If you know a narcissist as a friend, parent, family member, co-worker, or partner, then you’ve experienced “the silent treatment.” This is on my mind today because I’ve been working on a novel with a narcissistic character, and he just gave the main character the silent treatment. I also recently saw a post on a Facebook group by someone who has dedicated her life to helping men and women get over narcissistic abuse and live a healthy life again. She said something like: “Look at the silent treatment as a gift. You are not dealing with the narcissist during this time.”
That is great in theory, but the problem is that the love and communication the narcissist withdraws from you because he or she wants to punish you for whatever wrong you did or didn’t do is a form of abuse. It makes you feel shameful. It makes you feel desperate. It makes you feel insane and unstable. And it can occur for countless reasons that make no sense to you even after the silent treatment is over and the narcissist has forgiven you or at least decided you were worthy enough to be in his or her life again.
There are countless blog posts and articles on the Internet about the silent treatment and why it happens. Many of those articles end with some kind of warning statement about how you need to get away from the narcissist immediately or give him or her the gray rock treatment. But if you are reading this article, and are experiencing or have experienced the silent treatment, and LONG for that love in your life to come back, please know you are NORMAL.
You are not crazy. You do not like to be punished or treated like dirt. You are following a normal behavior pattern that is now a habit in your life, just like smokers, and in order to get out of this habit, you have to want to change and have the ability to do it. (For example, if you are a teenager, and your mom is a narcissist, you may have to learn how to deal with this–you’re not able to say good-bye forever or be a gray rock.) I had a counselor one time tell me that resilience is the way go when we have to deal with narcissists in our lives, and I don’t think she is wrong. Sure, you can get rid of some–if you are dating, for example–but it’s still not easy.
So how do you survive?
- Talk to someone about it: Find a friend or a therapist you trust and talk about the silent treatment and how it makes you feel. Keeping all of that inside will only make you feel worse.
- Write about it: Journal about how you’re feeling or exactly what happened, as you remember it. Write a letter to the narcissist about your feelings, but don’t give it to that person–just write what you really want to say, so you can get your thoughts clear.
- Give yourself a break: What will make you feel better? Is it binge-watching Netflix? Going to the library and reading a book? Taking a walk with a friend? Whatever it is that you enjoy, do it during the silent treatment. You need to practice self-care and self-love and try to relax.
- Count your blessings: Chances are that you have some amazing things going on in your life, but they are hard to see because you are so worried about the narcissist, or he or she has made you feel terrible about everything in your life. Take a deep breath and find one thing you are thankful for. Then, the next day, find two things. For example, I have a beautiful daughter to hug. I have a house with heat.
The important thing to remember is that when you have an argument with someone, it is okay to take some time away from each other to cool down and figure out what you want to say. That is not the silent treatment. When you are trying to reach out to someone close to you, and this person is consistently not answering you or won’t communicate (aka the silent treatment), the only thing you can control is yourself. It is not okay for this person to be “punishing” you, but you can’t control it. You can try some of the strategies in this post to start building your self-esteem and practice self-love.