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Stonewalling in toxic relationships has many different names, like the silent treatment, frozen out, the cold shoulder, or being ignored.
It can be found in romantic relationships, family relationships, or the workplace, but it’s basically the same behavior.
Stonewalling is when someone refuses to discuss important issues and emotions by zoning out, giving you one-word answers, walking away, or ignoring you.
Silent treatment is very similar to stonewalling and is a form of communication where one person intentionally stops talking to another person.
It is often used as a way to punish or manipulate you, and it can be a very effective way to control the relationship.
If you have ever been on the receiving end of stonewalling, you know how hurtful and frustrating it can be.
It can leave you feeling confused, angry, and alone. The silent treatment can also be used as a way to avoid conflict, but it is definitely not a healthy way to handle disagreements.
It is important to understand the effects of the silent treatment and how to deal with it if you find yourself in this situation.
Stonewalling in toxic relationships is used as a form of “punishment” or a way of keeping you in line.
1. Understanding Silent Treatment
Definition and Examples
People frequently use silent treatment to avoid difficult conversations or to emotionally manipulate you. It involves ignoring or avoiding communication with you for an extended period of time, often without providing any explanation or reason for the behavior.
This can be extremely frustrating and hurtful if you’re on the receiving end of the silent treatment.
Examples of silent treatment can include refusing to answer calls or messages, giving one-word answers, or completely ignoring you. It can also be a form of emotional abuse and a way to exert control over the other person.
Silent Treatment Vs Stonewalling
Silent treatment is often confused with stonewalling, but there are some key differences between the two.
While silent treatment involves ignoring or avoiding communication, stonewalling involves shutting down emotionally and refusing to engage in conversation.
People who are feeling overextended or emotionally flooded during a difficult conversation may resort to stonewalling. They may shut down in an attempt to protect themselves from further emotional turmoil.
Silent Treatment in Relationships
Silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse that involves ignoring or avoiding communication with you. It is often used as a way to manipulate or control you. This behavior can be very damaging to relationships, and it is essential to understand how it can affect different types of relationships.
Silent treatment is often used in romantic relationships as a way to punish or manipulate a partner.
It can be a sign of a toxic relationship where one partner is trying to control the other.
In a healthy relationship, open communication is key, and both partners should feel comfortable expressing their feelings and thoughts.
If you are experiencing silent treatment in your romantic relationship, it is important to address the issue with your partner.
Try to have an open and honest conversation about how their behavior is affecting you. If your partner is unwilling to listen or change their behavior, it may be a sign that the relationship is not healthy.
Family and Friendships
Silent treatment can also occur within a family or friendship.
It can be used to punish or manipulate a family member or friend. This behavior can be especially damaging in these types of relationships, as they are often long-term and involve a deep emotional connection.
If you are experiencing silent treatment from a family member or friend, try to address the issue with them.
Let them know how their behavior is affecting you, and try to find a way to resolve the issue. If the behavior continues, it may be necessary to seek outside help or distance yourself from the relationship.
Silent treatment is not a healthy way to communicate in any relationship. It can cause emotional pain and damage trust between you and other people.
2. Signs of Stonewalling in Toxic Relationships
Stonewalling is a destructive communication pattern that can seriously hinder effective dialogue in a relationship.
Recognizing the signs of stonewalling is crucial for addressing this issue.
Here is a list of common signs of stonewalling:
1. Common phrases that toxic people use to leave conversations:
- – “Just leave me alone…”
- – “End of conversation…”
- – “Stop talking about…”
- – “That’s enough! End of topic..”
2. Withdrawal: The stonewaller physically or emotionally withdraws from the conversation or interaction, creating a significant emotional distance.
3. Avoiding Eye Contact: They avoid making eye contact with you, which can be a sign of emotional disengagement.
4. Monosyllabic Responses: If they do respond, they may provide short, one-word answers or minimal responses that don’t contribute to meaningful communication.
5. Changing the Subject: Your stonewalling partner will deflect and change the subject whenever you try to address an issue or concern.
6. Ignoring Messages: They may ignore calls, texts, or messages from you as a way to avoid communication.
7. Walking Away: Physically leaving the room or the environment when a conversation becomes challenging or emotional is another sign of stonewalling in toxic relationships.
