5.e. Narcissistic Mother's Silent Treatment


The silent treatment is "the act of ignoring and excluding a person or group by another person or group." It is a passive-aggressive form of communication that conveys contempt, disapproval and displeasure. It can be used in virtually any relationship for a variety of reasons, but control is the core issue in the silent treatment.

The silent treatment can be so destructive to relationships that John Gottman included it as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse in relationships. In other words, it is a relationship killer.  While some may use the silent treatment prior to learning more effective communication skills, it is often used by abusive narcissistic mothers to control, punish, test boundaries, avoid accountability and avoid even discussing unpleasant issues.

Cooling Off Period v. the Silent Treatment

A cooling off period is not the same as the silent treatment. A cooling off period can actually be healthy for a relationship when both people remain quiet for a short period of time until they are able to communicate without being hateful. Often 20 or 30 minutes is enough time to allow any anger to subside and gather your thoughts, but it varies from person to person and situation to situation. If only negativity is going to come out of your mouth, then remaining silent is not the silent treatment. It is healthy prudence. 

So not everyone who remains silent is trying to punish or control the other person, at least not intentionally. Some use it in order to give the other person "some time to think." However, the belief by one party that the other person should be able to read their mind is another scenario that often leads to the silent treatment. 

Common Results of the Silent Treatment:

  • Resentment by the person remaining silent. The person not speaking is resentful because the other person cannot read their mind. They believe the person should know what the problem is without them having to tell them.
  • Resentment by the person being given the silent treatment because the other person will not tell them what the problem is even though they are making them suffer for it.
  • Even if the problem is obvious and known by both parties, the silent treatment ensures that the communication necessary to resolve the issue will not occur.
  • Used habitually it can cause withdrawal in the relationship during a crisis.
  • Ensures that issues are not resolved, but causes issues to build up. So the next time there is an argument the same issues come up.
  • Can cause anger to increase while no solution is found.
  • Threatens the long term viability of the relationship.


Healthier Alternatives to the Silent Treatment

  • No one can read your mind, so clear communication is needed.
  • Cool off and remain silent for a set period of time until you can communicate without overreacting or being hateful.
  • If the issue cannot be resolved in one day, then agree to another time to address the issue until it is resolved. This acknowledges that there is a problem that needs solved without attacking anyone as a person.
  • If there can be no clear communication without anger or if you habitually use the silent treatment, then consult a professional.


The Silent Treatment Violates Basic Human Needs

Dr. Kipling Williams at the University of New South Wales has been studying the phenomenon of ostracism. He defines ostracism as "the act of ignoring and excluding an individual or a group by another individual or group." Ostracism is known by many different names and can be used while in the presence of one another or physically apart.

Examples of terminology used when a person is ostracized and physically removed from the other person or group, including:
  • Shunning
  • Exile
  • Banishment
Examples of terminology used when the people involved remain in the presence of one another, include:
  • The silent treatment
  • Getting the cold shoulder
  • Being sent to coventry
  • Meidung
The silent treatment in all of its various forms can be so damaging because it violates four fundamental human needs:
  • The need to belong. Human beings need to feel connected. Ostracism undermines this sense of belonging.

  • Sense of control. People need to feel a sense of control, which can be maintained as long as they are able to argue their point of view. The silent treatment removes that sense of control.

  • Self esteem. Human beings need to value and respect themselves. Being ostracized induces a feeling that you have done something wrong or that there is something about you that is wrong or bad.

  • Human beings need a sense of meaningful existence, but ostracism can take that away. It can cause you to feel as if you are invisible and meaningless.

The Stonewalling Silent Treatment

Dictionary dot com defines stonewalling as behavior to "block, stall or resist intentionally." Steve Becker, LCSW of Love Fraud, states stonewalling is "shutting down a partner’s communication either aggressively, or passive aggressively, the effect of which is to leave the 'stonewalled' partner feeling voiceless, alone, dismissed, and negated as a person. While stonewalling, then, can arise from less malign motives, too often it expresses serious pathological aggression, passive-aggression, hostility, contempt and callousness."

