Oh the silent treatment. How wonderful it can be yet how unnerving it can be all at the same time: just depends on which side of it you’re on. I have never been on the giving side with the exception of one time. It was some time ago. I did this to a much younger friend than myself. She was pretty wise beyond her years, or so it seemed. She was living on her own, held down jobs, took care of her little sister most of the time, she just seemed like an all around mature gal. Red flags popped up here and there, because well, she’s just starting out in life. I fully expected some immaturity to shine through and I embraced it when it happened. I still think she’s a pretty awesome girl who will go places, ya know? She’s very dedicated and committed and pretty damn responsible. I still root her on from afar these days, praying she does well in her life. We haven’t spoken more than hello’s since the day I stonewalled her. I didn’t know what to do with the situation she drug herself into that she had no right doing as so. It involved my child and her other friend’s child, someone with whom I was familiar with and her child was in the same class. She used our children to create some drama where there didn’t need to be any. It was a way to get us to “compete” for her attention. And like I said, it involved our children and therefore, I was not willing to participate. I know, she doesn’t have children yet. She doesn’t understand the severity in the situation. She won’t fully understand until she has children. So, what I did wasn’t exactly fair or reasonable to her in return. I stonewalled her completely. At first, I just needed a break. I needed time to figure out how I could set better boundaries. With having a busy life with kids it was going to take me a few days. She couldn’t respect the space and continued to contact me. It irritated me even further and I wound up just letting go of that friendship all together. I didn’t realize how defensive the silence would make her. I didn’t realize the consequences of my actions would fill her mind with doubt and insecurities until we finally spoke and all I got was anger from her. All that time she was filling her head with stories, creating stories in her head because I was not being a very reassuring friend. I didn’t communicate that I needed time to figure out some clear boundaries with her, I just told her I needed space nor did I tell her the length of time I needed space. I just expected her to know that with my busy life I’d need a few days to think things through. How was she suppose to know that? So in her defense, I don’t blame her for doing what she did. Normally, I am the one stonewalled. Normally, I’m the one racing through my irrational thoughts, making up stories that made sense to me as to why I am receiving the silent treatment. Normally, I’m the one playing up my doubts and insecurities, making myself believe that I was entirely in the wrong, my feelings were invalid compared to the person’s feelings who is giving me the silent treatment, and so I let go of the boundaries or choices I made to smooth over the situation when the other person decides the silent treatment is over with. Normally, I’m the one who breaks the silence time and time again, basically begging the other person to talk to me about our issue. So how was it I couldn’t place myself in her shoes in order to help her understand why I needed a little break? I should have been more compassionate to her. How awful that must have been for her because she probably already knew and felt guilty for doing what she did, I only made her feel worse. Don’t worry, I apologized quite some time ago. Of course, there were “buts” in that apology because I just can’t have my kids involved or used in the manner she chose. I don’t compete with friend’s friends either. I’m a lover and a supporter. I want my friends to have other friends who support them like I do (or in different ways, of course) but that I don’t have to be friends with, just acquaintances. I want them to have their own circle of people whom they trust and can rely on.
So, with all that being said, how do I move forward when I still get the silent treatment or am stonewalled? Better yet, why am I being stonewalled (before we get into “being still in the silence”)?
I don’t know if any of you have read into Gottman’s The Four Horsemen, but I highly recommend you at least google it. It really really helps me in certain situations or arguments or fights. I still fall into my own bad habits of poor communication, especially when I’m overcome with emotion. I have not mastered good communication in times of tension. This is probably going to be one of those things that I will be learning for the rest of my life which probably means you will too, but that is just my own assumption. If you visit, www.nelsonchristiancounseling.com, they are an excellent source for understanding the four horsemen concept. It helped me to realize that sometimes my self control is too good and I inadvertently stonewall people by not giving live feedback, holding on to something until I’m “brave” enough to be able to do so, or until I have found enough “evidence” to support a pattern of behavior that requires me to draw the line. It is so good at explaining both sides, giving and receiving, these parts of communication. So let’s take a look, shall we? I mean, take a look at the stonewalling portion any way because clearly I struggle the most with it.
