As a survivor of narcissistic abuse, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve experienced the silent treatment. My narcissistic mother used it regularly as a way to punish me. It’s definitely high on the narcissist’s list of abuse. But what does it mean when a guy gives you the silent treatment?
If you’re ready to finally understand your guy’s use of the silent treatment, read on to learn about the various reasons he might shut you out. It’s a common way for narcissists, in particular, to try to get you to do what they want, and if you’ve never experienced it before, it will drive you crazy. When you understand it, however, it’s easier to figure out what you should do about it. Here’s a list of 11 common reasons why your guy might be employing the silent treatment.
1. He Struggles to Communicate Effectively
Men often struggle to communicate effectively. We live in a culture that encourages them to be stoic and not express their emotions, much less their needs. It’s not at all uncommon, therefore, that men will simply stay silent rather than talk about their feelings.
This is particularly true with a narcissistic man. If you’re unfamiliar with some of the traits of narcissists, check out this video about narcissistic fathers. First of all, he doesn’t want anyone to think he is vulnerable in any way. Therefore, he would rather stay silent than speak up because talking about it might give you too much insight into his true character.
When my mother got to the point where she felt she couldn’t quite express her emotions or it was dangerous (read vulnerable) for her to do so, she would go silent. Imagine how difficult it is for a man to express his emotions.
Even a man who’s not a narcissist finds it difficult to expose his vulnerabilities in our culture. For a narcissist, the fear of ridicule is even greater. A narcissist who feels as though his true self has been exposed suffers what is called a narcissistic injury.
This can often result in explosive eruptions of rage, and in some cases, it can lead a narcissist to abandon his entire family. He would rather run away than face the consequences of that exposure.
It’s already very difficult for men, in general, to express themselves, but it’s even harder for the narcissist. He is just too fearful of what it could mean for his already fragile self-esteem.
2. He’s an Attention Seeking Narcissist
All narcissists seek attention, but grandiose narcissists are the typical arrogant narcissists you associate with this condition. Grandiose narcissists want to be in the limelight all the time.
They believe themselves to be superior and need other people to validate that belief for them. They are not capable of propping up their own self-esteem, so they do various things to get attention from the people around them. The goal is to have those people praise them for and validate their grandiose ideas of superiority.
Vulnerable narcissists do the same but in a more subtle manner. They often do good deeds simply to get praise from the people in their life. While what they’re doing might be nice, they’re really doing it for all the wrong reasons.
When a narcissist feels as though they need attention from you but aren’t getting it, they might employ the silent treatment as a way to get you to start asking about what’s bothering them.
A meta-analytical review of research conducted by several psychologists and human behavioral specialists at numerous US universities confirms that men are more narcissistic than women. That’s why you are more likely to see this kind of behavior from a narcissistic man.
Additionally, men are routinely discouraged from showing their emotions or expressing their desires by the mainstream culture. When that cultural pressure is combined with a narcissistic pathology, it’s not surprising a narcissistic guy would rather shut up than risk feeling vulnerable.
For the narcissist, the risk that you might be able to do the things he does to you is just too great to let you in. He fears intimacy for this very reason, and it often causes him to simply stay silent.
3. He’s Concerned About His Image
For a narcissist, it’s all about the image. Narcissism develops early in life when the normal human psychosocial development process is interrupted. This is often caused by childhood trauma that results from either abusive or overprotective parents. For more information on how narcissism develops, check out this video.
When that disruption occurs, however, the child is filled with shame because he comes to believe himself incapable of doing anything for himself. That also causes him to be filled with self-loathing.
That’s a difficult thing to believe about yourself, and so, this child buries what he believes to be his flawed true self. He constructs a false self-image that he then fills with grandiose ideas of superiority, omniscience, and omnipotence.
That false self, however, is not a true internal identity mechanism, and so it can’t prop up the child’s self-esteem or soothe him when he faces a challenge. That’s why the narcissist needs other people.
They need external validation, and to get that, they must maintain their grandiose image at all times. If you confront him with an uncomfortable truth, you threaten that fragile false image.
That’s a narcissistic injury, and it might cause your guy to shut up to prevent him from showing any level of vulnerability. Vulnerability means risking the exposure of his flawed true self.
It also makes him more susceptible to your control, and so he’d rather be silent than speak up and risk losing everything. The next time your guy is not talking, think about how he might feel his image is threatened, and you’ll understand better why he is acting that way.
