I’ll never forget the time when I finally meant business and blocked my Ex from being able to reach me by cell phone. At first it felt empowering because it was the first in a series of steps to gain my freedom and power back.
But, after a few days, the debilitating guilt set in.
Wasn’t blocking him the same thing as when he gave me the Silent Treatment? What if he’d finally seen the light and felt remorse for how he’d treated me? Maybe he was trying frantically to get in touch with me to apologize, and here I was apathetically preventing him from offering his apology.
Didn’t all of these things make me just as heartless and cunning as when he’d ignored me? What if the “hurt little boy” inside him was reaching out to be rescued? After all, most of us are aware that ignoring another person can have lasting, detrimental effects on their mental well-being.
What I was doing seemed to portray the same lack of empathy as my Ex’s behaviors. And, in keeping him blocked and unable to reach out to me, I was taking part in the same cruel tricks I’d wanted to avoid by blocking him in the first place!
And guess what? It wasn’t long after having these thoughts that I unblocked him and opened the door to months of continued abuse.
The difference between the Silent Treatment and No Contact
There is one word that sets the Silent Treatment apart from No Contact—intention.
There are very distinct, fundamental differences between the Silent Treatment and going No Contact. One is used as a form of punishment and torture, while the other is a process of gaining freedom from abuse and manipulation. Below, I dissect the differences between the two so you can punt your unwarranted guilt out the window and get on with the very important task of healing yourself and your life.
The Silent Treatment has many different names including: ostracism, shunning, cold shoulder, and social rejection and/or isolation.
It has been used for centuries by organizations, cults, churches, and communities as an effective way to punish or wreak vengeance for a perceived wrong. It was used by the ancient Greeks as a way of neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the municipal or a potential ruler.
In the context of the corporate environment, it is strategically carried out by co-workers, supervisors, and managers alike and is considered a form of workplace bullying. It’s often used to punish a whistleblower for exposing unethical behaviors.
In romantic (and familial) relationships, Narcissists use the silent treatment as an aggressive measure of control and punishment for something his or her partner did; a sadistic form of “time-out”, ostracizing the victim as motivation for them to “behave”. It is the ultimate form of devaluation, causing its target to feel voiceless, alone, dismissed, negated as a person; invisible.
Every time the narcissist gives you the Silent Treatment, you are diminished in small increments. Over time, your sense of self is eroded and your fear of abandonment gets worse. If you weren’t aware of any abandonment wounds before meeting the narcissist, the insidious, yet progressive actions they carried out during the tearing down of your confidence brought any underlying abandonment wounds to the surface.
The intended result of the silent treatment is to put the narcissist in a position of power while conditioning its target (you) to keep silent and accept the unfair treatment doled out by the narcissist. Its message is, “Compliance, or else”. This can last from a few days to several weeks with the Narcissist often leaving the communal home.
Takeaway: The Silent Treatment is the narcissist’s favorite manipulative tool because it offers several advantages simultaneously, including 1) it conditions you to “shut up and take it”, 2) it frees them up for the important task of grooming other supply, and 3) it allows them to play the hurt victim.
In contrast to the Silent Treatment, going No Contact is not intended to be a form of punishment. Granted, some targets of narcissistic abuse may periodically block their toxic partners from being able to contact them, but this is often a vain attempt at teaching the narcissist a lesson. Any of us who’ve blocked the narcissist (only to later unblock them) in hopes of their finally “getting it” can attest to the futility of such a tactic.
No Contact in its true form is a very specific system of self-protection. Those who implement No Contact have realized that their abusive partner will not change and, therefore, neither will their partner’s abusive behaviors. It is a very intentional approach for escaping abuse and ending the toxic effects of emotional and psychological manipulation.
However, the manipulative nature of narcissists, combined with their victim’s over-conscientious nature, results in the person who implements No Contact feeling like they’re a bad person. They don’t want to make the narcissist mad or have him/her think they’re being punished. By all accounts, going No Contact requires the abuse victim to behave in ways that are completely foreign to them.
And this is the very vulnerability that narcissists exploit, enabling them to push their target’s emotional buttons in order for the narcissist to get what they want from the situation.
Takeaway: In spite of what the narcissist would have you believe, you haven’t violated their “intimate” relationship rules. You haven’t triggered old wounds or behaved in unacceptable ways. Even if you lashed out under the pressure of ongoing abuse, you wouldn’t have done so if not for their constantly pushing the envelope and trampling your boundaries.
The narcissist would like to give the impression that you expect too much from the relationship and/or that you make their life miserable with your “constant demands”, and so their reaction is to give you the Silent Treatment, while having you accept and take the blame for their having done so.
The Bottom Line
There is nothing wrong with your taking a stand to detach from a toxic relationship to take care of yourself and heal. You don’t have to prove to your Ex that you’re a nice person by leaving the lines of communication open for them to attack at will, because that’s all they really want when they accuse you of being mean or—gasp—a narcissist! In fact, if they do accuse you of being a narcissist because you want to establish a safe space to disengage and rebuild, they are simply projecting their bad traits onto you, as they’ve been doing all along.
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© Kim Saeed and Let Me Reach, 2016