Stonewalling is not the same as the silent treatment, but they go hand in hand. Where there is one, there is the other.
The silent treatment is usually very common in every person’s life. You’ve seen it in your family, and you’ve had it with your friends. Usually, it’s not that destructive, and people use it when they are angry about something.
But giving the silent treatment doesn’t last forever, and in the end, the person who is angry gives in and decides to talk the problem through. Which brings us to the term “stonewalling’.
What is stonewalling?
It’s the same as the silent treatment, but if it’s used by a toxic person, then it’s called stonewalling. The slight, but at the same time huge, difference is that the person who is stonewalling you is giving you the silent treatment on purpose.
They are doing it just to hurt and manipulate you. They are not ignoring you because they are angry, and you’ve hurt their feelings. Stonewalling is just another method narcissists use to destroy their victims.
How does it go down?
When you need to talk about something, a narcissist won’t shut you down and ignore you completely, but they will avoid giving you the answer to your question. They will mess around with your head by giving vague and invalidating replies.
This is terribly dangerous for any relationship. Even if it’s not toxic, after some time, it will definitely grow toxic. When one partner is uninterested in having a conversation, then the other partner who asks the questions becomes frustrated and demands the answers.
Now, narcissists do this on purpose because the end result of this situation is growing anxiety and depression presenting themselves in the mind of the partner who needs answers but is not getting them.
That partner has the feeling that they are being played and manipulated, but they can’t do anything about it. In that manner, narcissists are brilliant. They can make a fool out of pretty much anyone.
Stonewalling in action
Let’s say that you’re feeling neglected by your partner. So naturally, you want to talk to him about it. You want to confront him and try to find out what the problem is.
But all you’re getting in return is dead silence followed by the statement that you’re making a big deal out of it. He’ll convince you that you’re making a big fuss out of nothing. His tactic is to gaslight you and make you believe in lies which work in his favor.
This upsets you, and you foolishly fall into his trap and try to explain yourself, but he doesn’t want to hear it, so he rejects you.
You feel sad and upset at the same time because you were tricked into thinking that you did something wrong, but you didn’t.
Usually, he leaves the house at this point on purpose to add some guilt to the guilt you’re already feeling.
But the catch in his brainwashing tactic is the behavior he presents the day after. He acts as if nothing happened. He acts like you’re the happiest couple alive. If you bring up the subject again, he coldly answers that you have problems which you need to deal with yourself.
What happened here?
He stonewalled you. He interrupted the conversation before it even took place. He disregarded your feelings and redirected the conversation in the direction that suited him.
With his actions, he made you feel tense and traumatized. In normal relationships, this could have ended on a completely different note. You could have solved the problem if he agreed to talk about it.
Why do narcissists use stonewalling and the silent treatment?
Ignoring a narcissist is a very hard thing to do. Their manipulative tactics don’t leave you any choice but to react to their provocations. That is actually their main goal—to get a reaction out of you, preferably a negative one, so they can feed their egos and feel good about themselves.
Stonewalling and the silent treatment are their favorite manipulation methods when they want to punish you about something. You haven’t been acting the way they wanted you to. Maybe you’ve come to your senses and sobered up for a moment.
That scared them. They get scared that if you realize you deserve so much better, you’ll leave them, thus endangering the source of their narcissistic supply. You won’t give them what they need to keep on going.
So, they need to punish you and emotionally destroy you to keep you in your place. Their purpose is to diminish you and regain their control over you. They want to know what you’re doing and why.
They want to make you invisible. They want you to feel insignificant, as if it doesn’t make any difference if you live or die. They are playing with your mind to get your confidence very low, so you’re easily controlled.
What happens next is that you don’t want to be invisible. You’re fighting it, so you come back to them and ask for their approval and attention. You ask to be visible once again. That was their plan all along—to destroy you by stonewalling and make you beg him to notice you once again. That’s when you’re easily controlled, and that’s when he has restored his peace.
When do narcissists use stonewalling and the silent treatment?
1. After a breakup
If you’ve ever wondered how to shut down a narcissist, just follow their lead, see what they do, and you’ll be perfectly fine.
After a breakup, it is extremely hard to go ‘no contact’ with the person you’ve been with. This is especially true if you were together for a long time or you were married and have children. The point is, cutting someone out of your life is not an easy thing to do.
