“Don’t let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” Dalai Lama
Time and again people are confusing the concepts of silent treatment, ghosting, and no contact. These topics are deployed as relates to communication between dating partners, friends, family members, and colleagues, and not always with the best of intentions. So to further assist with defining each of these concepts, the purpose of said action, and the intended response by the “executioner” of such statements shall be the focus of this article.
Definition: A psychological abuse tactic utilized by individuals with narcissistic tendencies to halt communication with a romantic partner, friend, family member, or business partner. Typically, as is the case with a narcissist, this individual has experienced a “narcissistic injury” whereby a close friend/lover/family member has laid a firm boundary or called out the NPD individual on their offensive behavior. The narcissistic person, by virtue of their diagnosis, cannot tolerate criticism or rejection in any form (even via constructive feedback). Their ego is so fragile that the construction of the false self is at risk of collapsing by this supposed “offense” (a person drawing their line in the sand over the NPD’s behavior). So the narcissist refuses to respond to their partner/family member/friend when said person attempts to contact the narcissist to resolve the conflict in communication. In essence, the narcissist ignores texts, phone calls, emails, and any attempt by the “offending party” to resolve the conflict.
In the face of a narcissistic injury, the narcissistic individual scurries frantically to gather some semblance of control. An NPD individual is terrified of abandonment, rejection, and vulnerability. Thus, they adhere rigidly to their inner defense structure of thick and impermeable walls, protecting a very fragile and insecure core (Zayn and Dibble, 2007). The Silent Treatment (ST) is deployed by an NPD when a narcissist desperately seeks to generate psychological equilibrium and control in the face of a perceived abandonment or rejection. The partner/family member/friend of the narcissist attempts to contact the narcissist to resolve the communication concern and move through it, seeking to create solutions in a mature manner. The ST is meant to impose a punishment on the offending party, such that the message from the NPD is that “You Don’t matter”, “How Dare You Question Me”, “I am in Control.”
Analysis of the Silent Treatment:
This psychological abuse tactic is sometimes executed before a Final Discard in the Idealize/Devalue/Discard cycles of narcissistic abuse. It is cruel and a form of psychological abuse. Period. It is also very immature and is akin to the narcissist throwing a tantrum like a 5 year old, pouting with their arms crossed, and refusing to talk with their caregiver. For the victim of the ST, remove yourself (if possible) from this relationship. It is NEVER okay for any one to generate psychological abuse. You DO matter.
Definition: In response to a friend/lover/family member/colleague with NPD, the survivor of emotional/psychological abuse may chose to go No Contact. What this means is essentially the survivor is choosing to protect themselves from further abuse by a psychological abuser (NPD or otherwise). The survivor blocks any communication between themselves and the abusive party via text/email/phone/social media/etc. NC (or Limited Contact if the abuser shares children with survivor) is utilized when the survivor decides to end the relationship with abusive party and protect oneself from further abuse. It is NOT designed to punish the abuser but is implemented in response to abuse by the NPD individual and to shield the survivor from further psychological assaults (Carnes, PP, 2015).
Purpose: To protect the survivor of psychological abuse from further emotional abuse from the NPD individual (i.e. in the form of gaslighting, silent treatment, projection, blame-shifting, smear campaign, and other forms of psychological abuse). To allow the survivor to have the space to heal from a toxic relationship without any contact with the abuser (Carter and Sokol, 2005).
Analysis of No Contact: Excellent and recommended stance for survivors to take to allow healing and recovery from narcissistic abuse in love, work or family. Highly recommended by helping professionals in the field of relational trauma.
Definition: When a friend/dating partner/family member fades off the planet from communication (text, email, phone, social media, in person). Typically refers to dating.
Purpose: Designed for a dating partner to send the message to the other party that they are “just not that into” the other person without having to face the discomfort of said person’s reaction to rejection.
Analysis of Ghosting: This is just asshole behavior. You don’t need the DSM for that clarification. When someone falls out of orbit without any rhyme or reason and leaves a dating partner wondering what happened, the “ghoster” is showing that they are cowards, and they cannot deal with the consequences (anger, etc.) of the dating partner’s reaction. This behavior is really reminiscent of middle school, a tactic rarely employed by emotionally mature people who possess integrity, empathy, and compassion.
Carnes, P. P. (2015). Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships. Health Communications, Incorporated.
Carter, S., & Sokol, J. (2005). Help! Im in love with a narcissist. New York: M Evans & Co, Inc.
Zayn, C., & Dibble, K. (2007). Narcissistic lovers: how to cope, recover and move on. Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press.