Stonewalling And The Silent Treatment: When The Narcissist’s Silence Is Deafening (2023)

By Shahida Arabi

God & Man

(Video) Stonewalling and The Narcissist's Silent Treatment: How They Are Different From No Contact

Has your partner, friend or family member ever ignored you when you tried to have an important discussion or addressed something significant to them? Have you ever been silenced by a toxic person’s silent treatment? You may have experienced what is known as “stonewalling.”

According to researcher Dr. Gottman, there are “four men of the apocalypse” or four communication styles in a relationship that can predict its inevitable demise. These are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

Stonewalling is when a person withdraws from a conversation or discussion and refuses to address your concerns. The person may choose to outright ignore your requests, respond with dismissive, invalidating replies or evade responding appropriately altogether by giving vague responses that refuse to answer your original questions.

In many cases, when one partner stonewalls another, the conversation is shut down before it even has a chance to begin.

Withdrawing from a partner like this can be extremely damaging to a relationship over time. As researcher Dr. Paul Schrodt (2013) discovered, this demand-withdraw pattern in relationships, in which one partner withdraws and the other partner becomes increasingly demanding in response, can cause anxiety, depression and further conflict within a relationship. While some partners (especially male partners) tend to use stonewalling to avoid conflict, what happens is that it actually causes more emotional friction.

Stonewalling: An Example

Stonewalling And The Silent Treatment: When The Narcissist’s Silence Is Deafening (3)

Let’s say that Mary is concerned with the way that her partner, Tom, has been treating her recently. He has been neglecting her and criticizing her constantly. She attempts to bring it up to him during dinner, only to be met with his stony silence. He gaslights her and tells her she’s overreacting. When she tries to explain herself, he abruptly says, “I am done!”

Shortly after, he leaves the dinner table, exits the apartment without another word and refuses to answer her subsequent phone calls.The conversation hasn’t even had a chance to begin before it’s already over. He returns her call the next day and acts as if nothing has happened. When Mary tries to bring up the incident, he tells her, “You should speak to your therapist about this,” and hangs up on her without waiting for her response.

In this scenario, Tom yet again stonewalls her, emotionally invalidates her and rudely redirects the conversation, unwilling to address the issues at hand even as they continue to build beneath the surface. This causes more distress to Mary and unnecessary tension and trauma. Had he actually taken the time to address her concerns, however, the outcome could’ve been far more productive and peaceful.

(Video) Narcissist - ghosting and stonewalling

Stonewalling and The Silent Treatment

Usually, stonewalling and the silent treatment go hand in hand. After the victim has been stonewalled, the other person is treated to a form of silence that is deafening. Yet the silent treatment can also occur without warning or stonewalling as well.

In an abusive relationship with a narcissist, the silent treatment and stonewalling are manipulative tactics embedded within the abuse cycle. In the beginning of the cycle, the narcissist may love-bomb their victim and idealize them, giving them excessive amounts of attention to win them over.

In the devaluation phase of the relationship, the tables are turned and the victim is provoked into trying to “win over” the narcissist. The toxic partner abruptly withdraws from their victim, unwilling to respond for a period of time with little to no explanation whatsoever. This silent treatment causes their partner excessive anxiety, fear and a persistent sense of self-doubt. The narcissist thrives off of the power and control they feel as they continue to pull the strings of the victim like a master puppeteer.

In the context of an abusive relationship, both techniques are deliberately used as control tactics – ways to intimidate, belittle and demean the victim into feeling insignificant. When a narcissist gives you the silent treatment, it’s a way to devalue you and make you feel invisible. It provokes you into reacting so that you are prone to doing whatever you can to gain back their attention and approval.

“In relationships, stonewalling is the emotional equivalent to cutting off someone’s oxygen. The emotional detachment inherent to stonewalling is a form of abandonment and the effect that it has on a spouse is dramatic.

The initial feelings of terror – which are usually below the water line of awareness – are typically followed by secondary feelings of anger and, then, aggressive efforts to get some emotional reaction – any emotional reaction – even a negative one. And when these efforts fail, the internal response for your spouse is predictable. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t love me. He’s left me.” – Jeffrey J. Pipe, Psy.D, Stonewalling vs. Empathy

Although stonewalling appears to place an end to communication, it actually speaks volumes and communicates something quite cruel to the person on the receiving end. Regardless of the intention of the person doing the stonewalling, this behavior communicates to their partner the following: “You’re not worth responding to. Your thoughts and feelings don’t matter to me. You don’t matter to me.”

