The silent treatment is one of the most frustrating narcissistic behavior patterns. It is a really common form of manipulation that narcissists use to invalidate the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs of their victims. It can cause victims of narcissistic abuse to doubt/blame themselves, feel guilty about their own behavior, or even apologize just to ease the tension that the silent treatment brings. However, there is a much better response that one could have to a narcissist’s silent treatment. 

The best response to a narcissist’s silent treatment is to use the gray rock method and yellow rock method to prevent yourself from engaging in a negative confrontation with them. Without the response or reaction that the narcissists wants from you, they can’t use the silent treatment to manipulate you.

This article is going to guide you through the different reactions and responses you should have during the silent treatment. We’ve also created a short video about stonewalling because the silent treatment is a form of stonewalling. It will be helpful for you to be aware of the different ways that narcissist’s use a lack of communication and connection to manipulate you.

A Short Video About Stonewalling

How to Not React to a Narcissist’s Silent Treatment

From the narcissist’s perspective, the silent treatment is a manipulative technique that they use to force you to react to their silence. If you were to react to their silence, you would be giving them a lot of narcissistic supply by fueling their grandiose sense of self-importance, specialness, and uniqueness. 

The reason that a reaction to the silent treatment would give the narcissist a lot of narcissistic supply is because they will continue to ignore any type of reaction that you have but they will twist your response to a form of narcissistic supply, also known as validation, admiration, and reassurance.

If you were to get really angry, they would remain silent to use your anger to reassure themselves that they aren’t the emotionally unstable one, you are. This allows them to project all of their negative emotions onto you because your reaction has allowed them to vilify you in their own mind. 

If you were to try to apologize, beg them to communicate with you, or blame yourself for their silence, they would find some way to twist your reaction in their mind that portrayed themselves as this celebrity-like, special, and unique individual that you were desperate to have in your life.

The list could go on and on but the point is that when you react to a narcissist’s silent treatment, you give them the power and control that they need to dictate your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. It is for this reason that the gray rock method is the best technique that you can use to prevent yourself from reacting to the narcissist’s silent treatment. 

The Gray Rock Method

The gray rock method is when you refuse to have any significant interactions with the narcissist in your life. This means that you will not participate in the communication or connection in the relationship. 

If the narcissist tries to bait you into an argument by using your vulnerabilities and insecurities against you, you will not react or respond to their abuse. If a narcissist is trying to project their negative emotions onto you, you will not try to explain or defend yourself. 

A victim of narcissistic abuse using the gray rock method.

If the narcissist decides to give you the silent treatment, you will not try to communicate with them. You will remain calm, cool, and collected like a boring gray rock. For example, imagine that the narcissist in your life decided to give you the silent treatment because you criticized the way that they spoke to you. 

Instead of giving into the self-doubt, self-blame, anxiety, uncertainty, and guilt that the silent treatment creates by giving them a reaction, you could find other ways to regulate the negative emotions that the silent treatment creates that doesn’t involve a reaction to their abuse. 

10 Alternatives to Reacting to a Narcissists Silent Treatment

  • Go for a walk.
  • Read a book.
  • Practice yoga.
  • Use breathing exercises.
  • Journal. 
  • Talk to friends and family. 
  • Draw. 
  • Go for a run.
  • Go to the gym to workout.
  • Dance.

Finding alternatives to reacting to a narcissist’s silent treatment is all about doing things that help your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs, not the narcissist’s. It is important to remember that using the gray rock method doesn’t mean that you can’t have thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. It just means that you can’t show them to the narcissist in your life. 

Once you are in a safe place and away from the narcissist, feel free to express the emotions that you have in any way that you want. Just don’t allow the narcissist to get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they desire by showing  them a reaction to their silent treatment. 

How to Not Respond to the Manipulation That Narcissists Use to Get You to Acknowledge Their Silent Treatment

The negative emotions that narcissists have (e.g. feeling inadequate, unloveable, unwanted, weak, alone, self-loathing, vulnerable, and insecure) suppressed within themselves are going to be triggered when you don’t react to their silent treatment. 

The problem with this is that narcissists don’t have the emotional skills that are required to use healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage their negative emotions. When you don’t have a reaction to their silent treatment, their triggered negative emotions are going to compromise their emotional stability. 

To stabilize themselves, they are going to turn to their narcissistic behavior patterns such as projection, baiting, and narcissistic rage. These are very important behaviors that you have to be aware of before you learn about the best technique that you can use to not respond to a narcissist’s silent treatment. 

What Forms of Manipulation Can You Expect When You Don’t Respond to a Narcissist’s Silent Treatment

Projection

Projection is a defense mechanism that everyone uses from time to time. It occurs when we take parts of our own identity and place them onto others (e.g. a woman feels guilty for cheating on her husband but instead of acknowledging the feelings that she has, she projects them onto her husband by accusing him of cheating).

