Home Relationship With Your Life PartnerConflict Management: What Love is Not The Silent Pain of Emotional Withholding or “Stonewalling”

The Silent Pain of Emotional Withholding or “Stonewalling”

written by Jessica Baum September 15, 2020
The Silent Pain of Emotional Withholding or

Of all of the relationship issues I write about, stonewalling is one of the hardest to detect because it’s silent.

Put simply, it’s not easy to notice when someone is withholding their emotions or shutting down during a conversation. But, that’s exactly what happens during “stonewalling.” Not to mention, if you aren’t careful, you could end up looking like the “crazy” one…

For starters, stonewalling is when, during a discussion or argument, one person withdraws and shuts themselves off from the other person speaking. It’s because the listener feels overwhelmed or psychologically flooded. Metaphorically speaking, they build a wall between them and their partner.

I want to note that this is a coping mechanism. It’s how a person deals with their pain.

It’s important to keep that perspective if someone stonewalls you because it helps build empathy. Remember that it’s a maladaptive coping skill, meaning they have adapted this way of being to help manage their emotions.

Regardless, it can be incredibly painful when done to you and can make some people feel crazy.

I personally believe that some people withhold their emotions as a way to gain or retain power in a relationship. And some are even conscious of their choice to do this. And yet, others do this as a way to self-regulate, and even though they are shutting down, they are still coping. Either way, it’s painful.

On the flip side, the communicative person in the discussion or argument ends up getting upset while trying to break down this wall. If this has happened to you, the best and probably hardest thing to do is to redirect your own energy. Tell the other person that you’re ready to talk and listen when they are, but for now, you’re going to go do some things for yourself since they are not present. And, of course, say that in the most loving and direct way possible.

That way, you can go practice some self-care and deal with your own emotions properly. It’s important to self-soothe, and someone ignoring you is the perfect opportunity to “do you.” If you struggle with conflict, this can be a tall task as it’s hard for you to let go of unresolved issues. But, this is the time to shift your energy back into areas of your own being and life that bring you joy.

When you decide to pull back and self-soothe after being stonewalled, remind yourself that it’s not worth your energy, and begin to heal that anxious part of yourself with positive messages. If you detach your energy, you are showing that you will not play the game anymore. If you sit and fight, you’re only adding gasoline to the fire.

And guess what? … You end up being the crazy person. Have you ever been there? Do you get what I’m talking about? Don’t put yourself in that position.

Instead, try self-soothing and redirecting your energy away from them and back onto yourself. Do something different and detach with love in order to practice self-care. Your partner will also then be more inclined to come back to the table to address what’s really going on.

I truly hope this helps, as stonewalling can be a painful experience for anyone, especially for those who have abandonment wounds. I say, show up for yourself as much as possible by taking care of yourself first.


Jessica Baum is a licensed and experienced relationship therapist in Palm Beach County, specializing in codependency and love addiction. To learn more about love addiction or to book an appointment, please feel free to call her at 1-800-274-8106.

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