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I am a texter, an explainer, a solid “let’s dissect this” kinda girl.
I am the queen of writing out my feelings. If we fall out, you are getting a paragraph, hell, multiple paragraphs—you may even get a f*cking book.
But let’s be clear, if I am taking the time to explain my deepest feelings, describe in detail how I have been impacted, or what my beliefs are about the situation, it’s because I genuinely care enough to do it. I want to explain; I want to be heard and understood and communicate in order to fix the problem. I am willing.
Like many others, when I am angry, sad, or hurt, my words often fall foul of my intentions, my verbal reasoning is not on point—my ability to eloquently write the sh*t out of the situation, however, is very much a skill I have honed.
Call it a coping mechanism, call it an outlet, call it whatever you like—but it is happening, and I can’t help it.
When I write things down, I can self-edit, control my output, and be more considered in a situation. I can communicate things I may not be able to verbally, through anxiety, discomfort, embarrassment, or even shame.
I have been made to feel in the past that exchanges like this are childish or an incorrect form of communication. That the mature way would be to speak on the telephone or face-to-face. That I am wrong for expressing myself in this way or that my words are an inconvenience or an irritant for those receiving them.
The gut-punch in these situations is that the people I may be engaging with are people I am extremely close with and, therefore, their inability to acknowledge my words—in any format—leaves me feeling like I have been massively betrayed.
Now reader, I hear you—well surely this works both ways. Surely if they don’t want to write back and you don’t want to speak directly (as this is their communication preference), then they have just as much of an argument as you do—and yes! I also concur that this is a fair and well-balanced response. Often, our interpersonal communication styles differ, much like our learning styles, and this is something that needs compromise and gentle handling—on both sides.
However, if someone suggests they care and want to resolve an issue, but dictate that the only way they are willing to communicate is their way, whatever that may be, and still refuse to discuss the elephant in the room, then chances are you are also being stonewalled.
Here’s the scene.
You have had a row with your partner, family member, or friend.
You send a message (or hold a conversation) explaining your discomfort, the issue you face, and asking them for clarity, or at the least request some form of acknowledgement.
If they reply with something completely unrelated, such as “how’s your day been” or “what do you fancy for dinner” or try and completely change the subject if talking verbally, then my friend, you are in the midst of a stonewalling episode.
Now, stonewalling is not to be confused with its ugly stepsister—the ghoster. This person doesn’t want to cut off communication completely—they just want to ignore the issue at hand, and they simply do not want to discuss this topic or acknowledge your message or continue this narrative at all.
Stonewalling is a common avoidance tactic in relationships, often taken up by the emotionally inept or the stunted communicator. Their defense may be steeped in good intentions, but much like the ghoster (who “doesn’t reply so as not to hurt us,” yet creates the opposite effect), the stonewaller invalidates us fully at a cellular level.
Stonewalling in its dictionary definition is a refusal to communicate or cooperate. It is the worst kind of behaviour, as it leaves the recipient feeling unheard and inferior. In completely ignoring their words and instead changing the subject, it says: you are not important; your fears, emotions, feelings are not worth my acknowledgement; you are inconsequential, disposable, and this topic is not important enough to me to bother with a response.
At best, you feel hurt and ignored; at worst, you feel as if you are crazy, isolated, and doubting your own worthiness.
You are being stonewalled when a person who you value and care for withdraws completely from a conversation or topic and does not acknowledge your pain or concerns, whether verbally written or in any other format. And this is not okay.
According to an article on Verywell Mind, these are the key signs of being stonewalled:
>> Ignoring what the other person is saying
>> Changing the subject to avoid an uncomfortable topic
>> Storming off without a word
>> Coming up with reasons not to talk
>> Refusing to answer questions
>> Making accusations rather than talking about the current problem
>> Using dismissive body language such as rolling or closing their eyes
>> Engaging in passive-aggressive behaviors such as stalling or procrastinating to avoid talking about a problem
>> Refusing to ever acknowledge their stonewalling behavior
Stonewalling has been associated with narcissism and is well documented as being one of the tools in the narcissist’s arsenal. But that is not always the case. If someone has shut down on you, there is more than likely a less malicious reason for this happening—and this is where we need to focus our attention if we are to overcome stonewalling and banish it from our relationships forever.
Here are some questions to ask ourselves before we start waving the flag of narcissism (eye roll) in our loved ones’ faces:
>> Is this a learned behaviour? Quite often, the use of stonewalling is an inherited one. Maybe from a parent or in a past relationship. If the stonewaller has seen this tactic in effect before, they may be validated into thinking it is okay.
>> Are they afraid of your reaction? Could this stonewalling be a form of neutrality to prevent further pain and upset? Could your stonewaller genuinely believe that in ignoring the concern, it may just evaporate or pass by? We know that this is not the case, but it may be that by refusing to acknowledge the issue, they are hoping it will simply go away.
>> Is the stonewaller emotionally unavailable and using this tactic as a mask, to lean into avoidance, or even just detach from having to become vulnerable?
Whilst none of the above questions are a justification for enduring stonewalling long-term, they could help alleviate the pain and injury you feel from being stonewalled, provide a basis for further help or support, and take the sting out of the proverbial tail from being victim to this behaviour.
Asking ourselves to focus on understanding, opposed to the injury we feel, is sometimes the best way to try and break this pattern—and save these relationships.
“The phrase ‘I don’t want to talk about it’—when it goes beyond taking temporary distance and becomes a persuasive strategy—is the death knell of an intimate relationship.” ~ Harriet Lerner
Things are never black and white; relationships are many shades of grey, and it would be wrong to not consider the reasons this behaviour is being produced, and instead sit in our victimhood and label the perpetrator forevermore.
It’s important for us to distinguish between intentional and unintentional stonewalling.
However, sometimes the stonewalling is intentional; it is a form of manipulation and used as a control mechanism. In these cases, we must call this out, respond with our truth, and walk away for good.
For me, whatever way I choose to communicate or however this is imparted, all I need is acknowledgement that I have been heard. When this doesn’t happen, it escalates these situations and inevitably makes them a lot worse than they were to begin with.
Nothing ever gets fixed by stonewalling; no situation is ever made better.
There is no shame in trying to communicate, whether that is a text, a call, a face-to-face, or whatever—it shows we care, we want to work on the situation, and this is never a negative. Shutting down this communication is always going to make things worse.
For any relationship or friendship to withstand the test of time and overcome issues, strong lines of communication must be created in order for both parties to feel fully heard, understood, and have a safe place to voice their true feelings.
“It’s important to make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” ~ Barack Obama