The above link is an excellent article from By Andrea Schneider, LCSW, on goodtherapy.org about the near deadly weapon of “The Silent Treatment.”
Many of you know what it is like to be completely ignored by someone close to you. You are left wondering what you did wrong as you suddenly realize, without explanation, that you have been deemed “unworthy” of any kind of communication. Any attempt at resolution is thwarted. It is as if that person gets a charge out of holding a grudge.
Andrea says “The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse designed to (1) place the abuser in a position of control; (2) silence the target’s attempts at assertion; (3) avoid conflict resolution/personal responsibility/compromise; or (4) punish the target for a slight against the narcissistic person’s ego.”
Those who find themselves a target of such a treatment have likely tried to resolve the issue through normal communication channels only to discover the narcissistic person has no interest in resolution. He or she gets a “charge” out of remaining quietly hostile.
It is not easy to be on the receiving end of such behavior and Andrea’s suggestion is to distance yourself from the relationship. This would be my suggestion too, if you can. In some cases the narcissist is a family member or in-law whom you see when visiting someone you love or a co-worker, even a boss at work or a friend in your social circle.
In a case when you can’t just close the door on the relationship it is best to simply be the bigger person. Since narcissists have the emotional development of a five year old, this isn’t hard to do. Most of us have far surpassed that level of emotional growth.
Don’t confuse emotional growth with intellect. Narcissistic people can be highly developed intellectually which is why they can be such great manipulators. However keep in mind the emotional development has to do with ones ability to deal effectively with his or her emotional reality.
A bruised ego can easily factor in as the reason a narcissistic person cuts you off. You may have said or done something that challenged his or her idea of himself or herself as superior. It might not even have anything to do with you. You may have received a promotion at work or lost twenty pounds or are simply happy in your life.
More often it is because the narcissistic person feels a loss of control and in his or her mind you are the reason for that. Maybe you simply can’t be controlled or as Andrea says “set a boundary.” Imagine that.
In the case of a family member narcissistic people want to control their partners level of connection and intimacy with other family members so they can have greater control over their partner. If they see you as any kind of threat to their current level of control you will be on the chopping block.
You can be the bigger person by ignoring the behavior and continue your involvement with your other friends, family members or coworkers. The more you “kill them with kindness” and don’t “buy in” to the obvious hostility directed towards you, the more you will see the truth demonstrated. This really isn’t about you. It is a projection of the narcissistic persons inner pain and chaos as well as his/her fear of losing control.
Meeting hatred with hatred doesn’t solve a problem. It is war! Meeting hatred with love is the higher path; not just love for the other person that comes from the understanding you are really dealing with a five year old; but also love for yourself and the pain that you are feeling from being targeted.
It never feels good to have hostility and hatred projected at us. It is our nature to want to resolve the issue; but it is important to understand that narcissistic people don’t really resolve issues. They are more likely to hold a grudge until such a time that they can’t remember why they are holding a grudge and transfer their hostility to someone else.
Narcissistic people, including borderline personalities need to have an enemy. They need an object for their projection. It isn’t always the significant other. Sometimes it is a family member or friend. The object of his/her projection can be interchangeable. If she makes up with the loathed friend because of some benefit to her, she will have to target someone else to project her hostility onto. It is never about the object of his/her projection. It is about the inner self loathing and shame that is so unbearable that it has to have an outlet.
We often judge others to avoid self judgement. If we make others inferior we might feel superior to them in some way. This is human nature but is highly exaggerated in the narcissistic person.
So if you find yourself the target for the judgement and silent treatment from someone close to you and any honest, sincere attempt to resolve the issue is met with hostility, you may be dealing with a narcissist or borderline personality. The best solution is to release any need or attempt to resolve the issue, if you have tried already to do this. Instead ignore the behavior, possibly the person and focus your attention elsewhere. When that person realizes they aren’t getting any satisfaction out of their “ignoring you” they may re-engage.
If that person suddenly wants to make nice but won’t take responsibility for his/her past behavior, you won’t likely feel at peace with that person until you can come to some kind of resolution. Narcissists want you to admit fault, apologize and take responsibility which puts them in the position of power. You may offer an apology just to keep the peace, but you will always wonder when it will happen again.