But when talking about narcissists and their victims, cutting off contact is extremely hard for the victims. They have been dependent on the narcissists for so long that they don’t know how to live their lives without the narcissists in it.
So, they want to go back to something that’s known to them. This is when the narcissist makes his move and shuts you down. They ignore you and your calls completely, making you crave their attention.
Usually, the narcissist comes back as a hero, proving that his version of the story was right all along, putting you in an ungrateful position. He can now control you even more than before.
2. Every day
When a narcissistic supply runs low, narcissists feel threatened. They feel vulnerable and are scared someone will hurt them. When we’re talking about empathy for others, they have none, but for themselves they have plenty.
When they feel a narcissistic injury, they will give you the silent treatment to hurt you for cutting their supply.
You’ll have no idea what is going on. You’ll ask him dozens of questions, and you’ll get short, vague answers which still won’t give a real answer to your question.
This leads you to think it’s your fault and that you did something wrong. Your insecurities will kick in, and if you show any kind of reaction to his stonewalling, you’re done.
He’ll pin you to the corner and release his anger. He’ll guilt trip you and basically make you feel like you’re small and insignificant. He wants you to slowly fall apart emotionally and depend solely on him.
He’ll give you the silent treatment and leave the house. Then, you’ll try to call, and he won’t answer, and in the eyes of other people, you are the bad guy. You’re the controlling bitch that won’t leave him alone. You’re the one who calls him nonstop and yells about ‘unimportant’ stuff.
3. When you need him the most
When something happens to you, when you need his support the most, he will be as cold as ice. He will ignore you and shut you out of his life completely. You’re going through hell and you need someone by your side, but he pulls away.
If you try to talk to him about it, he pulls away even further. He is even more distant from you than ever. He won’t stay quiet for long.
He’ll break and blame you for neglecting him. He’ll attack you for being depressed about something and not being able to see how he feels. He will put himself first. And the truth is, he is hurt, but not because you’re sad—because you’re not providing him with the narcissistic supply he needs. You’re not giving him enough attention.
So they need a reaction from you, and they stonewall you to get a fresh narcissistic supply.
Psychological consequences of Stonewalling and the Silent Treatment
It has been scientifically proven that emotional damage can provoke actual physical pain. After the constant emotional neglect and trauma a narcissist’s victim goes through, they begin to feel sick. Their emotional injuries have manifested into physical ones.
Stonewalling can happen even in normal relationships, but when it’s chronic, when it lasts a long time, only then it can damage you.
The silent treatment in regular relationships can even result in a relationship changing for the better. When partners need a break from each other, they will undergo the silent treatment, but after a while, they will talk and solve their problems.
But stonewalling in toxic relationships is used only as a form of prolonging the abuse and provoking intense emotional pain.
What to do if you are a victim of stonewalling?
It’s not your fault! Don’t feel guilty; don’t choose your words carefully because you’re scared you’re going to say something that’ll trigger him. Stop walking on eggshells around your toxic partner. Stop trying to help him because it’s all a trap.
He’s luring you in to give him enough narcissistic supply. He’s sucking you dry by provoking reactions, and he will never change. More importantly, he doesn’t want to change. His communication with you is stuck on a toxic level because he wants it that way.
He wants you to react. He wants you to feel emotionally drained. His actions are carefully designed to diminish you, to make you feel worthless.
Instead of trying hard to make him notice you (which is exactly what he wants), reconsider if the relationship you’re in is really worth saving.
How many times has this happened to you? How many times has he blocked you out of his life and tricked you into crawling back, begging for his attention?
It happens over and over again whenever he chooses.
How can you heal?
You need to take advantage of the time of silence and use it to heal yourself. Only think about yourself and what you need. Focus on making yourself better and not making him happy. The only way of doing this is by truly detaching yourself from a narcissist.
You can’t decide when to do it, but you’ll know when the time is right. That will be the hardest decision you’ve ever made in your life. Going no contact with a narcissist will be an excruciatingly painful and long process.
You’ll want to go back. You’ll feel that you need him. After that much emotional abuse, neglect, confusion and a feeling of being worthless, it takes guts to find the courage and strength to pick yourself up and preserve your common sense.
Know that when you leave, it’s not over. A narcissist will trying to get you back using hoovering tactics. You won’t be prepared for every trick he pulls out of his sleeve. But, the most important thing is never to let him get into your head.
Remember that you deserve your needs to be filled and your voice to be heard.