The Psychological Effects of Stonewalling and The Silent Treatment

Stonewalling And The Silent Treatment: When The Narcissist’s Silence Is Deafening (4)

The silent treatment and stonewalling can have actual effects on the brain. Research indicates that such behaviors are a form of ostracism which activates the anterior cingulate cortex, the same part of the brain that detects physical pain.

(Video) Stonewalling: How The Narcissist Silences You

Being ignored can leave someone feeling injured – literally. These effects can linger powerfully for the victim, causing fresh abandonment wounds and reinforcing old ones.

“Excluding and ignoring people, such as giving them the cold shoulder or silent treatment, are used to punish or manipulate, and people may not realize the emotional or physical harm that is being done.” – Dr. Kipling Williams, Purdue University

While stonewalling can happen occasionally even in healthy relationships as a defense mechanism or coping method for conflict, it has harmful implications when it is used chronically as an abuse tactic by a toxic partner, such as a narcissist, a sociopath or a psychopath.

Occasionally in a relationship, someone might want a “break” from communicating to cool off. When that happens, both partners communicate that this is what they need. They do so in a manner that is both respectful and considerate.

Stonewalling by a narcissistic partner, however, is different. It is callous, cold and charged with manipulative intent. Toxic partners like these use stonewalling as a way to further their abuse and to cause their victims intense emotional pain. Normal, healthy partners might stonewall as a way to get out of conflict, but toxic and manipulative partners do so as a way to one-up their victims and provoke them into losing emotional control.

So long as the victim is driven to “win back” the toxic person, the stonewaller is able to continue to ignore the victim’s needs while the victim doubles their efforts to please them.

What To Do If You’re Being Stonewalled

Stonewalling And The Silent Treatment: When The Narcissist’s Silence Is Deafening (5)

If you’re being stonewalled in an abusive relationship and have tried to communicate your feelings to no avail, realize that the problem is not you. If this is a chronic problem, step away from the self-blame and stop walking on eggshells in an attempt to please a partner who refuses to be pleased. A toxic person’s communication patterns cannot be changed unless that person is willing to change them.

While stonewalling can be improved in the context of healthier relationships where both partners are willing to work on dysfunctional patterns, in an unhealthy relationship with a pathological partner, self-care is paramount. You have to learn when it is time to walk away and detach from this person. Otherwise, you’re just feeding into their sick mind games.

(Video) A Narcissist Explains: What is Narcissistic Silence? The silent pause after a narcissist insults you

When a narcissist stonewalls you or subjects you to the silent treatment, they want you to respond. They want you to chase after them and “beg” for their attention. They want to provoke you. They want to control and diminish you.

Rather than continuing to try to win back their attention or approval, reevaluate whether this relationship is one worth fighting for at all. If someone is giving you the silent treatment, use it as a period of “freedom” to reassess how you can better care for yourself and get the support you need to move forward from their toxicity.

A person who truly cares for you would make an effort to meet your needs, not neglect them. You deserve to be seen, not silenced. You deserve to be in a healthy relationship where your needs are acknowledged and your voice is heard. Stonewalling And The Silent Treatment: When The Narcissist’s Silence Is Deafening (6)


How do narcissists respond to stonewalling? ›

The narcissist makes fun of you or patronizes you

Other tactic narcissists use for avoiding communication through stonewalling is making fun of what victims say. They may patronize victims instead to shut them down or make them feel smaller. Covert narcissists are especially good at these tactics.

How do you respond to a narcissist silent treatment? ›

Tell the person how the silent treatment hurts and leaves you feeling frustrated and alone. That's not what you want or need in a relationship. Explain that you can't resolve issues this way, then be specific about those issues. If this sort of behavior is a relationship deal-breaker for you, state it plainly.

How do you respond to silent treatment or stonewalling? ›

How to respond
  1. Name the situation. Acknowledge that someone is using the silent treatment. ...
  2. Use 'I' statements. ...
  3. Acknowledge the other person's feelings. ...
  4. Apologize for words or actions. ...
  5. Cool off and arrange a time to resolve the issue. ...
  6. Avoid unhelpful responses.
Jun 8, 2020

What does it mean when a narcissist gives you the silent treatment? ›

Basically, the silent treatment is a passive-aggressive behavior by which an abuser communicates some sort of negative message to the intended victim that only the perpetrator and the victim recognize through nonverbal communication.