8. Engaging in Other Activities: Instead of addressing the issue at hand, they may focus on other activities such as watching TV, playing games, or working to avoid the conversation.
9. Stone-Faced Expression: They maintain a blank or emotionless facial expression, which can be perceived as dismissive or uncaring.
10. Refusing to Acknowledge Feelings: The stonewaller dismisses or denies their own emotions or your emotions, often saying things like, “I’m fine” or “You’re overreacting.”
11. Cold Shoulder: They give you the “cold shoulder,” treating you with indifference or aloofness.
12. Delaying Responses: Deliberately taking a long time to respond or engaging in prolonged periods of silence during a conversation.
13. Physical Barriers: Using physical barriers like crossing arms, turning away, or closing a door to create a literal barrier between you and your partner.
14. Seeming Unavailable: Acting as though they are preoccupied or too busy to engage in a conversation, even when they may not be.
15. Lack of Emotional Expression: Failing to express empathy, understanding, or care for your feelings or perspective.
It’s important to note that stonewalling is a defensive mechanism often used when individuals feel overwhelmed or threatened during a conflict or difficult conversation.
3. The Science Behind Silent Treatment
Silent treatment is a common behavior that may leave you feeling ignored, isolated, and powerless.
It is often used as a passive-aggressive tactic to punish or manipulate others. However, silent treatment is not just a social behavior; it also has a physiological basis that can affect your body and mind.
Body Language and Eye Contact
Silent treatment often involves avoiding eye contact and using closed body language, such as crossing your arms or turning away from the person you are ignoring.
This behavior can signal that your stonewalling partner is disinterested, angry, or defensive. It can also create a sense of tension and discomfort in the room.
Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
Silent treatment can trigger a stress response in your body, which can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to increase.
This response is part of your body’s fight or flight mechanism, which prepares you to respond to a perceived threat. However, when the threat is not physical, this response can harm your health and well-being.
Flight Response and Defensive Mechanisms
Silent treatment can also activate your flight response, which is a natural defensive mechanism that helps you avoid danger.
This response can cause you to withdraw from the situation or person that is causing you stress. However, this behavior can also perpetuate the cycle of silent treatment and make it difficult to resolve conflicts.
4. How does stonewalling make you feel?
Stonewalling can make you feel isolated and helpless, and it is especially frustrating and painful when it happens in romantic relationships.
John Gottman’s research shows that stonewalling is the second behavior that can predict divorce with a 90% accuracy. John Gottman’s study on Why Marriages Succeed or Fail refers to stonewalling as one of the four horsemen that red flag a future divorce.
If you regularly experience stonewalling in your relationship, this is emotional abuse and will have a dramatic effect on your relationship.
The person stonewalling is able to emotionally detach, which leads to you feeling abandoned.
You will initially have feelings of shock and pain, which are typically followed by secondary feelings of anger and, then, aggressive efforts to get some kind of emotional reaction, even a negative one.
When these efforts fail, your internal response to your partner is usually, “They don’t care. They don’t love me,” and you will end up feeling insecure.
Psychological and Emotional Effects
The effects of silent treatment can be significant, leading to emotional and psychological distress. It can cause feelings of low self-esteem, low self-worth, and an emotional wall.
If you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment, you may feel rejected, confused, and powerless.
In some cases, silent treatment can be a form of emotional abuse and a way to control and manipulate you. It can lead to emotional turmoil and damage adult relationships.
If you are experiencing silent treatment, it is important to seek help and support to address the underlying issues and work towards healthier communication patterns.
5. Why do people stonewall?
Understanding that there are a number of reasons why someone may choose to use stonewalling in a relationship may give you a better understanding of how to effectively respond.
Look To Their Past For Clues
Your partner may be feeling overwhelmed, and they are trying to protect themselves.
Some families do not discuss feelings, and your partner or friend may have developed these behavioral patterns in childhood.
For example, your partner may be going through a very stressful situation at work or maybe struggling financially, and they may withdraw into themselves, consumed by their problems. They don’t know how to express their feelings; they will internalize their problems and ignore what is happening around them.
