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Stonewalling - The Silent Treatment

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Stonewalling feels like you are banging your head against a wall.

Have you ever been in mid-discussion with someone and suddenly felt as though you have come up against a stone wall? This is how stonewalling feels hence the name. It is where another person silences you in some way.

They might put the phone down in the middle of a conversation, walk out of the room while you are still talking, tell you they have no interest in what you are saying or they make it very clear that the discussion is now over and they are no longer listening even, putting their fingers in their ears. Stonewalling can go on for minutes, weeks, months or even years.

The purpose is to silence you and it is incredibly effective.


It can be used as a very effective, if cruel, way to control children. When a child is stonewalled their system responds as though they have been physically abandoned, they feel rejected, unlovable and worthless, ‘if my own Mum doesn’t want me I must be a horrible person’. Of course, this has terrible effects on their wellbeing and self-worth which last into adulthood and affect their relationships.


Stonewalling can be a learned behaviour to protect ourselves so, it does not always stem from the stonewaller meaning to be rude, arrogant or controlling but that is of, course, the way it turns out to be. It can also stem from the stonewaller having no interest in what the other is saying, wanting to control or showing contempt for another. In short, stonewalling is a very unhealthy and damaging behaviour whichever way it is looked at.

Stonewalling can also look like silence from the other person where they refuse to get involved in your discussion or argument. This can be because they are feeling very angry and either do not trust themselves to discuss it just yet, as they may say or do something they may later regret or are overwhelmed and do not know how to respond. This situation will sort itself out once the person has been able to give it some thought, they will normally be able to broach the subject themselves or will be able to talk about it when you do a little later.

At some point in our lives, most of us will have used this technique to make another be quiet, perhaps we don’t want to hear what they are saying because it might be uncomfortable. It only becomes an issue when it is adopted as a coping strategy. It can become a very ‘useful’ tool as it is so effective at preventing uncomfortable truths from being told or controlling the conversation.


The person on the receiving end of stonewalling feels rejected, manipulated, unheard and unvalued. They might understandably be angry which is a healthy response to such treatment which may result in them addressing the subject again with the stonewaller and the stonewaller might be able to hear what they have done, apologise and learn from their mistake. Others will be too guarded to listen to what you are trying to communicate and others will be very well aware of what they are doing and will gain enjoyment from your reaction.

For the few who use stonewalling to punish, control and manipulate their object is to get you to say sorry to them. It does not matter if it was not your fault and you have nothing to say sorry for, you will notice that they will not stop their stonewalling until you apologise. The reason you say sorry when it was so obviously not your fault is because the silent treatment is so uncomfortable and might dig deep into any fears of being rejected or not liked. Once you have apologised this will be remembered and held against you again in future disagreements.


How can you guard against this behaviour?

This comes down to you. If you are aware that this has happened to you think about  the person who stonewalled you. Do you feel that they are a person who is able to hear what you have to say? Think about the words that you are going to use before speaking to them. Often the person will be defensive about this kind of communication and that is why they use stonewalling. It is often best to take ownership of your own feelings saying something like ‘I felt as though you did not want to hear what I had to say just now, I’d like to tell you about…’ and continue with what you had wanted to say before they stonewalled you. It does not matter how much time has passed between the stonewalling and you saying this sentence, just change it to suit.


Hopefully, when you talk in ‘I’ statements and take ownership on yourself for your feelings they will be less defensive and able to listen to you.

Remember, that there are always two people in a discussion, and both are equally responsible for the outcome. If the other takes no responsibility there is little you can do about it.  Think about what you said and how you behaved, could you have done anything differently? That is your responsibility. You can apologise for something you feel you could have said more respectfully but that is where your responsibility ends. If the other person does not respond to you, there is very little you can do except know the truth of the situation. Make clear in your mind what was your responsibility and what you feel was their’s. Allow the other to take their responsibility for themselves and if they choose not to, all you can do is try to make peace with yourself.


If you recognise any of this and find that you are struggling or would like to understand it better, I would be delighted to hear from you. I offer a free 15-minute chat to get to know each other and for you to decide if you would like to work with me.

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2 comentários

D. K.
D. K.
5 days ago

I've been dating this Aries guy for 3 years now. The silent treatment really hurts though, I just don't understand why some people do that instead of talking through problems. Why not just communicate with each other instead of ignoring each other as punishment?

4 days ago
Respondendo a

Hi D.K., I’m sorry that you’re having that difficulty, the silent treatment feels like abandonment because it is abandonment, it’s emotional abandonment. It is a total disregard for your feelings or anything you have to say, it shouts ‘I don’t care what you have to say’. The silent treatment or stonewalling is very effective at stopping another saying something they don’t want to hear, this might be because they find the situation overwhelming or frightening or they genuinely have no interest in what you are saying or it is a way to crush your spirit and keep you small so, that they can control you.

 So, as you can see although, it is an unhealthy behaviour it can come from…

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