Stonewalling can take many forms, including Narcissistic Mother carrying on as if you are not talking to her. For example, you are discussing an issue and the stonewaller starts reading the newspaper. 


The Silent Treatment Used to Ostracize the Scapegoat

While this series attempts to articulate the dirty tricks of narcissistic mothers one-by-one, it is rarely so clear cut in real life. The silent treatment is often combined with other tactics from the narcissist's bag of dirty tricks. 

For example, my late narcissistic personality disordered mother would pull this stunt then immediately inflict the silent treatment. This is the previously discussed dirty trick of playing the victim while vilifying the true victim.

I confronted my mother for lying and spreading vicious gossip about me. She flew into a disproportionate rage, screaming profanity, and telling me to get out of her life and stay out of it. She then told everyone I screamed that profanity at her, while immediately inflicting the silent treatment and later demanding an apology from me! 

We did not speak for four years during that silent treatment, nor did I make any attempt to. A few months after this happened, when she was getting no response, she orchestrated a big melodrama attempting to make it appear I had attacked her when I was not even speaking to her. 

She was manipulating for abuse by proxy, to get the flying monkey extended family members to punish me with abuse by proxy because I was not giving her the satisfaction of letting her know it was bothering me in the least.

Thus, the prolonged silent treatment can transition into the ostracism of the scapegoat in a toxic family. What she was doing was continuing to attempt to breakdown my extended family relationships and reputation with more of her lies and maneuvers behind my back, while simultaneously having me in intense emotional pain. 

There was never any empathy or remorse for any of this abuse.  If you are in this situation, please reach out for support. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. Seek counseling from a pastor or preacher. Find a therapist knowledgeable in this area. 


The Silent Treatment v. No Contact

There are narcissists and flying monkeys who insist the only distinction between the silent treatment and an adult child of a narcissist going no contact is semantics. This conveniently fits nicely with the ultimate reason many flying monkeys are - well, flying monkeys. 

In my experience it is rarely because they are truly innocent and ignorant of the truth, even though that is a lesson it took many years to learn. It is often because they are abusive and narcissistic themselves. They also may fear becoming the target of the narcissist's wrath if they stand up to them.  They may also be in the same coven, cult or secret society and be bound in ways you never even considered.

In any case, this ridiculous statement is one more example of the spin that is put on defining situations and terms in a cult-like narcissistic family system.   

First of all, the motive is completely different at its core. A narcissist imposes the silent treatment to control and punish. This is usually done for a childish reason while the narcissist is throwing a temper tantrum as a disproportionate response to something they did not like. It is often akin to a six year old informing a playmate that if they do not get their way, they are taking their toys and going home. 

When an adult son or daughter decides to go no contact, it may well be in anger. However, in stark contrast to the narcissist's temper tantrum, the adult child comes to the painful conclusion after years of being used, abused and manipulated. It is usually a self-protective, albeit often painful decision for the adult child.

Secondly, the narcissistic mother's silent treatment is punishment to get you back in line so they can have their way, shut you up, avoid confrontation, etc. It is just one more way a narcissist avoids accountability, manipulates and punishes. 

When the adult child goes no contact it is often in order to work on the mammoth load of emotional baggage thrust upon them by the narcissistic family. The thing the adult child is attempting to avoid is being injected with more venom while they are attempting to heal the old wounds.

To say the narcissist inflicting the silent treatment is the same thing as the adult child going no contact is a ridiculous statement to make if someone is even remotely aware of the true nature of dealing with a narcissistic personality disordered mother. Don't buy it. 

Experience has taught me not to waste my time and energy trying to explain or justify myself to a flying monkey. I like to say something like, "You might be right, but that is my decision." That seems to defuse them from attempting to force you to see things their way, but politely reinforces your boundary. Do not give any further explanation. This may feel awkward at first, but with practice and recovery it becomes easier to resist the urge to take the bait.