Your partner may not even be sure of how they feel about a situation, and trying to express this confused feeling may not be possible.
This stonewalling will probably not happen consistently and will only occur during stressful times.
A short and strategic time-out can be beneficial after an argument.
However, ensure that you know the difference between taking a break to calm down, which is beneficial, and a prolonged deliberate period of being ignored, which can be regarded as abusive.
Is it manipulation?
Are there signs of abuse in your relationship? If abuse does exist, ignoring you may be your partner’s way of trying to punish or control you.
Stonewalling in toxic relationships is done with intent, and it’s deliberate; a partner uses it to dominate a relationship. It is a manipulative and controlling strategy used by abusive partners.
When used as a strategy of control, silent treatment is a red flag of a toxic relationship.
Withdrawing and stonewalling as manipulation is a tactic that creates a sense of panic deep within your gut. You will be overwhelmed with an instinctive reaction to please your stonewalling partner, and this tightens their grip on control over you.
If you are on the receiving end of stonewalling, you may feel hopeless and experience a loss of control and self-esteem.
The Stonewalling Narcissist
It is important to note that stonewalling in toxic relationships is an insidious tactic used by narcissists in their cycle of abuse.
In my experience, when a narcissist uses stonewalling, the silence is deafening. It leaves you feeling confused and vulnerable, and it eats away at your self-esteem.
It is essential for your physical and mental well-being not to be part of an abuse campaign.
Dr. Kipling Williams, Purdue University, says, “Excluding and ignoring people, such as giving them the cold shoulder or silent treatment, is used to punish or manipulate, and people may not realize the emotional or physical harm that is being done.”
Why does the narcissist stonewall?
When a narcissist stonewalls you, they want you to react and give them attention, and this is a very humiliating process. You may start to feel worthless, hopeless, powerless, and dismissed.
When you are being chronically stonewalled and the onset is sudden or it happens often for no apparent reason, your response may be anger, yelling, and out-of-character behavior due to the turmoil of emotions created by the chronic, unpredictable stonewalling.
The narcissist will then turn around and call you out for your behavior and claim that you are crazy.
The stonewalling will be forgotten, and you will end up apologizing for your reactions to it, which leads to feelings of guilt and shame.
Stonewalling in toxic relationships is done deliberately and with intent; it is a form of emotional abuse.
Abuse is not acceptable; do not allow someone to treat you disrespectfully, as you are worth so much more.
6. Addressing Silent Treatment
Silent treatment is a common response to conflict and negative emotions in relationships.
While it may seem like a natural response to withdraw and avoid confrontation, it can have negative effects on the emotional connection and intimacy in a relationship.
If you are on the receiving end of stonewalling in your relationship, there are healthy ways to address the issue and improve communication.
1. How to Deal with Opposition
According to Gottman, stonewalling is a response to emotional flooding, and self-soothing is the cure, which anyone can start.
1) Take note of the situation. Tense muscles or a faster heartbeat are reliable signs that you are saturated. Check to determine if either you or your partner are displaying signs of being overwhelmed or strong emotions.
2) Request a time-out. Expect no meaningful dialogue when one or both of you are in fight or flight mode.
Now is the moment to use a cue, like, “I feel like we could use a breather” or, “I’m noticing that I’m feeling overwhelmed,” to help you regain composure before speaking.
If you both know this is a pattern, it’s helpful to decide on this cue in advance, wherever possible. It is also something that can be brought up when a dispute is being resolved.
3) Decide to come back. For the sake of your partnership, it is imperative that you resist the need to ignore the disagreement.
Tell your partner you wish to return and continue the chat before you part ways. Additionally, it will prove that you are not ignoring them or their emotions.
4) Self-regulate. According to Gottman’s research, it takes at least twenty minutes for one to regain balance. Additionally, since repeating the conflict’s occurrences will just keep you in a stress response, it’s crucial that you use this time to do something completely different in order to regulate. You may read a book or go for a stroll.
5) Use empathetic communication. It’s beneficial to put feelings before actions while speaking. If you’re the one who’s being uncooperative, own it and express your feelings.
