Stonewalling is not the same as a request for space or boundaries. As request for space requires communication. Boundaries require conversation and agreement. With stonewalling, the silencer rejects the notion of communication and empathy while refusing to listen. It is the omission of engagement. If you have ever been stonewalled or given the silent treatment, you might've felt as if you'd been placed in an emotional jail by your friend/partner. It's like how the characters from the "White Christmas" episode of Black Mirror "blocked" each other in the middle of conversations to avoid honest discussion about hard topics. Stonewalling is like someone placing your communications in a silent fuzzy blur without consent, discussion, or agreement.
2. know that this isn't your fault!
It took me years of undoing and unlearning to understand that my step-father's silent treatment wasn't my fault. I didn't earn it or ask for it. No one ever earns their way into emotional manipulation. If you're being emotionally manipulated in this way, then understand that their irresponsible coping tactics are not your responsibility. Many people result to silent treatment because, deep down, they are unsure of how to engage in conversations that challenge them. They don't feel equipped to handle the weight of the topics at hand
For some people, intense conversation can be a trigger that results in an emotional shut down. This shut down is an unhealthy coping mechanism that values self and self-preservation over healing, understanding, empathy, and connection. While it's important to have empathy and understand a person's situational trauma and their capacity to handle current discussion, it is (again!!) important to understand that this person's traumatic response to you is not your responsibility, and not. your. fault.
3. show yourself compassion: use your tools.
How you do you feel? That's the question. My immediate feelings during my step-father's silences were extreme frustration, rejection, loneliness, and self-loathing (depression). I sometimes felt silent rage, both at him and at myself. I felt shame for being so affected by his silence. I didn't feel strong. My inner-narrative raced from weaknesses to worthlessness quickly. I still have the journal entries from when I was ten. I was processing what I could have possibly done to "mess up the good things". Over time, I began to determine that perhaps I simply wasn't worth my step-father's time, attention, affection, or words. Not even enough for a "hello". Not even enough for an "it's okay." This was a lie.
I want you to know that if you feel any of the above emotions, it's okay.
Being forcibly shut out of the world of someone you trusted to love, care for, and protect your connection is incredibly infuriating. It's a hurtful break of trust and get this: you're allowed to feel angry about it.
So, where do we go from here? How do we deal with the anger?
First, release yourself from fault. Forgive yourself for not reacting the way that you hoped you would. You may not be able to control the emotional manipulation of someone else, but you most certainly are able to control how you respond to both them and yourself.
- So, breathe. Let your self feel. Release. Repeat.
Second, evaluate where you might have actually been wrong and separate those instances from your self-doubt. Did you attempt to harm them in any way, whether verbally or physically? Did you exercise your own power moves? Did you yell? Throw things? Invade space? Threaten? If you did, there is no shame. Absolutely none. But, there is responsibility. Own up. This is not a game of who is the most virtuous. This is about releasing ourselves to back to love.
When I know I'm in the wrong after experiencing silent treatment, I make every effort to quickly acknowledge my faults out loud and release myself to forgiveness. This has never been a perfect process, but, rather, a way of sifting through my fears and finding truths to hold on to. i.e.,
- The Acknowledgement: Yes, I got angry. I yelled. I slammed the door. I cursed him out and verbally abused him out of irritation.
- The Affirmation: My actions are not my identity. My behaviors don't define me, they only define the paths I get to take toward healing.
Third, find a third voice and employ healthy coping strategies. Situations like these are not ones that should be gone through alone. Mobilize a support system. If you are especially someone who is prone to anxious thoughts or depression, seeking a third voice is the wise next move. Whether that voice be one of a trusted friend who will listen deeply and help problem solve rather than fuel your anger at the situation, or a licensed therapist; finding a third-party who is removed from the situation may help you to process and see clarity.
When I was a teenager dealing with my step-father's silences, I wrestled with so much depression. There were honest days where the only thing I could think was that I no longer wanted to exist. Those were very real and valid feelings. I wish I had known that I could talk to a therapist--or anyone at all. Instead, I cycled through my thoughts and fears while experiencing so. much. shame. I was often so anxious that I couldn't get out of bed because of migraines, body aches, and throbbing stomach pain.
I didn't know at the time that this was anxiety. I thought that I was being weak and childish. Once anxiety is triggered, it can become incredibly debilitating. It was during this time period when I began learning to write poetry and songs--mostly out of the dire necessity to process the pain I was feeling in my heart.
Poetry and music became my coping strategies. Whenever I felt defeated, I would turn my journals, the piano, or my guitar. I would write for hours upon hours. I also read a lot of novels and immersed myself in other people's stories to distract myself from my own.
Sometimes, though, it felt like nothing worked. I would find myself lying in bed at night lost in my short-term memory, fast-fowarding and rewinding through the trauma. Hours would pass, and sometimes, I would stay awake feeling sick to my stomach all night. If you find yourself cycling through your thoughts and fears in this way, then, first, breathe. Next, it's critically important that you identify your people, your tools, and your resources while remembering that this is not your fault.
Here are a few quick online resources:
Click here for an extended list of podcasts regarding mental health and trauma that will assist with a deepened understanding of both.
4. how to love them again.
Give yourself plenty of space and time to decide how. Ask yourself critical questions. Is it safe for you to enter back into the relationship? Is there space to communicate?
My personal belief is that everyone may be offered grace and mercy, but not in ways that compromise our critical safety. Set healthy boundaries. Consult your therapist before easing back into communication again.
What's more important than anything, though, is that you know that your worth and value is not and will never be tied up in anyone's response to you. IF you decide to choose love toward your abuser, do so with distance and care for yourself with truth in mind. This is not your fault!
*Disclaimer: I am not a licensed therapist. This is a narrative-based, experience-based article. Please see a licensed therapist for further inquiry into this topic.