4. He Can’t Take Responsibility for His Actions
If you’re dealing with a narcissistic guy, it’s quite possible his silence is his way of refusing to take responsibility for his actions. This is another part of preserving his fragile image. To take responsibility is to admit you are flawed in some way.
That’s not something a narcissist can do because it exposes the false nature of their carefully constructed self-image. Even when something is a success, narcissists often won’t take full responsibility lest something goes south later on.
It’s always a balancing act for the narcissist between their desire for attention and their need to not be blamed for anything that goes wrong. They want the glory, but they often stay silent to avoid any possible failure that might crop up later on.
This is another reason a narcissistic man might stay quiet when you’re trying to get the truth out of him. He won’t take responsibility for anything because it is too damaging to his internal identity mechanism.
5. He’s Punishing You
This is the type of silent treatment my narcissistic mother would regularly employ to show me her displeasure. It’s one of the most frustrating forms of punishment because your narcissistic guy might not even tell you why he’s upset.
He just stops talking to you, and you are pulling your hair out to figure out why. Because the narcissist needs other people to validate his own ideas of grandiosity, he comes to see those other people as simply extensions of his own identity mechanism.
In a way, they are because he has no other way to validate his self-image. But a part of viewing other people in that light means that the narcissist comes to believe they should just know what’s bothering him.
If you can’t read his mind and know why he’s upset, then you need to be punished for not doing your job. For the narcissist, you’re not focusing on what’s really important, him.
As a result of your lack of support, he punishes you with his silence. He shouldn’t need to tell you what’s bothering him since you should know. If you don’t know, it’s just more evidence of his superiority and your inferiority.
Of course, this isn’t a healthy way of interacting, but nothing about the way a narcissist interacts with you is healthy. There are some things you can do, but the reality is that he is likely to use this tactic for as long as it works.
To keep it from working, you have to learn how to not let it bother you. That’s a tall order, but if you can do it, he will eventually stop using the silent treatment as punishment.
6. He’s Trying to Control You
Another way the narcissistic guy uses the silent treatment is as a method of control. He wants you to do something, and you’re not doing it, so he stops talking to you.
If you do give in, he is all smiles. He starts love-bombing you to give you positive reinforcement for doing what he wants. It’s a way of training you much like you would train your dog.
The problem is that if you give into this tactic, he will use it again and again. Plus, he’ll up the ante by demanding more and more of you. It’s not a winning tactic for you, so it’s better to simply let his silence go on for as long as he can manage it.
If you don’t give in and treat his silence like it’s something silly and childish, he’ll likely give up using it as a means to control you. That doesn’t mean he won’t use other methods of control, but once the silent treatment doesn’t work, he’ll give that up.
An important thing to remember when you’re dealing with a guy like this is that you need to establish your boundaries and stick to them. He will test you again and again, and any time you give into tactics like this, he’ll interpret that as weakness and use it whenever he wants something.
You deserve better, but you’ll have to force the issue with a guy like this. While you should give him the chance to express his needs and desires, if he needs something you can’t or won’t do, he needs to recognize your right to set a limit.
Don’t give in to his demands, and just wait out his silence. He will likely eventually give it up when he sees he’s not going to get what he wants.
7. He’s a Narcissistic Manipulator
As a narcissist realizes they need other people to give them their narcissistic supply of adoration, they learn how to manipulate them into doing so. The silent treatment is one of the methods they use to manipulate you.
It’s not unique to narcissistic men, but they do use it often. Since they’re taught from an early age that they shouldn’t express their needs, they learn to manipulate people to get them met without doing that.
Moreover, narcissistic men form a particularly strong sense of entitlement. They believe themselves to be superior and entitled to your attention, your admiration, and your devotion. They expect that you will be highly sensitive to their needs.
If you don’t live up to their unrealistic and abusive expectations, they will use several tactics, including silence, to get you to do so. It’s a way to manipulate you into both guessing what they need and providing it for them, so they never have to actually ask for it.
It’s the ultimate way for them to feel powerful and superior. If they can manipulate you into doing what they want, they feel as though they can manipulate anyone. They think they can get away with anything.
They don’t see that it’s not real devotion or that you’re actually intuiting what they need. They just see that they gave you the silent treatment, and it worked. Once they see that, they will continue to use the tactic to manipulate you.
