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Tools of a Sociopath: Using the Silent Treatment to Manipulate and Control

by Quinn PierceQuinn Pierce

A Stifling Silence

One of my ex-husband’s favorite tools of manipulation was the silent treatment.

On the surface, it seemed like a childish ploy to get what he wanted, but in reality, the silent treatment is a behavior abusers use to attack their partner’s vulnerability and self-esteem in order to exert control.

I can clearly see now that my ex-husband took plenty of  time in the beginning of our relationship to assess how I would react to the silent treatment.  It is a skill he practiced and perfected along the way, until the greatest impact was achieved. A sociopath won’t risk losing the relationship, so it was a complicated game he played to keep me off-balance, but not to the point of walking away.

Like every other game, this was all about control, and there were several situations in which my ex-husband felt as though he was not in control.  Usually, they were situations when he was being called out on a behavior such as lying or cheating.  That was something he just couldn’t tolerate, which always seemed ironic, considering he expected his victim to tolerate everything.

In other words, in situations when a normal person would stand and face the music for his mis-behavior and wrong doings, the sociopathic spouse turns into the perpetual child, responding with the equivalent of: You can’t be mad at me, because I’m mad at you.

Harmful Intent

Why is the silent treatment so harmful?

First of all, it’s only intent is to cause harm.  This isn’t the normal time-out from an argument that couples may agree upon; it’s one person isolating the other, withholding emotion, approval, and acceptance.  It is a means of punishing another person.

Since it is very likely that the sociopathic spouse has already isolated his or her partner from family, friends, and other emotional support systems, victims of abuse usually rely heavily on their only remaining relationship.  And that is exactly how the abuser wants it; in fact, that is exactly the situation he or she has worked so hard to create.

With this act of manipulation, several things are happening to the victim:

Self-doubt: the victim begins to question the situation and wonder if he or she did something wrong or actually is the one at fault (even though instinctively, we know this is not true).

Feeling abandoned: if the victim has prior abandonment issues, this isolation can feel very much the same as being physically and emotionally abandoned

Loneliness, shame, guilt, and all the emotions that come from being ‘punished’ or scolded by another person.

Increased anxiety: what if he or she leaves me or stays mad at me, what will happen? What if he or she hurts me or the children.  This is especially true if the silent treatment is accompanied by the tell-tale angry outbursts, tantrums, and other forms of non-verbal communication expressing anger.

The Victim’s Mind Does All The Work

The result of anxiety is the brain creating a plethora of worst case scenarios.  The abuser can spend very little energy while the victim’s brain does all the work.  We can, essentially, talk ourselves into believing that reconciliation is better than any of the alternatives; thus, we may give in, take responsibility for things we didn’t actually do, apologize instead of demanding an apology, and validating the abusers belief that we are dependent upon the relationship, and therefore, on him or her.

When a partner isn’t speaking to you, it is a clear sign that he or she is angry or upset, even if no words are said to that effect.  I think this is a key element to why my ex preferred this form of punishment.  The silent treatment plays well into the gas lighting technique.  It was very easy for him to insist that I misinterpreted his actions, over-reacted to the situation, remembered the event wrong, or my favorite- that I created the drama by starting a fight and accusing him of saying and doing things he never said or did.

Well, of course it would seem as though I started the fight, since he wasn’t speaking to me, but that discounts the fact that his non-communication was instigating an argument.  And let’s not underestimate the effect of non-verbal communication- another of my ex-husband’s favorite forms of communication.  It’s difficult for someone to blame you for something you implied, but never said.

Alternating Forms of Abuse

Ironically, when it came to arguments that involved taking to one another, my ex-husband would not allow any silence or hesitation in my responses.  He pushed for immediate answers in a confrontational and invasive way, accusing that I must be lying if I am not able to answer immediately.  Since most of his statements and questions were meant to be confrontation and accusatory, there really was no way to answer, and he knew that.  This was just another method of control: the bully tactic.

When someone is in your personal space, it feels like an attack and immediately creates panic.  My response was usually to shut down and not engage back in the argument, especially since everything I said would be used against me later, twisted in meaning, or dismissed entirely.  His verbal attacks would, of course, be denied entirely when referred to at a later date.

Both methods, the silent treatment and bullying, were effective ways of asserting control.  Neither method was used with the intention of reconciliation or compromise.  To me, it is an especially insidious and cowardly form of abuse in which the abusers deny what they do and leave no viable evidence, only the victims’ manipulated memory.

Lessons Learned (and Un-Learned)

As a survivor, one of the most difficult stumbling blocks to overcome on my path to healing, was undoing the behaviors I learned as a result of living in this relationship for so long.

