It’s been 24 hours since you’ve texted your Parent/Partner/Friend. No response. You:

A. Assume their battery is dead or phone is lost.

B. Call the police — Something’s wrong.

C. Panic at hour 1 – “What did I do?” “Why are they mad at me?” Then wait in the fetal position for their impending rage.

If you answered C, you’re likely in a toxic relationship.

Manipulative people want you trapped in CHAOS, to SELF-BLAMETO APOLOGIZE, CHASE them, and FEEL LESSER THAN. Most of all, they want you SILENCED so you can’t blow their cover.

If you consistently find yourself thinking “Just tell me what I did wrong so I can fix it,” you may be a victim of manipulative silence.

MANIPULATIVE SILENCE is part of a subtle grooming process of fear and intimidation that grows over time. Remember, PREDATORS PREY on PRIVACY and POLITENESS. SILENCE is their greatest weapon.

Whether you’ve been ensnared by a manipulative partner, friend, co-worker, roommate, or relative, these tactics may look familiar:

SILENCE through SECRETS = ISOLATION

Manipulative people need to control the story. Separation is key. By isolating individuals they can play victim or hero, even pit people against each other without them ever interacting. They will:

  • Tell you a “secret” they want you to keep. Something simple but personal that draws you closer to them. The REAL secret is they’ve told multiple people different versions and asked them to keep quiet.
  • Say “it’s nobody’s business” or “this is a private matter” to stop you from talking about something that could expose them.
  • Accuse you of breaking their “trust” because you publicly shared something small. Manipulative people want you shamed and shushed. They invent accusations or make a big deal out of something simple you said to create confusion, guilt, and intimidation. “I can’t believe you told everyone I like coffee.” They’re grooming you to be afraid to speak about them to anyone.

SILENCE BETWEEN YOU AND FAMILY/FRIENDS/CO-WORKERS

Once they’ve groomed you not to talk ABOUT them, manipulative people want to stop you from talking TO anyone who might expose them. They further isolate you by infecting your relationships.

  • Point out things about your friends or family that they don’t like. This can be subtle “Did you ever notice how loud he talks?” They want you to choose between spending time with them or with your friends. They want to create a rift so you pull away from your friends and in return, your friends pull away from you.
  • Spread a rumor about YOU that offends others, including those close to you. This may include abuse of them, animals, or children. They’ll go to great lengths to set this up over time, using reactive abuse tactics in public, loudly accusing you of false things. “Why are you ALWAYS yelling at me?!” NOTE: This is meant to inform you about a manipulative tactic, not to minimize real abuse accusations.

SILENCE THROUGH CRITIQUE = SHAKEN CONFIDENCE

Manipulative people critique you in order to control your behavior. They want you to feel self-conscious, looking to earn their approval. People who respect and love you show appreciation. They LIKE who you are. Manipulative people want to CONTROL who you are.

  • They make jokes at your expense, critiquing the way you look, sound, smell and behave.
  • Convince you that people react negatively to your behaviors. This is often an unsolicited critique. “Didn’t you notice how bored everyone was while you were telling that story? You go on and on.” “No one thinks you’re funny, they just tolerate you.” Once the seed is planted, they may give you a “You’re doing it again” look, or set up a “signal word” that stops you from interacting in public.

SILENCE TO CONTROL THE CONVERSATION

Everyone struggles to find their words from time to time, but manipulative people purposely use long pauses to control a conversation. They want you hanging on their every word while you simultaneously feel shame for speaking. It’s like being in a 1940’s drama. “I can’t go on!” “But you must!”

They may:

  • Take big, deep breaths as if they’re going to speak
  • Slow their speech or create pauses between words “I…don’t know…how…to…say this.”
  • Control who can speak when. Silence you by saying “I’m not finished” or accuse you of interrupting. In a group, they may signal you to stop and point to someone else to speak.
  • Disengage: Stop mid-sentence to stare off or look at their phone

SILENCE TO CONTROL YOUR REACTION & COMMUNICATE DISAPPROVAL

Manipulative people never matured from “You aren’t doing what I want, so I’m not talking to you!” Unlike children, however, manipulative people aren’t so forthcoming. They want you to have just enough information to know it’s your fault so that you fill in the details and apologize to them. This may include:

  • Give you the silent treatment, informing an enabler who can drop hints of why they’re angry/insulted.
  • Telling you they need time to think with no timeline of when the silence will end. This puts them in a power position. They love to make you wait. It boosts their ego knowing that you’re thinking about them and punishes you at the same time. They won’t reach out until they’re sure you’ll be grateful. If you reach out first, they chastise you. BIG NOTE ON THIS: There are situations in which people need breaks from relationships or space to think. This is perfectly healthy. Leaving someone hanging is not. It’s disrespectful. Suggest that you touch base in a few days, a week, or in an established amount of time. You can always check in and extend that time.
  • Accusing you of silent behaviors They’re insulted by something non-specific that they observed about you. Rubbing your eyes “the wrong way”, standing too still, looking away, and wearing the wrong outfit. These are all punishable offenses to a manipulative person. You become scared to do anything, which is what they want.
  • Disappearing/Ghosting This isn’t “we went out on a date and now I’m not returning your calls.” This is an established relationship in which patterns of communication are suddenly cut off. They don’t return calls or texts. They don’t contact you on your birthday or special occasions. They intend to punish you with their silence so that you’ll come crawling to them with an apology. NOTE: Going no contact with a manipulative person may mean suddenly cutting them off. The difference is, that’s a healthy step taken to PROTECT yourself. The silent treatment is intended to PUNISH.

If you’re in a manipulative or toxic relationship, setting boundaries is key. Here’s a place to start.

Do I Have Toxic Parents? NARCISSISTIC ABUSE: Setting Boundaries – Choose Your Own Adventure

Have you experienced other types of manipulative silence? Share them in the comments.

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