A narcissistic woman projecting their shame onto her partner.

Because of how emotionally stunted and immature narcissists are, they use projection as an emotional safety net. When they experience something that triggers their negative emotions, like you ignoring their silent treatment, they try to project their negative emotions onto you to repair their emotional stability. 

When their silent treatment is ignored, the two most common ways that you’re going to see projection manifest are baiting and narcissistic rage.

Suggested Readings: 8 Examples of Projection, Why Do Narcissists Use Projection

Baiting

Baiting is when a narcissist uses your vulnerabilities and insecurities against you to get you to engage in a negative confrontation. This will put them in a position from which they can victimize themselves, portray you in a negative light, and/or make you feel/look emotionally unstable. 

Suggested Reading: Why Do Narcissists Bait You?

The reason that baiting is often used as a form of projection is because if a narcissist is able to bait you into a negative confrontation, it allows them to vilify you in their own mind. Instead of being forced to acknowledge their own emotions, they can point their finger at you and think to themselves, “Look how they are reacting, they are the inadequate, unloveable, unwanted, weak, alone, self-loathing, vulnerable, and insecure one, not me!”

7 Phrases a Narcissist Will Use to Bait You Into Reacting to Their Silent Treatment

  • You are a worthless piece of sh*t just like your mother. It is no wonder your father walked out on your life. 
  • There is no way that you’re going to succeed here, just give up you loser. 
  • Are you ever going to lose the baby weight? All of my other friend’s wives have lost weight. 
  • You are never going to be as good as your brother. 
  • It is funny when you try to dress up and act like a woman, you’re nothing but an ugly tomboy. 
  • I can’t believe you actually thought you were going to get into that school, you’re the dumbest person that I know. 
  • You are a waste of everyone’s time.

Narcissistic Rage

Narcissistic rage is a terrifying, unpredictable, and unjustified response that narcissists often have when their negative emotions are triggered. The sole objective of narcissistic rage is to invalidate, devalue, degrade, humiliate, dehumanize, dominate, and control the person or thing that triggered their negative emotions as much as possible. 

The need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit of all these aims which gives no rest to those who have suffered a narcissistic injury – these other features which are characteristics for the phenomenon of narcissistic rage in all its forms and which sets it apart from other kinds of aggression – Heinz Kohut 

If a narcissist is able to use narcissistic rage to invalidate, devalue, degrade, humiliate, dehumanize, dominate, and control you, they can convince themselves that you are the inadequate, unloveable, unwanted, weak, alone, self-loathing, vulnerable, and insecure one in the relationship. This is projection!

Suggested Reading: What Happens During Narcissistic Rage(Survey With 100 Survivors)

How to Use the Yellow Rock Method to Manage the Abuse That Comes From Not Responding to a Narcissist’s Silent Treatment

The yellow rock method is a milder version of the gray rock method. The reason that you should use the yellow rock method to manage the abuse that comes from not responding to the narcissist’s silent treatment is because it is a much safer alternative. 

In the beginning stages of the silent treatment when you don’t react to their silence, it is going to agitate the narcissist but they will still try to manipulate you into engaging with them with projection, baiting, and narcissistic rage. 

If you were to continue to use the gray rock method, which is basically ignoring them, this could cause them to get extremely emotionally and/or physically abusive. That is what you are going to want to avoid by using the yellow rock method.

The yellow rock method has the same basic principles as the gray rock method, protect your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs by refusing to have significant interactions with the narcissist, but it is much more subtle. 

A man learning about the gray and yellow rock method.

Instead of doing something that you would do if you were using the gray rock method (e.g. leaving their messages on read, ignoring their calls, or walking away) you’re going to want to remain cold, distant, and indifferent on the inside, but professional on the outside. Think of this as if you were interacting with a boss or supervisor that you don’t like but you need to keep your job.

You don’t want to just throw validation, admiration, and reassurance at them. You want to remain cool, calm, and collected in a professional way (e.g. “I’m sorry you feel that way. Now can we discuss (blank)?” , “Thanks for letting me know your thoughts, I’ll consider them.” , “Your attempt to manipulate my intention is noted.” ,  “Your attempt to elicit a negative response is noted.”).

Using the yellow rock method doesn’t guarantee your safety, it just reduces the possibility of the narcissist exploding into an uncontrollable anger that is emotionally and/or physically unsafe. It is a fantastic alternative to the gray rock method but for the best results, we highly recommend that you seek out the guidance of a qualified professional to stay as safe as possible.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Narcissists use the silent treatment to manipulate you into giving them validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control that they need. The best way to protect your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs is to either use the gray rock method or yellow rock method.

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References

What are “Canned Responses?”

Yellow Rock: Communicating with a Narcissist in a Child Custody Situation