How to Handle the Silent Treatment

When I look back on the long estrangements resulting from my narcissistic personality disordered mother inflicting her silent treatment, they look like blessings in disguise. It certainly did not feel that way at the time! I was in agonizing emotional pain, but she never gave the slightest hint it bothered her in the least.  Of course, she was never emotionally attached in the first place, so the silent treatment came easily for her. 

It was a mind game to her. It was just one more way she invalidated me, tearing me down to make herself feel better. If I had it to do over, I might just consider the long bouts of the silent treatment as a blessing in disguise! However, I know well from experience how painful it can be. Here are some things to avoid when narcissistic mother is giving you the silent treatment:
  • Do not argue.
  • Do not beg.
  • Do not blame yourself.
  • Do not attempt to force communication.
  • Do not apologize when you did not do anything wrong.
  • Do not internalize the projections and negative messages.
  • Do not show the narcissist the silent treatment is bothering you.

It is truly pathetic, but I honestly believe she thrived on causing me pain. The only thing any of the above does is reinforce the behavior and invite more of the same. Narcissist Mother may well continue in the silent treatment even without any response, but do not encourage it. Here are some things to do:
  • Realize the silent treatment is used by abusive personalities to control, punish, invalidate and silence you.
  • Realize the chronic use of the silent treatment is emotional abuse and unacceptable behavior in a relationship.
  • Put your focus on your own life and recovery, detach.
  • Get help. See a therapist, join a support group, or confide in a trusted friend.
  • Realize the silent treatment is destructive to relationships and individuals so you do not in turn give others the silent treatment.

If you use the silent treatment in your relationships, realize it is threatening to the long term viability of the relationship. If you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment of a narcissistic mother, examine the motivation behind it and determine how you will respond.  It may just be a blessing in disguise.


  1. Thank you very much for this. Today was my birthday and for the second year in a row, my mother decided to make it an unpleasant day for me by getting angry over nothing and yelling at me, putting me down. I am 49 today. She is 75. I have hidden disabilities as a result of years of abuse and severe major depressive recurring episodes. I have a harder time maybe than most separating from her because I am slightly financially dependent on her as I can no longer work full time. I do have a part time business of my own, but it hardly covers enough of what I need for basic living costs.

    Anyway, the fact that I have ended up needing her help after a big car accident some years ago as well, has put me very much in the line of fire, but come to think of it, even before the accident when I was working in my field, she still was yelling at me and trying to control various aspects of my life.

    I realize now that I have a bad case of C-PTSD and not a personality disorder. She has the personality disorder but when I stand up to her or tell her something hurt me, she snickers and says I really need to "get help." Meanwhile this woman has never done any inner work or any counseling of her own. Her mother was a raging narcissist/borderline and worse in some ways to her than she is to me.

    Anyway, before I ramble on much more, I wanted to say that she pulled this invalidating/turn tables thing with me when she treated me like a dog on my birthday today. I made the mistake of calling her on it and trying to get her to see how she had hurt me. This led to her saying she was not going to have this conversation and was on her way to hanging up on me. For the first time - maybe ever - I beat her to the punch and said, "Yeah, goodbye" and hung up on her for change!

    I thought of calling her back but decided not to. I might have even done so and then hung up the phone again. I don't know....I became very emotionally dysregulated around her and these blow outs.

    My father called me to wish me a happy birthday and I just started balling and telling him everything. they are not longer married and my father (and my step-mother, later on) both assured me it is NOT me, that my mother has a mental illness and that I can expect to keep dealing with it the rest of my life.

