The Narcissist’s Silence

I don’t really know why I haven’t addressed the issue of the narcissist’s penchant for using silence as a means of control earlier. After all, it was one of his modes of behavior that affected me the most and that turned me into an obsessive mess. The fact that I often didn’t hear a single word from him in days was a constant source of nearly unbearable pain, as it was ample proof of his distance and lack of concern. I constantly felt the desire to message him or give him a call. For me it was a sign of a healthy relationship that you wanted to stay in touch as often as possible. Not hearing from him over long periods of time was signalling me that my relationship to the narcissist was not in the least committed, and that he basically decided how close I was allowed to get. Through his silence and his control over our communication he kept me at bay and dictated the terms of our relationship. As a result, I felt completely powerless and dependent. Spending days in a row staring at my phone in the vain hope of receiving a message was a humiliating and nerve-racking experience, and I began to hate myself for making my entire happiness dependent on his inconsistent and uncommitted behavior.

I was confronted with his tendency to stay silent right from the beginning of our interaction. I got clear signs for his unavailability and inconsistency right from the start and nevertheless refused to see the red flags or to save myself while I was still not that emotionally involved. Our first date was pure perfection: There was an instant connection, we seemed to have so much in common and our minds seemed to be in tune. He already kissed me on said first date and I was swept off my feet, feeling as if I had just won the lottery. However, this feeling of bliss wasn’t supposed to last very long. When I met him again at work the following day, he just ignored me and didn’t even say goodbye before he left. I was shattered and couldn’t make any sense of it. I had to wait three days to hear from him again. Those three days were a time of extreme self-doubt and frustration. How could it be that he just stayed silent while I was floating on cloud number nine? Had I done anything wrong – anything that could justify his silence? As you can imagine, I was looking for an explanation in all the wrong places and it never occurred to me that he was just unwilling to offer commitment, or at least an interaction based on sincerity.

When we finally went on our second date he was all over me again – dragging me into deserted streets to be able to kiss me. Again I was completely swept of my feet and convinced that his previous silence had had no meaning. However, I was soon proven wrong. After our second date I again waited in vain for a message from him. It was so agonizing and heartbreaking that I contacted him two days later. I just couldn’t stand the silence any longer and asked when I would meet him again. Things would go on like this until the end of the relationship. I constantly had to wait several days for a call or a message from him. I could write the most heartfelt emails, pouring my heart out to him, and still I had to wait for several days for a reaction. He completely dictated the terms of our interaction, he was in control of every channel of communication, and I didn’t have a say.

The devastating effects of his silent treatment reached ist peak after several weeks. He had once again cancelled on me in the last minute, telling me that he was just too exhausted from work, and that he would make up for the missed date on the following weekend. However, when said weekend finally arrived, I just didn’t hear from him. I tried to contact him, but all my messages and calls were just ignored. I had been looking forward to that weekend for days and had cancelled all my other plans, just to find myself being ignored. It was devastating and I spent the entire weekend lying on the couch, crying and shaking all over, obsessing over why he ignored me, and scared shitless by the thought that something might have happened to him. When he contacted me again once the weekend was over he acted as if it was the most natural thing to not follow through with one’s plans and to not even inform the other party involved about it. He told me he hadn’t ignored me on purpose and had just been too busy to get in touch with me. Well…he couldn’t have been too busy to at least leave a message telling me he wouldn’t be able to see me after all. From that moment on everything was changed…I no longer could find any excuses for his silence and distance. I basically knew that he was utterly unattached and uncommitted, but refused to let that knowledge inform my behavior. I kept holding on to him, waiting for his messages, and was slowly losing my mind.

At the beginning of our relationship, when I was still not aware that he controlled our communication, I often couldn’t take the silence any longer and just contacted him. However, after a certain amount of time I cut down my efforts. First of all, it made me feel extremely needy and clingy to always be the one seeking contact. Secondly, I gradually gained insight into the fact that he wanted to be the one in charge of communication. I just tried to accept that he was in total command, that he expected me to patiently wait for him to contact me, and that he thereby controlled how close I was allowed to get. He contacted me whenever it suited his schedule, or whenever he felt like seeing me again. What I wanted never seemed to matter at all. I was slowly going crazy longing for him, waiting for the next opportunity to see him, and he didn’t seem to mind. If it didn’t fit into his schedule or if he didn’t feel like it, I just wasn’t allowed to see him. I accepted it, but of course it made me feel small, unwanted, pushed aside and undeserving of affection and care.

