By Shahida Arabi
By Shahida Arabi
Has your partner, friend or family member ever ignored you when you tried to have an important discussion or addressed something significant to them? Have you ever been silenced by a toxic person’s silent treatment? You may have experienced what is known as “stonewalling.”
According to researcher Dr. Gottman, there are “four men of the apocalypse” or four communication styles in a relationship that can predict its inevitable demise. These are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
Stonewalling is when a person withdraws from a conversation or discussion and refuses to address your concerns. The person may choose to outright ignore your requests, respond with dismissive, invalidating replies or evade responding appropriately altogether by giving vague responses that refuse to answer your original questions.
In many cases, when one partner stonewalls another, the conversation is shut down before it even has a chance to begin.
Withdrawing from a partner like this can be extremely damaging to a relationship over time. As researcher Dr. Paul Schrodt (2013) discovered, this demand-withdraw pattern in relationships, in which one partner withdraws and the other partner becomes increasingly demanding in response, can cause anxiety, depression and further conflict within a relationship. While some partners (especially male partners) tend to use stonewalling to avoid conflict, what happens is that it actually causes more emotional friction.
Stonewalling: An Example
Let’s say that Mary is concerned with the way that her partner, Tom, has been treating her recently. He has been neglecting her and criticizing her constantly. She attempts to bring it up to him during dinner, only to be met with his stony silence. He gaslights her and tells her she’s overreacting. When she tries to explain herself, he abruptly says, “I am done!”
Shortly after, he leaves the dinner table, exits the apartment without another word and refuses to answer her subsequent phone calls.The conversation hasn’t even had a chance to begin before it’s already over. He returns her call the next day and acts as if nothing has happened. When Mary tries to bring up the incident, he tells her, “You should speak to your therapist about this,” and hangs up on her without waiting for her response.
In this scenario, Tom yet again stonewalls her, emotionally invalidates her and rudely redirects the conversation, unwilling to address the issues at hand even as they continue to build beneath the surface. This causes more distress to Mary and unnecessary tension and trauma. Had he actually taken the time to address her concerns, however, the outcome could’ve been far more productive and peaceful.
Stonewalling and The Silent Treatment
Usually, stonewalling and the silent treatment go hand in hand. After the victim has been stonewalled, the other person is treated to a form of silence that is deafening. Yet the silent treatment can also occur without warning or stonewalling as well.
In an abusive relationship with a narcissist, the silent treatment and stonewalling are manipulative tactics embedded within the abuse cycle. In the beginning of the cycle, the narcissist may love-bomb their victim and idealize them, giving them excessive amounts of attention to win them over.
In the devaluation phase of the relationship, the tables are turned and the victim is provoked into trying to “win over” the narcissist. The toxic partner abruptly withdraws from their victim, unwilling to respond for a period of time with little to no explanation whatsoever. This silent treatment causes their partner excessive anxiety, fear and a persistent sense of self-doubt. The narcissist thrives off of the power and control they feel as they continue to pull the strings of the victim like a master puppeteer.
In the context of an abusive relationship, both techniques are deliberately used as control tactics – ways to intimidate, belittle and demean the victim into feeling insignificant. When a narcissist gives you the silent treatment, it’s a way to devalue you and make you feel invisible. It provokes you into reacting so that you are prone to doing whatever you can to gain back their attention and approval.
“In relationships, stonewalling is the emotional equivalent to cutting off someone’s oxygen. The emotional detachment inherent to stonewalling is a form of abandonment and the effect that it has on a spouse is dramatic.
The initial feelings of terror – which are usually below the water line of awareness – are typically followed by secondary feelings of anger and, then, aggressive efforts to get some emotional reaction – any emotional reaction – even a negative one. And when these efforts fail, the internal response for your spouse is predictable. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t love me. He’s left me.” – Jeffrey J. Pipe, Psy.D, Stonewalling vs. Empathy
Although stonewalling appears to place an end to communication, it actually speaks volumes and communicates something quite cruel to the person on the receiving end. Regardless of the intention of the person doing the stonewalling, this behavior communicates to their partner the following: “You’re not worth responding to. Your thoughts and feelings don’t matter to me. You don’t matter to me.”