    I spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out how to not feel like a horrible person after she gets done turning tables on me and making me out to be the bad guy. If I try to say how I feel, she starts in that I am accusing her of being a bad mother....and that she can't say anything to me. But the reality is that she started gratuitously screaming at me on the phone when she found out I had come home from a visit to her to a flea infestation in my apt. I was alreayd very tired and upset, it was my birthday, and all she could do was start yelling that I never listen to her, which led to me trying to defend myself that I had it under control when I left, and her coming at me that, "Well, you didn't, did you?" (because I didn't take her advise and flea bomb before I left, though I used other stuff in my carpet that seemed to be working.)

    Why the need to get so irrate and critical and demeaning over something like that, I will never understand. But as she gets older, it is getting worse and my tolerance for all the abuse is getting less.


  2. Wow. So many things you said hit home for me. My Father told me that while flying somewhere with his boss once, the boss said you know, Roy, it's hard to like people sometimes. I was born into a narcissistic family system. I married narcissistic men and I now have 2 sons who have ostracized me after marrying women who, apparently, do not want a mother-in-law in their lives. I am absolutely exhausted and deflated trying to navigate the rough waters of these disordered personalities (including those of my sons). I hate to give up on them, but I must focus now on keeping myself afloat. There is so much beauty in life and this universe. It makes me so sad that people make life so difficult and cannot see the light.

  3. On Christmas day 2012, my entire narcissistic family, led by my psychopathic, narcissistic sister and evil, covert narc mother, decided I was a disgrace to the family and totally abandoned me. I never saw it coming. The day before they were all coming to my house for Christmas day as planned, then, BAM! Nobody wanted anything to do with me. I was banished and ostracized in one day. It nearly killed me. To this day, I still have no idea what I did and no one has ever given me the reason I am so horrible that no one wanted me. That's the hardest part, if you know what you did, you can try to amend it. But not knowing and being denied the opportunity to try to amend your mistake means that you are worthless and unwanted just because you're you. How inhumane! But, I did as I was told, I stayed away, that is what they wanted, right, for me to not exist.
    The next day I changed all my and my families phone numbers and crawled in a hole that was my hellish nightmare for 2 1/2 years. I finally crawled out of that whole after it took me to a total nervous breakdown. Thank God, because I got a therapist and medications and they led to my recovery. Today, I feel like their abandonment was God's greatest gift to me. He knows my heart and he knew I would never leave them, no matter how horrible they were to me for years. So, God took them away, for me, for me to live a life of pure joy, real love, and complete happiness in my husband and children. I have, truly, never been this free!
    One more thing....
    I didn't know it at the time that the best thing I could have done was, actually, what I did do, left them alone. I did it for self-preservation, not to cause anyone pain or for any evil reasons. But, by doing so, it made them crazy. One year after that Christmas, right at thanksgiving, on my son's birthday in fact (this is how selfish narcs are, my malignant narc sister didn't even realize it was her nephew's birthday) my psycho sister who started everything called to let me know that I was evil, sick, twisted and in serious need of mental health. Then she preceded to tell me that I WILL become a part of "this family" again and I WILL start taking care of our parents again, and I WILL do exactly as she said or she would call my husband, tell him I had an affair, and ruin my marriage and my life. Nice, huh!?
    First, if I truly believe someone is so evil and so sick the last thing I want is them in my life. Second, it never even crossed her mind the damage she could have caused my children by her lies.
    Third, she had orchestrated the worst nightmare of my life and it had horrific effects directly on my husband and children. They all had to watch, helpless, as I crumbled into pieces and cried painful sobs daily over the loss of my family. Yet, she honestly believed she could just call up my husband and she was going to have this nice little chat with him and he would believe her!
    They are Satan himself, evil, destructive to the core. Vultures who feed off the pain and anguish they cause others. I have no place in my life or heart for any of them, ever. I don't even allow them to invade my serenity. God knows my truth and he knows theirs. He will deal with them in ways I could never even imagine and I will let him take it all from me. I refuse to become anything that resembles what or who they are. I have broken the chain with my little family. My children know, without a single doubt, that they are THE most important part of mine and my husband's life. Everything is about making sure they know how much we love them, not for what they can do, but just because they are.


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