When my boyfriend asked if he could come to one of my counseling sessions about a year into our relationship, I was all for it.  We had been arguing without much resolution, and I knew my counselor would not hold back in telling him the truth about what she thought.  After listening to us and asking questions for nearly an hour, she did just as I knew she would and laid it all out as plain as could be.

To my surprise, shock, and dismay, however, she explained that my experience in arguing with my ex-husband had left me little in the way of skills needed to argue or disagree in a healthy relationship.

Whenever I argued, I anticipated that my words would be used against me, or I was being set-up by the questions.  I was responding as if my boyfriend was abusive, regardless of what the new reality was, and in turn, I was now the one creating the abusive environment.

This was not an easy pill to swallow.

Recovery After Abuse

I can’t say it was anything I ever expected to hear, but it clearly made sense once I understood what I was doing and why.  I am fortunate that I have a healthy partner and a very intuitive counselor, both of whom want me to be healthy and strong.  Once the initial reaction to this situation wore off, I realized it was no different from other patterns I had to unlearn and relearn in order to be healthy.

Recovering from a relationship with a sociopath is not an easy process.  Every day, I learn about myself, conquer new fears, and continue to heal.   It can be frustrating and exhausting at times, but even when I have felt at my lowest point during this recovery, it has always been worth it.  There is a sense of freedom that comes with healing after abuse; it may be hidden for a while under the guilt, or shame, or uncertainty, but once I began to experience joy without fear, I knew it was not something I would ever give up again.

 

 

 

 

 



84 Comments on "Tools of a Sociopath: Using the Silent Treatment to Manipulate and Control"

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  1. HopingToHeal says:

    IMconfused, Slimone, Kathleen,

    I know you are all correct. My mind tells me so and my reactions are thought through and address the issues in a logical manner as you all have taught me to.

    But like you all said, I have trouble even thinking about what I really want and/or the awful way we had to live before he left. I feel guilty about thinking and acting with myself in mind. I guess what I”m trying to say is that I have been so abused that I feel like it doesn’t matter how I feel. And I see the only hope of breaking free is to concentrate on doing it for myself in order to free my child.

    I’m going to spend this afternoon rereading all of your advice. I realize that sometime it take tough talk to make a person see the real picture. Thank you for trying to push me in that direction .



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  2. nomoretears2013 says:

    I know you feel like it doesn’t matter how you feel but it matters greatly and you are the only safe and resposible role model in your daughter’s life. So, “fake it until you make it” if you have to!!!



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  3. IMconfused says:

    HopingtoHeal,

    As has been repeated over and over again on this site…it’s scary to talk about your abusive situation…especially if you’re not believed. Many folks (fortunately) simply won’t relate. Those who are uneducated might even think “if this really was an ISSUE, she’d leave now…or maybe she stays because she enjoys being a martyr.”

    Many who’ve met your spouse likely think he “seems” like such a nice guy. His charming act has really won/fooled them over. Those who believe themselves to be great judges of character might have already decided he’s one hell of a guy…they will not believe you…and they’re absolutely right about him, wink…wink!

    Sharing your story with anyone who he’s already charmed into thinking he’s a “nice guy” will likely backfire on you. Perhaps instead of believing you, they’ll tell others that you’re a real fruitcake who fabricates lies and fails to appreciate just how lucky she is to be his spouse. They’ll likely sympathize with him too…a wonderful man who’s been maligned and is unappreciated by his mentally unbalanced wife…he’s so nice…he deserves so much more than she is willing to give! (Don’t ask me why I’ve learned who to avoid…grin)

    For many reasons, it is important that you find a local support group where you can verbally share your thoughts w/ others who understand that you’re not fabricating lies. Support groups can offer you hugs, resources and give you hope that your life can become happier…though your future way of living not turn out as you might think it should. You need to take a giant leap of faith and “let go and let God”…God’s will (not your will) be done. Besides if betting as to whether you or God would know what is best…I pick God over you (over me too).

    You can only control your actions or inaction…like adhering a no contact rule. Work on yourself and leave others to God. Remember that keeping in contact with a jerk can be like being a moth that’s drawn to a flame… if the moth would/could change direction he’d avoid burning and pain!

    You’ve been isolated far too long…please go out and meet people…God might have plans that you meet someone…maybe make one good friend to laugh and cry with…everyone deserves at least one supportive and loving friendship…that includes you!