The Psychological Effects of Stonewalling and The Silent Treatment
The silent treatment and stonewalling can have actual effects on the brain. Research indicates that such behaviors are a form of ostracism which activates the anterior cingulate cortex, the same part of the brain that detects physical pain.
Being ignored can leave someone feeling injured – literally. These effects can linger powerfully for the victim, causing fresh abandonment wounds and reinforcing old ones.
“Excluding and ignoring people, such as giving them the cold shoulder or silent treatment, are used to punish or manipulate, and people may not realize the emotional or physical harm that is being done.” – Dr. Kipling Williams, Purdue University
While stonewalling can happen occasionally even in healthy relationships as a defense mechanism or coping method for conflict, it has harmful implications when it is used chronically as an abuse tactic by a toxic partner, such as a narcissist, a sociopath or a psychopath.
Occasionally in a relationship, someone might want a “break” from communicating to cool off. When that happens, both partners communicate that this is what they need. They do so in a manner that is both respectful and considerate.
Stonewalling by a narcissistic partner, however, is different. It is callous, cold and charged with manipulative intent. Toxic partners like these use stonewalling as a way to further their abuse and to cause their victims intense emotional pain. Normal, healthy partners might stonewall as a way to get out of conflict, but toxic and manipulative partners do so as a way to one-up their victims and provoke them into losing emotional control.
So long as the victim is driven to “win back” the toxic person, the stonewaller is able to continue to ignore the victim’s needs while the victim doubles their efforts to please them.
What To Do If You’re Being Stonewalled
If you’re being stonewalled in an abusive relationship and have tried to communicate your feelings to no avail, realize that the problem is not you. If this is a chronic problem, step away from the self-blame and stop walking on eggshells in an attempt to please a partner who refuses to be pleased. A toxic person’s communication patterns cannot be changed unless that person is willing to change them.
While stonewalling can be improved in the context of healthier relationships where both partners are willing to work on dysfunctional patterns, in an unhealthy relationship with a pathological partner, self-care is paramount. You have to learn when it is time to walk away and detach from this person. Otherwise, you’re just feeding into their sick mind games.
When a narcissist stonewalls you or subjects you to the silent treatment, they want you to respond. They want you to chase after them and “beg” for their attention. They want to provoke you. They want to control and diminish you.
Rather than continuing to try to win back their attention or approval, reevaluate whether this relationship is one worth fighting for at all. If someone is giving you the silent treatment, use it as a period of “freedom” to reassess how you can better care for yourself and get the support you need to move forward from their toxicity.
A person who truly cares for you would make an effort to meet your needs, not neglect them. You deserve to be seen, not silenced. You deserve to be in a healthy relationship where your needs are acknowledged and your voice is heard.
How do narcissists respond to stonewalling? ›
The narcissist makes fun of you or patronizes you
Other tactic narcissists use for avoiding communication through stonewalling is making fun of what victims say. They may patronize victims instead to shut them down or make them feel smaller. Covert narcissists are especially good at these tactics.
Tell the person how the silent treatment hurts and leaves you feeling frustrated and alone. That's not what you want or need in a relationship. Explain that you can't resolve issues this way, then be specific about those issues. If this sort of behavior is a relationship deal-breaker for you, state it plainly.What does it mean when a narcissist gives you the silent treatment? ›
Basically, the silent treatment is a passive-aggressive behavior by which an abuser communicates some sort of negative message to the intended victim that only the perpetrator and the victim recognize through nonverbal communication.How do you respond to silent treatment or stonewalling? ›
- Name the situation. Acknowledge that someone is using the silent treatment. ...
- Use 'I' statements. ...
- Acknowledge the other person's feelings. ...
- Apologize for words or actions. ...
- Cool off and arrange a time to resolve the issue. ...
- Avoid unhelpful responses.
They will get fearful and nervous as soon as you begin ignoring them. This is what happens when you ignore a narcissist. They may start to obsess around you even more by sending text messages like “I sincerely apologize” or “May we talk?” Don't mind them, and witness the effects of ignoring a narcissist.How do you respond to stonewalled? ›
- Discuss topics in a safe space. ...