How do you respond to stonewalled? ›

If you are on the receiving end of stonewalling, try these response methods:
  1. Discuss topics in a safe space. ...
  2. Give an ultimatum. ...
  3. Offer help. ...
  4. Prioritize self-care. ...
  5. Take a breather. ...
  6. Tell your partner how you feel.
Nov 29, 2022

What does it mean when a narcissist stonewalls you? ›

Narcissist Stonewalling

Stonewalling is the refusal to communicate with someone. This means that your spouse refuses to listen to you and your concerns. Stonewalling is one of the most prevalent narcissistic abuse techniques.

How do you shut down the narcissist during the silent treatment? ›

Shut down the narcissist's silent treatment by disengaging.

Stop taking the narcissist's behavior personally. Remember that this is not about you or because of you – this is how they control and manipulate. There is no fixing this and it is not yours to fix if there were a way. It is not your fault!

What happens if you don t reach out during the narcissist periods of silent treatment? ›

They will get fearful and nervous as soon as you begin ignoring them. This is what happens when you ignore a narcissist. They may start to obsess around you even more by sending text messages like “I sincerely apologize” or “May we talk?” Don't mind them, and witness the effects of ignoring a narcissist.

How can the silent treatment backfire? ›

Depending on the method used, it can make the person on the receiving end feel powerless, invisible, intimidated, insignificant, “dissed”, looked down on, disapproved of, guilty, frustrated, and even angry.

Is stonewalling a form of control? ›

Being stonewalled can be incredibly frustrating for the person on the receiving end as they want to know what is wrong but are unable to get an answer. It can be considered a form of emotional abuse and is often used as a form of control.

How long does narcissistic silent treatment last? ›

The silent treatment can last for hours, days, weeks or months. Some people do this because they are genuinely hurt and unable to speak. When they do feel able to talk, it'll be a two-way conversation. A narcissist uses the silent treatment to punish you.

Can narcissists stand your silent treatment? ›

If narcissists don't get their way, they love to give people the silent treatment. This is very effective that makes the loved one distressed. They'll react negatively to not receiving the attention or love they are addicted to getting from the narcissist.

When a narcissist cuts you off? ›

Daramus lists some reasons why a person with narcissistic tendencies might discard you: You were too difficult for them to control. You were easily manipulated by them, causing them to look down upon you. You no longer fuel their ego, so they've moved on to someone else who can supply what they need.

Is stonewalling a trauma response? ›

Stonewalling Maybe Rooted In Trauma

In some cases, stonewalling is a trauma response. Those who experienced trauma, perhaps as a child or in previous relationship, will sometimes develop stonewalling as a coping mechanisism. It is a form of self preservation, like someone who passes out under extreme stress.

How long should stonewalling last? ›

This break should last at least twenty minutes since it will take that much time for your bodies to physiologically calm down.

How do you survive stonewalled? ›

How to Deal With Stonewalling From a Partner
  1. Focus on Yourself. Being stonewalled creates a lot of emotional responses. ...
  2. Try to Avoid Using the Other Horsemen. ...
  3. Request a Break. ...
  4. Utilize Self-Soothing Techniques. ...
  5. Don't Disengage Completely. ...
  6. Seek Out Professional Help.
Jul 28, 2022

Why does a narcissist block you everywhere? ›

The narcissist is controlling and manipulative. They block you because they want you to feel unstable and crazy. They want you to reflect on what you did to make the blocking happen, even if you had nothing to do with the decision. This is part of the devaluation stage of narcissistic abuse.

What makes a narcissist shut down? ›

Due to their inflated sense of self-worth and feelings of superiority, when they are presented with information that is counter to this belief, they feel insecure and uncomfortable internally. To resolve these negative feelings, they shut down all communication to prevent further possible criticism.

What happens when a narcissist realizes you blocked them? ›

They're likely to throw a temper tantrum.

They may hurl insults at you, or show up at your house to confront you in person. If they're really incapable of controlling themselves, they may even threaten you. This is why it's generally not a good idea to let a narcissist know you're going to block them ahead of time.

How do you neutralize the narcissist's favorite weapon the silent treatment? ›

Give them and yourself some space. One way to diffuse a tense situation is to retreat for a while. Give yourself some room to regroup and collect your thoughts. The narcissist may realize that the silent treatment isn't as effective as they thought or that they're risking everything by using it.