Whenever I heard from him or saw him again (often after several days or even weeks), he would treat me like a princess, telling me how nice it was to see me again, being all over me. He acted as if it was the most natural thing to keep silent for days and then just pick up from where he left – as if nothing had happened. It was like riding an emotional rollercoaster. One day I was suffering from his silence and seriously doubting his dedication. The next day he would sweep me off my feet again, showering me with compliments, caressing me, treating me like a cherished treasure. It was so confusing that I began to doubt my own sanity: How could he shower me with affection and then again ignore me for days? How could I be so assured of his affection one day, and then again be convinced that he was absolutely distanced and uncommitted? He was blowing hot and cold and I was falling apart from the constant insecurity about the nature of his feelings towards me.

After a certain amount of time the frustration had become so unbearable and his silence so humiliating that I had to take action. In order to get out of my obsessive frame of mind, I had to force myself to not check my phone or my emails for several days. I stashed away both my phone and my laptop in order not to completely lose my sanity. Sometimes I followed through with this tactic for several days in a row. Whenever I checked my phone again, I usually had a message waiting for me – and I therefore spared myself the agony of staring at my phone in vain for days in a row. My friends and family thought I was losing my mind because I stashed away my phone. For me, however, it was a necessary precaution to not feel like a needy and dependent mess and to not be constantly frustrated because of his torturing silence.

On one occasion I could finally muster the resolve to tell him how much his silence was hurting me – how unsatisfying and frustrating it was to receive no messages in days. In his reply he accused me of “measuring the depth of his feelings by the word count of his email”. He somehow couldn’t grasp that it was absolutely nerve-racking to have to wait for several days for a message (which often consisted of only a single sentence).

Now that the relationship is over I’m relieved that I can finally let go of obsessively staring at the phone, waiting for a message of him. All throughout our relationship, I was constantly on edge, waiting for him to get in touch and severely disappointed whenever he didn’t do so. Over the course of time I had worked myself into such an obsessed state of mind that I had to stash my phone away to keep myself from not going insane. The narcissist doesn’t care that he is slowly ripping you apart through his silence. He wants to stay in charge, he wants to dictate the terms of the relationship, and in order to be able to do so, he controls every aspect of our interaction with him. Everything is always according to his schedule, and he only contacts us when he feels like it or when it fits into his plans. After a certain amount of time you begin to accept their silence and you try to handle the realization that you have no say at all in what is going on. They often keep their silence for days and when they contact us again they just pick up from where they left. Instead of showing resistance, we tend to jump whenever they contact us again. All the frustration and agony is suddenly forgotten once they are all over us again. Moments of bliss alternate with extreme depression and disappointment, and we are often exhausted and drained from all the ups and downs.

I’ve finally learned to interpret silence as a red flag. In a healthy and committed relationship you don’t have to constantly beg for attention and submissively accept to be treated with silence. Besides, you never should have the nagging feeling that you have no say at all in what is going on. Being ignored for days in a row is a humiliating experience that makes you feel powerless, unwanted and worthless. I never want anyone to make me feel that way ever again…I never again want to beg for attention. It should be given freely and not be withheld as a means of staying in control and of determining how close you are allowed to get.

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16 thoughts on “The Narcissist’s Silence

    • “Degrading” is exactly the right word…I also felt as if I had to debase myself to get his attention. It is very exhausting to always have to wait for their little breadcrumps of affection and attention. It was consuming all of my energy. Thank you so much for your comment!

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  1. Am currently going through this with ex in custody battle. Narcissism turned parental alienation. Without my lawyer, I’d be a psychotic mess. Yet he reads my poetry and well, if that’s the one thing that gets under his pustulant skin, so be it.

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  2. Oh dear, once again I totally identify. Silence was one of the things that drove me up the wall. I would say to him: it takes 20 seconds to reply or send a message and you can’t do that? (because he claimed he was always too busy to even text) and he would reply by telling me I was too needy and too clingy. Ha! I’ve always been the independent type and never been needy or clingy: I just expected a reply when I text him, and not one that would come 3 days later. Then of course, when things went really bad between us and I would text him my “disappointment” over yet again another broken promise, cancelled date, etc….he would just not reply at all, on purpose. Because I was “nagging” and was being “difficult” and he just couldn’t be bothered with it all. So he ignored the texts, and just stonewalled me. Emotional abuse is what it is, as I told him but like all true narcs, he just didn’t care. The incredible thing was that when it ended he actually said to me: “It needed to end for the sake of my sanity”. HIS sanity! I had no words. This is what narcs do though, they abuse you and drive you to the brink of insanity yet turn it all around on you.
    Anyway, venting over 🙂 it’s just that every time I read your posts I think “OMG YES!” and this one particularly got to me.

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    • I also always tended to be the independent type in my previous relationships. I was even criticized for being too distanced. In my relationship with the narc I suddenly was “clingy” and “needy” just because I expected him to answer my calls or texts (and I didn’t even send him many texts or called him that often). I can therefore totally relate to your comment. He turned me into a mess with his silence and distance. It’s just the most humiliating thing ever to be ignored… I poured my heart out to that guy several times because I was on the brink of breaking down…I almost never got an answer…and whenever he had the decency to honor me with an answer he told me I was overreacting…they really can have you doubt your own sanity! Thank you so much for your comment. It feels so good to know that I am not alone with what happened to me and that there is obviously a pattern. Being able to put a label on things is so important for the healing process. I’m so grateful that you share your experiences with me!

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  3. Hi Hugsy, great post! I couldn’t agree more. Especially the point where you’re constantly checking your phone for a message or response to a message you have send. I also got to a point where I had to keep my phone away to stop myself from checking it all the time. I guess that’s why at the end of it all, going no contact requires for one to block the narcissist completely, that way you know there are no messages to be expected.

    The irony, (or maybe not) is that when I finally got too wounded by all the random silence and opened up to him in earnest about how it hurt me and caused me grief and anxiety, it’s like I had given him a loaded gun to shoot me with… He now did it even more frequently and deliberately. It’s like he enjoyed knowing just how much suffering his silence was causing me. In the end, I left primarily because of this silence. I simply couldn’t handle it anymore. Interestingly, he claims how much I “hurt” him by not “understanding” his silences. How can one be expected to understand deliberate and manipulative silence? I now couldn’t care less if I never hear from him again. Like you said, anyone who genuinely cares about you wouldn’t want to drive you half out of your mind trying to get their attention.

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    • You are right…the silence is the most excruciating thing ever. I thought I was losing my mind because of it. We know that they can’t be too busy to send one little message or to just give us a call. We therefore interpret their silence as distance and cold indifference. It is so heartbreaking to be ignored by the one you would be willing to sacrifice almost everyting for…Thank you for your comment! As I already said before, it is a soothing thought to know that I am not alone with what I’ve experienced.

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  4. Wow you’re an amazing writer. I feel like your ex could have been my ex twin brother! Mine also was the perpetual victim. Fortunately for me I was discarded after a decade of marriage and I’m now recovering. I ended up with severe depression and high blood pressure. As well as losing my career but I will recover!

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  5. Silent treatment the preferred weapon of the psycho narc. Who do they think they are? Just some pathetic little man whose mental age stopped at 5years old. Looks like a man, can talk like a man but is really an arsehole. We all deserve better than these jerks. You have a life to live and enjoy but not with the narcissist. He will never know how to be happy and will keep on repeating the same BS with whoever crosses his path. Pathological liars, users, takers, toxic need I go on? Run as fast and as far as you can away from them and don’t believe anything they say. Mel x

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  6. Wow! I’m so glad I came across this blog, this one entry has helped me so much. You have written exactly the feelings I couldn’t somehow put into words.
    I almost lost my mind over this, it has led to such a dark place but I’m finally starting to put the puzzle together and am feeling better realizing it wasn’t me.
    So I know this was two years ago, but thank you! I’m sure you are in a healthier place now, kudos for you and for your bravery for writing about it. You have helped others!

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