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    • HopingToHeal says:

      IMconfused,

      Thank you. I have tried to find a support group in my area but have not had much luck. My counselor admits that there is a real need that is not being filled. I will continue to search. I agree that isolation has hurt me.

      You guys have really helped me today!



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  4. slimone says:

    HopingToHeal,

    I was never with one sociopath for an extended period. More like lots of different one’s over the first 45 years of my life. So, I don’t know what it feels like to have that level of trauma bonding with one particular sociopath.

    But I really relate to being ‘other directed’. I was always concerned with other’s, never myself. Users and abusers LOVED me for it. For me it went beyond being thoughtful toward other’s. It was like you said, after years and years of abuse we forget we even matter.

    That was all I was hoping to say to you. I am glad you were able to hear it.

    There’s a lot coming at you right now. I was in that place once, where the whole support community was tapping at the door of my confusion, guilt, and denial. I nearly collapsed under the pressure. But, as you have found it was done out of real caring.

    ((((hugs)))) to you Hoping…..slim



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    • HopingToHeal says:

      Slimone,

      Hugs back to you. I appreciate your words sharing how you relate to my feelings that I don’t matter. Its a tough place to be, but goes along with the circumstances.

      Yesterday was a tough day, hearing a strong reality check always is. But today, I am better for it, the people on this blog have been to the edge of hell and were able to escape. That didn’t happen because they tiptoed away, no, Satan had them in his grip and they fought like crazy to get away, to be free. When one has faced the Devil himself, and had the courage and fortitude to escape, then one become a force for good that can’t be extinguished . The survivors here are the enemies of evil, and they are determined to scratch, stomp, yell, scream and push to ensure that NOT ONE MORE precious soul is lost to the sly manipulations of the devils minions-the SPath.

      I’m so grateful for strong truths! I’m so appreciative for the reality checks! I Sooo needed it! His (my Spath h) voice is much weaker in my head today. That’s progress.

      Slim, I’m looking forward to one day being a giver on this site, and not a taker. I realize that comes through the healing.



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  5. Stargazer says:

    HopingToHeal, just being able to receive is a great gift. And also sharing your story helps others along their path, too.



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    • aintgonnatakeitnomore says:

      yes, its the only reason im completely transparent on here. to help someone else recognize their own chaos and crisis and to show them they can stop it. and to show ppl you can be very dumb and walk away still. And Someday Be Whole. and along the way, you recover.
      im doing very poorly lately. i miss the npd/bpd sooooooo much. i miss sex tho i think. i know…tmi sorry. im rly trying to figure out what i miss underneath the thot that i miss him. the only reason i havent gone to see him is my lack of a way to do so (the car i thot i was having fixed ending up NOT FIXABLE and is now scrapped sigh). thats how bad it is the past week.
      its utterly ridiculous and i know it intellectually but my heart is just dying or my primitive urges anyway lol
      we have had/are STILL having, a very very BAD winter here too. i know that is killing me slowly. next winter if i have to, i will move down south with my dad. i cant do this again. i just can’t. shoot, i should go now, it would put more distance btwn me and the ex. i dont think i even believe that NC is helping me now. i havent contacted him but i think about him way too freakin much. he’s prob with someone even for pete’s sake. i dreamed about him VIVIDLY, a few nites ago. it killed me in the dream that he was very with someone but for some reason he was friendly with me (he is very much a one person at time guy, except for pretending—sending pics, talking dirty and flirting online). i think ive dreamed about him like once b4 in all the time ive known him….



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      • Stargazer says:

        Dear ain’t. So sorry for your hurt and I know what it feels like so well. Anything you can do to shift your energy might help you release some of the pain – a road trip or travel somewhere is a good way to do it. Listening to music that touches your feelings is another way. I recently went to see a healer who really helped me. I was able to clear some of the pain I was going through just being in her physical presence. (She also does phone sessions if anyone is interested). When you clear some of the pain, the obsessing becomes much less. I asked her about things I could do for myself to continue with my own healing without the help of a therapist. She told me to light a candle and meditate on the flame. I have not tried it yet, but I will soon. Sometimes it helps just to acknowledge how much you are suffering, curl up in a ball in your bed, and hug yourself. But anyway, at least know that this is all workable, and that if you can feel the pain in your body and get it to move out (usually you will cry as it’s coming up), you start to feel better.

        I’m actually planning a move South myself. The cold has really gotten to me this year in Denver. I really need a warmer climate, and the desert appeals to me very much. I look forward to seeing what the new energy of New Mexico brings into my life.