Do narcissists come back after the silent treatment? ›

More often, the narcissist will go silent for some period of time, and then return as if nothing happened. They may have found a new source of supply but had a falling out with them and now they need something from you. Your best bet is to ignore them the way they ignored you earlier.

What is a narcissistic collapse? ›

Narcissistic collapse is an intense emotional reaction experienced by a narcissistic person when they sense a setback. It can lead to withdrawal or vindictive behaviors. The signs of narcissistic collapse may vary from person to person.

Does no contact make a narcissist miss you? ›

The narcissist is hurt because usually there wouldn't be anyone to give them the attention and satisfaction they would get from their partner, not until the no contact phase is over or they find another person to work their “magic” on. So, does a narcissist miss you after no contact? In many cases, they will.

What is the emotional effects of stonewalling? ›

For the person being stonewalled, it can leave them feeling confused, hurt and angry. It can wear down on their self-esteem, leading them to feel worthless or hopeless. For the person stonewalling, they also suffer as they are denying themselves emotional intimacy with their partner.

Why silent treatment is the best revenge? ›

Silence speaks volumes

Believe it, the silence and zero reaction really bothers your ex, and they consider it as the best served revenge. Nothing creates more curiosity than silence. Your ex would expect a vent or an angry rant from you, but don't give in. If you do, you are meeting their expectations.

Why does the silent treatment hurt so much? ›

The silent treatment is a particularly insidious form of abuse because it might force the victim to reconcile with the perpetrator in an effort to end the behavior, even if the victim doesn't know why they're apologizing. “It's especially controlling because it deprives both sides from weighing in,” Williams said.

How long should the silent treatment last? ›

The silent treatment can last for hours, days, weeks or months. Some people do this because they are genuinely hurt and unable to speak. When they do feel able to talk, it'll be a two-way conversation. A narcissist uses the silent treatment to punish you.

What to do when he doesn t communicate? ›

15 ways to communicate with a man that won't communicate
  1. Broach the subject. ...
  2. His eyes say a lot. ...
  3. What are his hands and arms doing? ...
  4. Don't play the blame game. ...
  5. Talk about your feelings as well. ...
  6. Compliment his looks often. ...
  7. Ensure your tone of voice is appropriate.
Jul 5, 2022

What kind of people use the silent treatment? ›

The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse typically employed by people with narcissistic tendencies.

How the silent treatment is toxic? ›

In general, the silent treatment is a manipulation tactic that can leave important issues in a relationship unresolved. It also can leave the partner on the receiving end feeling worthless, unloved, hurt, confused, frustrated, angry, and unimportant.

Why silence is powerful with a man? ›

The silent treatment puts a man in heightened anticipation. It shows you aren't afraid of little distance or break in a relationship. He doesn't know your whereabouts or how you feel.

How do narcissists respond to being blocked? ›

Most narcissists will view being blocked as an act of aggression. A blocked narcissist won't have any ability to silence or control you, which is very important for them. This is highly likely to be an overwhelming and scary feeling for them.

How does a narcissist respond to a break up? ›

Narcissists hate losing their supply, so they won't let you go easily. Prepare for them to promise "to change." They might suddenly start doing things for you that you'd been complaining about. They may say "you'll be lost without me," or "you'll never find someone like me." Don't listen, Orloff advises.

How does a narcissist respond to criticism? ›

A narcissist may react aggressively to criticism in an effort to avoid re-experiencing the loneliness they suffered in the past. In response to criticism, a narcissist may also take great pains to devalue or invalidate the person criticizing them.

How do narcissists react when confronted? ›

What can you expect when you do confront a narcissist? Generally, they will resort to narcissistic rage (explosive or passive-aggressive) or denial. He or she may become enraged, deny everything, call you a liar, twist reality, blame you and then play the victim.


1. The Cruelty Behind The Covert Narcissist-Deafening Silence
(Peace and Harmony)
2. The Silent Treatment: A Narcissistic Control Mechanism with Yitz Epstein, Life Coach
(Dr Judy WTF)
3. Covert Narcissist Silent Treatment-Especially During The Holidays
(Peace and Harmony)
4. The Silent Treatment - Eva Marcille (RHOA)
(DD Morris Coaching)
5. What to Know About Stonewalling in a Relationship
6. Bullying Series Part 2: Is Stonewalling Bullying?
(Worldpeacefull Empowerment)
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