- Give an ultimatum. ...
- Offer help. ...
- Prioritize self-care. ...
- Take a breather. ...
- Tell your partner how you feel.
Depending on the method used, it can make the person on the receiving end feel powerless, invisible, intimidated, insignificant, “dissed”, looked down on, disapproved of, guilty, frustrated, and even angry.How do you get a narcissist to break the silent treatment? ›
If you have the energy, acknowledge the narcissist's feelings and let them know what they're feeling has significance. Encourage them to talk about how they're feeling and work toward having a conversation about how the silent treatment affects you and better ways to get your feelings across than the silent treatment.What type of person gives the silent treatment? ›
The silent treatment might be employed by passive personality types to avoid conflict and confrontation, while strong personality types use it to punish or control. Some people may not even consciously choose it at all.How long does narcissistic silent treatment last? ›
A narcissist's silent treatment can last for hours, days, weeks, or even months. Our survey among 500 people who have experienced narcissistic abuse revealed that on average, a narcissist's silent treatment lasts four-and-a-half days and usually ends when the narcissist needs more narcissistic supply.
When a narcissist stonewalls you? ›
Stonewalling is the refusal to communicate with someone. This means that your spouse refuses to listen to you and your concerns. Stonewalling is one of the most prevalent narcissistic abuse techniques.
More often, the narcissist will go silent for some period of time, and then return as if nothing happened. They may have found a new source of supply but had a falling out with them and now they need something from you. Your best bet is to ignore them the way they ignored you earlier.Is stonewalling a form of control? ›
Being stonewalled can be incredibly frustrating for the person on the receiving end as they want to know what is wrong but are unable to get an answer. It can be considered a form of emotional abuse and is often used as a form of control.Does ignoring a narcissist make them want you more? ›
Ignoring a narcissist may result in them trying to get your attention through various means, including apologizing and begging for forgiveness or smearing you to others. If you want a narcissist to go away, you must ignore them consistently and permanently, or they will likely try to hoover you back into their life.Can narcissists stand your silent treatment? ›
If narcissists don't get their way, they love to give people the silent treatment. This is very effective that makes the loved one distressed. They'll react negatively to not receiving the attention or love they are addicted to getting from the narcissist.Is stonewalling a trauma response? ›
Stonewalling Maybe Rooted In Trauma
In some cases, stonewalling is a trauma response. Those who experienced trauma, perhaps as a child or in previous relationship, will sometimes develop stonewalling as a coping mechanisism. It is a form of self preservation, like someone who passes out under extreme stress.
This break should last at least twenty minutes since it will take that much time for your bodies to physiologically calm down.How do you communicate with someone who shuts down? ›
- take a break from, or “table” the conversation.
- write down your thoughts and feelings to revisit later.
- stay calm.
- don't retaliate.
- don't throw an adult temper tantrum.
- do something self-soothing.
- consider professional intervention.
Daramus lists some reasons why a person with narcissistic tendencies might discard you: You were too difficult for them to control. You were easily manipulated by them, causing them to look down upon you. You no longer fuel their ego, so they've moved on to someone else who can supply what they need.What the silent treatment says about you? ›
Research has found that people who received the silent treatment experienced a threat to their needs of belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence. This type of behavior reinforces the feeling that someone we care about wants nothing to do with us. It can feel as though you don't exist.
Why silent treatment is the best revenge? ›
Silence speaks volumes
Believe it, the silence and zero reaction really bothers your ex, and they consider it as the best served revenge. Nothing creates more curiosity than silence. Your ex would expect a vent or an angry rant from you, but don't give in. If you do, you are meeting their expectations.
If you ignore a narcissist and deny them their source, they may become enraged and try even harder for your attention – especially in ways that can be toxic or abusive. Ignoring a narcissist will enrage them because of their fragile egos. They'll feel humiliated and lash out against you to protect themselves.Is silence the best response to a narcissist? ›
You should never use the silent treatment on a narcissist because it is an emotionally stunted and immature form of stonewalling that narcissists use when they experience a narcissistic injury.How do you emotionally break free from a narcissist? ›
- Recognize that you are being abused. Recognizing that you are being abused is the first step to breaking free from narcissist abuse. ...
- Reach out for support. ...
- Build your self-esteem. ...
- Create a safe exit plan.
When used in relationships, silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse. Being ignored stimulates the part of the brain that detects physical pain, so the silent treatment is very emotionally and physically painful. It can lead to negative emotions, like distress and anger.What is the emotional effects of stonewalling? ›
For the person being stonewalled, it can leave them feeling confused, hurt and angry. It can wear down on their self-esteem, leading them to feel worthless or hopeless. For the person stonewalling, they also suffer as they are denying themselves emotional intimacy with their partner.Is silent treatment a form of disrespect? ›
The silent treatment can be deliberate and enacted with some pleasure and cruelty, which is why it is named as an indicator or aspect of abusive relationships, and can be a form of domestic violence.What makes a narcissist shut down? ›
Due to their inflated sense of self-worth and feelings of superiority, when they are presented with information that is counter to this belief, they feel insecure and uncomfortable internally. To resolve these negative feelings, they shut down all communication to prevent further possible criticism.How long does it take for a narcissist to reach out again? ›
How long does it take a narcissist to come back? In most cases, the narcissist will come back at you immediately after you put in place the no contact rule. Considering how important their ego is to them and how they need that constant attention from their partner, they would come for you immediately.When a narcissist ignores your texts? ›
One of the main reasons why a narcissist ignores you is that they want to control you. More likely, they want to regain control of you. A narcissist uses ignoring people as a way to punish them. Especially if they feel like you are pulling away.
What happens when a narcissist realizes you blocked them? ›
They're likely to throw a temper tantrum.
They may hurl insults at you, or show up at your house to confront you in person. If they're really incapable of controlling themselves, they may even threaten you. This is why it's generally not a good idea to let a narcissist know you're going to block them ahead of time.
Common methods include messing with the way you arrange your environment, insisting you did or said something else, and telling you you're abusive. My narcissist would corner me and force me to repeat details before laughing at me and saying, "Look at you, you're crazy."How do you not let a narcissist upset you? ›
- Physically Distance Yourself. ...
- Establish Your Boundaries. ...
- Stay Calm. ...
- Don't Overreact to the Narcissist's Rage. ...
- Empathize With the Narcissist & Validate Their Viewpoint. ...
- Don't Raise Your Voice. ...
- Take a Break. ...
- Remember This Is Not About You.
14) They'll feel hurt and angry
Narcissists are clingy and they might feel jealous, sad, and hurt that you're with someone else. Nothing hurts them more than knowing that you don't care anymore and they have no more control over you. Seeing that you're happy with someone else is like salt to their wounds.
After you have been discarded by the narcissist or you did that to them and went no contact, you will very often notice that they are still quite obsessed with you. As I said, it would be more understandable that they would not be able to stop thinking about you after you go no contact with them.When should you walk away from the silent treatment? ›
If you can safely do so, walk away when your partner gives you the silent treatment and do something you enjoy. If your partner is unwilling to change, it is important that you make your emotional and physical safety a priority.Does the silent treatment hurt people? ›
The silent treatment can damage relationships, sometimes irreparably. When it becomes part of a pattern of behavior, Wright said it can be abusive, especially when it includes other harmful behaviors such as threats or insults, when the intention is to control.What to do when he doesn t communicate? ›
- Broach the subject. ...
- His eyes say a lot. ...
- What are his hands and arms doing? ...
- Don't play the blame game. ...
- Talk about your feelings as well. ...
- Compliment his looks often. ...
- Ensure your tone of voice is appropriate.
Tell the person how the silent treatment hurts and leaves you feeling frustrated and alone. That's not what you want or need in a relationship. Explain that you can't resolve issues this way, then be specific about those issues. If this sort of behavior is a relationship deal-breaker for you, state it plainly.Why would someone give you the silent treatment? ›
The silent treatment (also known as withholding) is used to punish and regain control of a person. It may feel good to ignore your partner when you feel slighted but, it keeps you from finding real solutions to the problems that are bugging you the most.
How the silent treatment is toxic? ›
In general, the silent treatment is a manipulation tactic that can leave important issues in a relationship unresolved. It also can leave the partner on the receiving end feeling worthless, unloved, hurt, confused, frustrated, angry, and unimportant.How do you respond to being stonewalled? ›
- Discuss topics in a safe space. ...
- Give an ultimatum. ...
- Offer help. ...
- Prioritize self-care. ...
- Take a breather. ...
- Tell your partner how you feel.
- Ask for a break during conflicts. ...
- Acknowledge that you are not the “fixer' in the relationship. ...
- Lead with empathy. ...
- Trust yourself. ...
- Prioritize self-care.
Stonewalling is cutting off all communication by giving someone the “silent treatment” until they do what you want them to do. Refusing to see the other person's perspective by minimization or disengagement is another form of stonewalling. Emotional withholding.How do narcissists respond to being blocked? ›
Most narcissists will view being blocked as an act of aggression. A blocked narcissist won't have any ability to silence or control you, which is very important for them. This is highly likely to be an overwhelming and scary feeling for them.How does a narcissist respond to a break up? ›
Narcissists hate losing their supply, so they won't let you go easily. Prepare for them to promise "to change." They might suddenly start doing things for you that you'd been complaining about. They may say "you'll be lost without me," or "you'll never find someone like me." Don't listen, Orloff advises.How does a narcissist respond to criticism? ›
A narcissist may react aggressively to criticism in an effort to avoid re-experiencing the loneliness they suffered in the past. In response to criticism, a narcissist may also take great pains to devalue or invalidate the person criticizing them.How do narcissists react when confronted? ›
What can you expect when you do confront a narcissist? Generally, they will resort to narcissistic rage (explosive or passive-aggressive) or denial. He or she may become enraged, deny everything, call you a liar, twist reality, blame you and then play the victim.Is ignoring a narcissist the best revenge? ›
Ignoring the narcissist is the most effective way to sever ties from the person, although it is not easy to do. The narcissist will act out when they realize their host is rejecting them and will go to great extremes to reel the victim back in. Remember, you have provided the fuel that propels their disorder.How do you talk to a narcissist so they cant hurt you? ›
- Don't argue about 'right' and 'wrong' ...
- Instead, try to empathise with their feelings. ...
- Use 'we' language. ...
- Don't expect an apology. ...
- Ask about a topic that interests them. ...
- Don't take the bait yourself. ...
- Remember to put yourself first.
Why would a narcissist block you on everything? ›
The narcissist is controlling and manipulative. They block you because they want you to feel unstable and crazy. They want you to reflect on what you did to make the blocking happen, even if you had nothing to do with the decision. This is part of the devaluation stage of narcissistic abuse.What is a narcissistic collapse? ›
Narcissistic collapse is an intense emotional reaction experienced by a narcissistic person when they sense a setback. It can lead to withdrawal or vindictive behaviors. The signs of narcissistic collapse may vary from person to person.What makes a narcissist regret? ›
It is common for people with a narcissistic personality disorder to regret discarding or losing someone, but it does not mean what you might think. If they feel regret, it is not because they hurt you. It is for losing something that they value. You are a possession, not a real person.What upsets a narcissist the most? ›
8 Triggers of a Narcissist's Rage
They feel that they've been criticized, even if the critique is constructive or said kindly. They're not the center of attention. They're caught breaking rules or not respecting boundaries. They're held accountable for their actions.
- Separate yourself to cut off their narcissistic supply.
- Take time to heal.
- Take responsibility for your part in a conflict.
- React with empathy and respect.
- Act unresponsive around them.
- Disengage from their conversations.
- Set and enforce clear boundaries.
Silent Treatment Narcissists punish by ignoring. Then they let their victim off the hook by demanding an apology even though she isnt to blame. This is to modify her behavior. They also have a history of cutting others out of their life permanently over small things.What words not to say to a narcissist? ›
- Don't say, "It's not about you." ...
- Don't say, "You're not listening." ...
- Don't say, "Ina Garten did not get her lasagna recipe from you." ...
- Don't say, "Do you think it might be your fault?" ...
- Don't say, "You're being a bully." ...
- Don't say, "Stop playing the victim."