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        • aintgonnatakeitnomore says:

          you know, its not even pain. its just missing him. i am still realy happy. for a few weeks recently i tried to figure out if i was just RELIEVED at the not-chaos that i live in now for the last almost 5 mos. i decided it wasnt that. i am truly pretty darn happy now.
          even this missing him, is not an all consuming, all day long thing.
          i guess its just a phase, like any other grief. i realy thot this was the man i would spend the rest of my life with. and i long to be done with THIS grief now too, honestly.
          in grieving, esp in the first yr, u go one step forward and 3 back sometimes, heck OFTEN. u wonder WTH, i’ve already done this!?! but ur not done doing it sometimes lol
          i am going to try the candle flame and just meditating. i do even dance to music already, the kids love that lol. my older kids thot i was nutso too wen i’d do it a hundred yrs ago wen they were home still. Im a real sucky dancer.
          i tend to activity, esp mental activity as i get so bored. my adrenals are a NYC-mess. and that fight or flight can translate into overthinking, constant mind-chatter, very very fast thinking all the time. its super hard on the adrenals itself…a vicious cycle.
          i did not rly even know i had this problem till a month ago. i always knew i was quicker than other ppl, i get jokes very fast and understand things quickly. but i thot it was native intelligence (ie, not my efforts, but how i was born). its not a good thing AT ALL. its my adrenals bouncing off the charts trying to cope with my SHITTY ASS life! so im working on that aspect… 🙂



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          • aintgonnatakeitnomore says:

            i think i found part of it–whats been going on with me; i miss the intimacy. i have dates but im not intimate with anyone. there is one guy who’ve i’ve been talking to since midFeb, but its not the same. i miss being with someone, period. its not really him. i just have to convince my emotions that now lol

  6. nomoretears2013 says:

    aintgonnatakeitnomore,

    What may be going on with you is also realizing yet again that you weren’t really intimate with your ex. There is no such thing as intimacy with a sociopath. I am not sure if you are speaking about sex or about just being close to someone. If it is sexual intimacy we all have to come to grips with that there is no sexual intimacy with a sociopath partner. We all had sex with a stranger; a person that always had a mask on. If it is intimate conversation and closeness, we have to remember we never had that either. A sociopath pretends to care but does not. That is the way they charm themselves into lives. I understand how hard it is as I have started dating again also, but dating again is so much easier when you finally come to terms with what and who we actually thought we were being intimate with and understand it was a facade. A great book to read on this topic is “Single, Married, Separated, Life After Divorce” by Myles Monroe. I got at my local Christian bookstore.



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    • Kathleen says:

      I agree. If you could think of the intimacy with your sociopath as purely mechanical. That’s how it felt to me. You sort of get used to it, but know in the end it’s not normal. It’s like they could be making love with anyone. There’s nothing personal and intimacy for them doesn’t exist. It’s better to be alone than with a ‘robot’ or however you would describe a false being.



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  7. aintgonnatakeitnomore says:

    yes, see, this is my problem: with the spath i was with, i can clearly agree with the facade/mechanical aspect. with the NPD/BPD recent-ex, its just not that. he was always “very present” & intimate in bed. he was intimate with me all the time. in fact he was over the top outside the bedrm, demanding even…being narcissistic or abandonment-oriented and all lol
    what i have to do is get it thru my brain, he was all HIM-based. he didnt care about ME at all, only in relation to HIM. all ppl in his life are like this. even his son, whom he truly really really loves, what he loves most is that the kid is HIS son & so great, i think lol.
    waht is nervewracking is that ive been NC since early Nov (except for a few txts in Dec) and NOW im missing him?? and now im missing the sex? i think im just missing intimacy, period and he was the last person i was with, so i think of him.
    im trying to tell myself this anyhow.



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    • nomoretears2013 says:

      aintgonnatakeitnomore,

      No, to the book promoting “singleness” as in being alone. Book promotes that we have to retain singleness as a whole person alone, divorced, or married. i found it to be an awesome book.



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      • aintgonnatakeitnomore says:

        yeah, i looked in the book itself and found he meant WHOLE wen he says single. so thats fine.
        i know some ppl get weird and try to say that God meant us to be single, like Paul saying I were that u were like I. We are designed to be in fellowship, including the intimate fellowship of marriage. it is a rare person who is called to singlehood for more than a short time period. often ppl are widowed, yes. nothing stopping them from remarrying tho lol
        i can see myself being one of those old codgers getting married again at 80 *cuz i want to*!
        i was widowed very very young, with 3 small kids, and stayed alone for almost 15 yrs. i do not recommend it (i wasnt against getting married again, just didnt). i dont recommend it even for an old person 🙂



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