This is yet another reason why it’s important not to allow them to get away with this kind of treatment. Though they may have a personality disorder, that doesn’t justify abusing you.
8. It’s a Form of Revenge
Another reason many men, particularly narcissists, will give you the silent treatment is that they are getting their revenge. If you have done something that displeases them – and with a narcissistic man, almost everything displeases them – they might use the silent treatment to get revenge on you.
With this kind of tactic, they may decide to stay silent at the most inconvenient moment, such as when you’re introducing them to a friend or asking them for something you need. It’s a childish way to express hurt, but it’s the only thing the narcissist can do.
They can’t just tell you that something you did hurt them and why, they need to strike back. Narcissists are binary thinkers. You’re either with them or against them. There is no in-between and no gray area.
If they come to see you as the enemy, then they must get revenge on you. They will want to crush you if they can. Narcissists also lack object constancy.
This means they can’t hold a positive thought about you when they feel hurt by you. If you’ve hurt them, you’re all bad. There is nothing good. It’s a very black-and-white way to live, and it often results in vengeful behaviors.
A friend of mine related a story about her narcissistic husband that illustrates this perfectly. They were having an argument, and she needed to get away to calm down. When she left, her husband damaged one of her favorite pictures they had bought together. He did it to get back at her.
When she asked him about it, he just smiled and refused to talk to her. He was reveling in what he perceived were her just desserts.
9. He’s in a Rage
Narcissistic men also use the silent treatment as a way to express their narcissistic rage. When you trigger a narcissistic injury, one common response is an explosive eruption of rage.
While silence may seem like a better alternative, it can also be used as a means to express rage. When you’re the target of the silent treatment, it’s not the peaceful alternative you think you will prefer.
Narcissists don’t use it in that way. It’s actually very rageful, and they are sure to let you know in other ways that they are upset. It won’t provide you with the quiet peace you might think it will produce.
It will still be full of rageful behavior that will be obvious. Culture also plays a role here as men are taught that they have to be very careful about how they express rage lest they be accused of physical abuse.
That’s why many men will opt for silence instead. Still, especially for the narcissist, this is anything but kind. The goal is to get you to keep asking them, maybe even to beg them, to tell you what is wrong.
If you do, however, they will interpret your behavior as a weakness and continue to use this tactic every time they’re upset. The best thing you can do is bide your time, and when he does decide to express himself, insist that he do so in a healthy way.
10. He Knows He’s Wrong
Whenever a narcissist is wrong, you can be sure he will use the silent treatment to keep from having to admit it. Their fragile ego won’t allow them to admit they have made an error, but you can recognize that they know it when they give you the silent treatment.
Often they are using silence to think of how they should address the mistake they have made. Like my mother, they are trying to determine an effective way to shift the blame onto someone or something else.
I remember the time my mother made a clear mistake. She knew she had done something wrong, but when I tried to talk to her about it, I was met with stone-cold silence. A day or two later, she finally started talking, and she had somehow managed to twist the situation around so that it was my fault.
Her logic was that I had caused her to make a mistake, and this is what many a toxic manipulator will do. The mistake wasn’t made because of some inherent flaw they have, it was somehow your fault. You distracted or confused them, which is what ultimately caused the error.
If your guy is a narcissist, he may use the silent treatment to buy time to come up with some way that his mistake is your fault.
11. He Needs to Feel Like a Hero
Another reason that your guy might be giving you the silent treatment is that he needs to feel like a hero, and you’re not making him feel that way. Remember that a narcissist has developed grandiose ideas of superiority.
For a man, this often means a superhero image, and he expects you and other people around him to bolster that image. If you aren’t providing him with enough praise, he might go silent in protest.
If you notice he is remaining silent, you might try giving him some extra praise for his efforts. Let him know he is your hero. If that doesn’t do the trick, then he might have another reason for being quiet.
Narcissistic men often use the silent treatment as a way of letting you know they’ve let you down. There are some tactics you can try to get them talking again, but it’s very important not to let them know the technique is working. If you show weakness, they will use it regularly. If you downplay their use of this abusive tactic, they will eventually abandon the effort. It can be hard, however, because the silent treatment might be triggering emotional wounds you have from your own life experiences.
I know that was true for me, so I developed this 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers to help you recognize, defuse, and even heal your emotional triggers. It’s free, and I will send you a copy directly to your inbox if you click here. It will help you begin the journey of healing your own wounds so that you can better deal with tactics like the silent treatment.
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