atkinson puts it best when she writes the following:
- Do not send him texts trying to reason with him.
- Do not post whiney crap on your Facebook page for all to see.
- Do not allow him to know that he is affecting you in any way at all.
- Do not give him what he wants when he behaves this way.
This is exactly right. If you give the narcissist what they want or react in an emotional way that shows them they have gotten to you, they will keep doing this.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to not respond to their tactic and refuse to do anything they want you to do as long as they are not expressing themselves in a healthy way. If you do what they want, this kind of behavior will continue.
When the narcissist uses the silent treatment or ignores you in other ways, they are doing so to manipulate you into doing what they want or focusing all your attention on them. It can be a damaging tactic given that it can make you feel like you mean nothing to them.
The truth is you’re important to them, but only insofar as you are providing them with their narcissistic supply. Unless they get long-term psychotherapy, a narcissist is unlikely to change, but you can ‘train’ them to treat you with respect and to not violate the boundaries you set.
If you’re dealing with a narcissist who has left you or whom you have left, you’ll need to read this post about whether or not you should consider giving them a second chance when they come back into your life.
Make no mistake about it, they will come back eventually, and you’ll want to be ready when they do.
If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel