Tactics of a Narcissistic Mother by Gail Meyers

A Narcissist's Silent Treatment

Chalkboard hanging on fence with Gail Meyers quote on the silent treatment.
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 buster. While some may use the silent treatment prior to learning more effective communication skills, chronic emotional manipulators often repeatedly use it to control, punish, test boundaries, avoid accountability and avoid even discussing unpleasant issues.

This discussion of the silent treatment starts out by joining Roger S. Gil, MAMFT for a closer look at the silent treatment in the context of other relationships than those with chronic emotional manipulators. He provides the common results of the silent treatment, as well as some more effective communication skills to use in place of the silent treatment.


Cooling Off Period v. the Silent Treatment

A cooling off period is not the same as the silent treatment. This 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. Usually 20 or 30 minutes is enough time to allow any anger to subside and to gather your thoughts, but it varies from person to person. 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 often what 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 can not 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 problem 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 can not 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.
Next, The Social Connection provides a closer look at the silent treatment and the basic human needs it violates.

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:
  1. The need to belong. Human beings need to feel connected. Ostracism undermines this sense of belonging.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
*Notice how the subject is being stonewalled by the other two participants in the experiment on the video.

Ostracism violates four fundamental human needs quote by Dr. Kipling William


How a Narcissistic Manipulator Uses the Silent Treatment

In this series on manipulation tactics, chronic emotional manipulators are defined as those individuals with narcissistic, borderline or antisocial personality disorders, as well as those with chemical or behavioral addictions. In this video Noordinarylife7 discusses the silent treatment in an abusive relationship.

The silent treatment is used for:

  • Control
  • Punishment
  • Testing boundaries
  • Avoidance of issues and responsibility


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, negated as a person. While stonewalling, then, can arise from less malign motives, sometimes, too often, it expresses serious pathological aggression, passive-aggression, hostility, contempt and callousness."

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


Examples of the Silent Treatment Used to Ostracize the Scapegoat

While this series attempts to articulate the dirty tricks of chronic psychological manipulators 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.

For several years just prior to the holidays, my mother would start a fight with me out of nowhere. Literally, the last time it happened we were in the middle of a pleasant conversation when she suddenly began having a one-sided conversation that made no sense at first. Imagine someone on the phone with you and it seems someone suddenly walked up on them. Then I realized what she was doing. She wanted to convince that person I was attacking her, so she begin responding on the other end of the phone as if I was attacking her, even though we were just in the middle of a pleasure conversation! By this time, I was on the other end of the phone telling her to stop, but she persisted as if oblivious to my words.

Narcissistic manipulators rarely play fair, they play dirty. She then inflicted the silent treatment while telling everyone I attacked her and telling me I owed her an apology! This is an example of the crazy-making behavior of a narcissistic personality disordered mother. This meant I was uninvited to the extended family holiday gatherings, where she concealed her treacherous behavior and put the blame for my absence back on me by telling family members I attacked her. She was playing the victim in a drama she fabricated and orchestrated.

Another example is when I confronted her about 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! This crazy-making behavior can cause you to feel as if you have had your head in a washing machine. Writing out what actually happened in a journal and having your experiences validated by a trusted friend or therapist can help. Reducing contact or going no contact are also often healthy options to consider.

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. Sliding scale counseling services can be found at 211.org. Al-Anon and Overcomes Outreach groups are available in many locations. There are also many online resources and groups for those dealing with personality disordered individuals, as well as online therapists offering telephone or in person counseling.


The Silent Treatment v. No Contact

There are flying monkeys who insist the only distinction between the silent treatment and an adult child of a narcissistic mother 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 narcissistic emotional manipulator's wrath if they stand up to them. So this ridiculous statement is one more example of the spin that is put on defining situations and terms by a manipulator.

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 manipulator 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, 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 emotional manipulator. 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 silent treatment is the same thing as 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.

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 thing to avoid when an emotional manipulator 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 certain personality disordered characters seem to thrive on your pain. The only thing any of the above does is reinforce the behavior and invite more of the same. The narcissistic emotional manipulator may well continue even without any response, but do not encourage it. Here are some things to do:
  • Realize the silent treatment is used by an emotional manipulator 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 chronic emotional manipulator, examine the motivation behind it and determine how you will respond. 

More Resources on the Silent Treatment

Join the discussion on the silent treatment from a narcissist on PsychForums.

Idealization, Devaluation and Discard: The Narcissistic Cycle by Surviving the Narcissist Relationship on Facebook.

Read The Silent Treatment of the Borderline Mother by Gretel Ella, an adult child of borderline and narcissistic personality disordered parents.


  1. Hi Gail, thank you for this wonderful blog that has helped me so much. My husband is the Scapegoat and his father is the NPD. His mother and siblings are completely in the clutches of my NPD father in law and we have gone through hell with the family. Finally, we are leaving them for good, even though my father in law is dying of cancer. Due to how dysfunctional my mother in law is, we want nothing to do with her in the future, since her mind has been completely destroyed. My husband's siblings are a flying monkey and a Borderline Personality Disoder, and we see that they have passed on the family dysfunction to their children. My husbands juvenile nieces and nephews have already been taught to scapegoat him! Gosh, I can't tell you how wonderful it has been to learn about narcissists, narcissistic supply and scapegoating. It shows us that we are right to cut all ties and leave, not just him but the entire family. We owe it to ourselves and our children. thank you for the work you're doing here Gail.

  2. Anonymous, thank you. While we all have to make our own decisions, I am glad you have found this blog helpful. I have seen very small children pick up on treating the scapegoat poorly in my toxic extended family. Then, it was also passed down to the grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc., causing it to mushroom. So, at times I do think no contact is a healthy choice for the children and grandchildren. Thank you for taking the time to read and share your thoughts.

  3. My experience is one of years of forgiveness and ignorance but after years of certain behaviours (it is very subtle) I saw the patterns, especially the destroying my relationships, the arrows in my back, the scapegoating and the silent treatment. I have just started to see - although I don't understand emotionally how someone could be so cruel to their own daughter. My frustration/sadness is that I want to build my life again, even though her lies have destroyed my reputation and that of 'the nicest one out of all of you'. I live with forgiveness and love, but receive rejection and slander. This is the worst for me, the lies, the slander etc and my mum's non-accountability. How do I stop her! Where is the justice! I was also abandoned by my fiancé and daughters father, because of my mother's manipulation and lies. This has affected me for 11 years. To be vindicated and set free from these lies would be amazing for me. Still I have a sadness in my heart that I continue to forgive.

    1. Anonymous, what you have shared sounds so very familiar to me and undoubtedly familiar to many other adult children of narcissists. Reading and contemplating the topic of "forgive and forget" may be helpful. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  4. Hi Gail,
    This was a great article! I love your term "flying monkey." It's perfect! I went "no contact" with my abusive, narcissistic parents years ago, and I am so glad I did. Well, really, I think my father is more of a sociopath, but my mother is a narcissist. My whole family decided I was bad and mean.
    Basically I am like Dorothy now, have clicked my heels and made myself a real home, and a real life, one where none of them have any place.

    1. Thank you, Meredith. Congratulations on your escape!

  5. I'm sitting here thinking of the silent treatment. Once I remember my mother using it when I closed my bedroom door. I was twelve and was going to change my clothes. She saw me close the door and refused to speak to me for a few days. I did everything to try to please her then. Even making sure never to close the door. And, trying to please her by not leaving her side and being very caring. Trying to please her.

    I see how the silent treatment was very effective

    1. Joan S, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences.

  6. The silent treatment is one of my mothers favorite tactics, she uses it until she has had enough and then enters back into your life like nothing has happened. Every time she has done it to me i have learned to with hold pieces of myself from her, not realizing that that was what she was aiming to achieve. The last time was when i was planning my wedding, she was more concerned with the wedding revolving around her. I did not agree to anything that she wanted, things being - her doing the speeches, her not joining in on per-marriage preparation but still having access to me prior for photos and her being able to invite her friends that only knew her opinion of me. I received the silent treatment for this, and her gossiping false accusations about how all this started and she 'threatened' not to come. I suffered the stress of all this, the wedding came and went and I was so relieved that it was over. One day out of the blue my phone started ringing (I have a distinctive ring tone for her number on my phone) i looked at the phone ringing with vampire dragon calling flashing at me, stress and anxiety filled my whole body. My thoughts calmed me, 'do not answer that phone, she likes to punish with the silent treatment this time you need to take it and run' I did not answer, I stopped everything and I sat and cried, I got angry, frustrated, guilty - I cried and stressed to the point of fret, I found web pages like this. I am finished with that soul sucking, love crushing, relationship/friendship destroyer, using, abusing manipulator. Hopefully I will never see her again as long as I live.

  7. I used to get the silent treatment often while growing up. I used to beg my mom to tell me what I did that made her stop speaking to me. Sometimes she would just give me this odd smile and not respond and sometimes she would just walk away from me. But the one thing that always happened was that she NEVER answered me. As I got older I started to notice that when my mother would give me the silent treatment she would tell people that I was the one who stopped speaking to her and she had no idea why and that she didn't do anything wrong. Then it was poor her because she has such a terrible daughter. Strangely I welcome the silent treatment now. I feel like a weight is lifted off of my chest when she doesn't speak to me. When she's not speaking to me she's not arguing with me or picking on me, she's not hurting me. I wish things were different, but now I have accepted that they will never be different and I don't cling to this false hope anymore. I think I'll have to go no contact. A part of me will always wish that my own mother will one day love me, but I have to face reality, that will never happen.

  8. As another holiday approaches, I feel myself with that sinking feeling of being rejected and misunderstood by my family all over again. My mother is at the center of it all. Over the years, she has always had her favorites...favorite child, favorite grandchildren, etc...usually the one that doesn't challenge her and boosts her image as an upstanding, compassionate volunteer, friend and church member. Several years ago, I learned that my mother was badmouthing me ( or conveniently not sharing the entire story) to my siblings...letting them think poorly of me, not ever including me when they all got together, and never, not EVER as a mom, encouraging healthy relationships between us. I think she likes to control all of it so that somehow, in her mind, she remains the image of what the community thinks of her and the child who questions or wants answers (ME) is a threat to her image. And my siblings of course are delighted to be in a favorable position with her. Its all so complicated and confusing. Frustrating and hurtful. The only contact she or my siblings have with me is when I reach out to them. It has been months since my mother has called me or texted me. And my sister and sister in law who confirmed the gossip and badmouthing of me by my mother have both gone silent.

    I often wonder how they can simply forget me? I feel as if trying to reach out to them is groveling and pacifying and will never resolve anything.

    That said, I don't know what to do some days. I feel alone and disconnected (even though I have great kids and grandchildren of my own) and that I should just be over this. But I know that the fake smile is coming to cover the sadness that is there...even though my mother is showered with public accolades about her countless efforts to reach out in the church and community and selected family at Christmastime, she will never reach out to me and my family.

  9. Thank you so much for this article!

    My dad is the NPD (have had zero contact in 7 years!) but my mom has some sort of enabling/slight NPD too. My brother is the golden child and I tend to become the scapegoat. Years ago I knew further contact with my dad was bad news, but it hasn't been until the past couple of years that I've realized just how toxic my relationship is with my mom.

    My mom is the queen of silent treatments--trying to talk on the phone to her is pointless as she'll stop talking when I say anything that is the least bit offending. I remember one really bad silent treatment--we were in Rome for the holidays about two years ago--and my mom gave me the silent treatment for almost an entire day after I had made a mistake with reading my map app (which only took us 2 blocks or so off our intended path). There I was in this amazing city and my mom was dead set on not talking to me for the better part of the day.

    I had a zero contact Thanksgiving this year (and had a wonderful Thanksgiving, thanks to not seeing/talking to my mom) and am on the verge of a no contact Christmas. I say "on the verge" because I'm still not sure if it's the right thing to do.....it's taken me a long time to get to this point of feeling like I deserved to celebrate the holidays the way I want to. I have a big decision to make in the next 24 hours!

  10. Wow. I finally found what I was looking for. I wish I had read this four years ago. Four years ago, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I noticed that my calls were going unanswered. I left messages, I begged, I tried everything I could think of to get my mom to talk to me again. Two years into it, I gave up and started telling people the truth, which INFURIATED the NM. How dare I make HER look bad. As my dad's time drew to an end, I figured the NM would reach out to me because god forbid I not be at the funeral and people talk about her. Her email to me was "We aren't mad at you, we felt you disrespected us and we cut out anyone that was not beneficial because of the cancer". My dad died the next day and I did not go to the funeral, nor did I answer the email. I now know that she was stonewalling me for not doing "something" that she wanted me to do (although I will probably never know what that was). At this point, I don't know how to heal, how to move on, how or if I should answer the email. I say I never want to talk to her again, to never forgive her for what she did, but then that makes me as bad as she is. I tried to have a family friend intervene and the flying monkeys attacked me for involving an outsider, and now I see that for what it was. I am still stuck though. Do I allow her back or do I tell her she chose to cut us out of her life, we choose not to allow her back?

  11. You tell her NOTHING.
    So far you have begged, groveled, pleaded and frantically attempted to open a dialogue through a variety of means, all to no avail. You were cruelly excluded from the funeral-you do realize, of course, all of this was done INTENTIONALLY, in a premeditated sadistic fashion.
    No, you are NOT "as bad as she is" by refusing to further denigrate yourself in service to this disgusting bitch who is not, never has been and never will be a mother. She is simply post partum, period the end. The reality is you're far more an adult than she ever will be and consequently are responsible for making an adult decision. Would you allow a child to drive your vehicle? Why would you even consider letting this over-sized brat to determine whether or not YOU wish to tolerate any more of this despicable behavior?!
    Self-protection/self-preservation is your most fundamental right and Boundaries are exactly this in action. Her presence in your life has been a chronic festering form of cancer and clearly has not been "beneficial" to your well-being. There's no need to have a dialog with a tumor before you excise it-completely-nor is it "disrespectful."
    You have been given your freedom-use it!

  12. My father is a chronic-impulsive liar, a male chauvinist and a narcissist. He criticized others to make himself feel good. You bet he spends hours watching news channel so that he can blurt comments like, "that's why stupid people like you go to jail" or "I won't do what you did because you are stupid". Because of him, I feel uncomfortable at work and I am a person who takes my job seriously. Luckily I got a transfer and since then, build a home for myself and cut off all ties with him, with no intention of 'mending the bridge'. All my siblings hate him too and we decided to have all family gatherings in my elder brother's place, where my dad won't be invited and won't be informed of the gathering. It's cruel, but it keeps our mind at peace. Thanks for your blog, I have learnt so much.


  13. Thank you for this article. I truly believe that my mother is giving me the silent treatment as punishment and means to control me. When I used to live with her in her house, she would threaten to kick me out or she would take things she has given me away, such as my car. Now that I am moved out and on my own the only way she can control or punish me whenever she feels I did something wrong or she disagrees with me for whatever reason or if I am unable to something she wants me to do is to give me the silent treatment as well as telling me that she is taking me off her will or she is not giving me the house after she dies. She would only call me to ask me to do her a favor. When we go out to lunch instead of using that time to catch up, she would instead be on her phone or talk about how her friends daughter/son is so good to their mom. Just because I will not be under her control (she loves to control people, my dad, my cousin, her friends, my ex) Her famous last words are "you will need me one day and i will say no" and "I don't want to be there when karma hits you" and "I am your mother!" My mother also insists on speaker inbehalf of my dad when in reality I speak to my dad often enough to know that he didn't say those words. I continue to try and communicate with my mother but she refuses to respond. I would hate for the time to come when I am just over it and not even try anymore. Sad.

  14. Can you imagine? Three months to my dad and afterwards 14 months to us, the children, because she think we draw party for dad!


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