It’s crucial to keep in mind that your partner’s actions, such as stonewalling, may be a protective response to criticism or disdain from two of the other Four Horsemen.
It might help a lot to be able to listen to them and provide a safe environment for the feelings that they might find embarrassing.
2. Starting the Conversation
Address the silent treatment with calm communication. It is important to approach the conversation with good intentions and an open mind. Avoid negative thoughts and accusations, and instead, focus on expressing your feelings and concerns.
It may be helpful to use “I” statements to avoid blaming or attacking your partner.
For example, you can say “I feel hurt when you ignore me” instead of “You always ignore me”. This sort of dialogue can help your partner understand how their behavior affects you.
3. Conflict Resolution
Conflict resolution is an important part of any healthy relationship. It involves identifying and addressing the underlying issues that are causing the conflict.
When dealing with the silent treatment, it is essential to identify the reasons why your partner is withdrawing.
If the silent treatment is a voluntary response to cope with negative emotions, it may be helpful to discuss healthy coping mechanisms.
On the other hand, if it is an evasive maneuver to avoid conflict discussion, it may be necessary to address communication skills and conflict styles.
4. Couples Therapy and Counseling
If the silent treatment persists and is causing emotional distance in your relationship, seeking professional help may be the best thing to do. Couples therapy and counseling can help you and your partner address underlying issues and improve communication skills.
A couples therapist or family therapist can provide a safe and neutral environment for conflict discussion.
They can also help you identify red flags and unintentional stonewalling. The therapist can guide you through the conflict conversation and help you develop healthy ways to resolve conflicts in the future.
In the long run, addressing the silent treatment can improve emotional intimacy and strengthen your relationship.
It may take time and effort, but the first step is to start a calm conversation and seek professional help if necessary.
5. Evaluate the Relationship
If the silent treatment is a recurring issue and communication problems persist, it may be necessary to assess whether the relationship is healthy and whether both partners are committed to improving it.
Frequently asked questions
1. What is stonewalling in a relationship?
Stonewalling is a communication pattern in a relationship where one person completely shuts down and refuses to engage in conversation or communication with their partner. It’s a form of emotional withdrawal often used during conflicts.
2. Why do people stonewall in relationships?
People stonewall for various reasons. It’s often a defense mechanism used when they feel overwhelmed, threatened, or unable to effectively communicate their feelings or thoughts. It can also be a way to gain control or a response to perceived criticism.
3. Is stonewalling emotionally harmful in a relationship?
Yes, stonewalling can be emotionally harmful. It creates emotional distance, frustration, and feelings of rejection for the person on the receiving end. It also prevents healthy communication and conflict resolution.
4. How can I address stonewalling in my relationship?
To address stonewalling, try to initiate a conversation with empathy, ask for a break if needed, commit to returning to the conversation later, and encourage open and honest communication. Seek professional help if stonewalling is a persistent issue.
5. What should I do if I’m the one who stonewalls in my relationship?
If you find yourself stonewalling, it’s essential to recognize this behavior and its impact. Work on improving your communication skills, practice self-awareness, and consider seeking therapy or counseling to address underlying issues.
6. Can stonewalling be a sign of deeper relationship problems?
Yes, stonewalling can indicate deeper issues in a relationship, such as unresolved conflicts, emotional disconnect, or a breakdown in trust and intimacy. It’s essential to address stonewalling and explore its underlying causes to maintain a healthy relationship.
”When someone walks away after you stand up for yourself and then stonewalls you for days, weeks, months, or years… that is not normal. IT’S”ABUSIVE”—Psychopath Resistance
Move on, focus on the valuable lessons you’ve learned, and build a brighter future.
So it is now clear that stonewalling can happen occasionally in healthy relationships as a defense mechanism or method of dealing with conflict.
However, when stonewalling in toxic relationships is used chronically as an insidious tactic of abuse by a stonewalling partner, the mental and physical implications for you are numerous and need to be considered.
Toxic partners that entrap you in the cycle of abuse by using stonewalling are narcissists, sociopaths, or psychopaths; these people need to be avoided.
Knowledge gives you acceptance, and knowledge and acceptance give you power!
I would love to answer any questions or comments that you have below.