According to www.psychologytoday.com, stonewalling either occurs aggressively or it occurs defensively. When it’s aggressive, it’s clearly done on purpose. Stonewalling, in this case, is used a means of manipulation. Often times, it gives power over the victim. Typically, as I have been on the receiving end of stonewalling, it was used a means to get me to let go of my beliefs, my values, my choices, or my boundaries and succumb to what they want. It was used to get me to “second guess” myself, to doubt myself, to “see it their way.” It’s a means of control. One example I can provide you with: my ex husband. If you haven’t read my other blogs, that’s ok, I’ll give you a short story. He was a physically abusive man. Need I say more? He would use stonewalling as a means to get me to apologize for the abuse, to be sorry for provoking him. It was part of the emotional abuse I endured. It’s probably why, these days, I don’t take too kindly to the silent treatment and can make up stories, defensive ones at that, about how they are doing this on purpose to “control” me. This type of “lack of communication,” has no end unless the stonewaller decides there’s an end to the time limit; which could be days, weeks, months, or even years. In lament’s terms, I would say this form of stonewalling is emotionally abusive and toxic. The stonewaller won’t even recognize your points, they will stonewall to invalidate you. They won’t acknowledge you, your arguments, your boundaries, etc. They simply refuse to talk about any of it. If this is happening to you, where there really isn’t anything you are doing to deserve such treatment, it’s probably best you stop second guessing yourself and walk away. You deserve better. If you suspect you are overwhelming someone with your need to argue to be right instead of compromising, then read on, please.
Sometimes stonewalling comes disguised as a defense mechanism. We get too caught up arguing and being critical of one another that someone winds up hurt and to an extent exhausted or overwhelmed and the conversation needs a break. Some people will stonewall as a defense because they need a break. They need time to process and calm down. An example from my life for you: I brought to light some issues I had with a friend and with that came some new boundaries. Honestly, it was a lot of emotional stuff, stuff that took me years to be able to tell her because I was scared of the backlash, scared she would end our friendship as she had done on several occasions with other friends of hers. And yes, it was a lot of past stuff, past behaviors that continued throughout the years, so to her, it seemed there was a lot of criticisms and contempt. Did I mean it that way? No. So her defense mechanism was to stonewall, or to get a break, to gather herself and move forward because obviously, there’s nothing she can do about the past and we can’t go in circles around it. There’s no point in doing that to which I understand and to which I understand how I used to be which is to do exactly that, dance around in circles over things we can’t change about the past. I can’t say I’m the same person any more because I sure as hell didn’t want to dance around the past, just to use it to bring me to the present and be who I wish to be, a healthier me, mentally and physically. You might find the stonewalling childish. Yeah, maybe, but if we understand that sometimes when you hit someone with something hard and fast and it seems a bit like criticism or contempt and it brings up a lot of emotions and feelings, just know they do need time to process or regroup and will more than likely set a time to discuss whatever it was that was laid on the table for them. But remember, during this type of stonewalling, there’s usually a time limit in place and you are therefore acknowledged, or at least the boundaries, the issues, the feedback, whatever it was that you brought to the table. You can always ask for a time limit if there isn’t a clear one set. There’s no harm in doing that because it’s either going to show you that they are considerate of you and your feelings and will validate you at a later time, or it’s going to show you the door out.
So, what do we do with ourselves in the mean time? How do we keep ourselves from second guessing our decisions to argue our feelings and argue validation? How do we keep ourselves from going out of our mind, crazy? It’s just like when you set a boundary. You have to expect some kind of anger, angst, or resentment. It’s just to be expected. Don’t aggravate it though. If someone has asked for space, respect it as much as you can. If there was no deadline on the amount of time, it’s ok to check in once in a while. I know it feels like you’re isolated from them, but remember, if we wish to have a calm discussion, we need to let them regroup so it can happen in a more positive manner. If there’s a deadline and you haven’t heard from them or they have asked for more time, again, respect it. Usually, this is the spot I dislike. It feels to me as though I’m always having to do things on their time and their turf and their terms, never on mine. It makes me begin to get resentful. So, then again, it also probably means it’s best to let more time pass. We also need to let go of some of the emotions attached to the issue(s). And if after you’ve let it go on long enough, the silent treatment that is, let them know you understand they need their space and therefore you do too. Let them know you will check in with them within a weeks time frame and if they’re ready then you can reconvene. You may need to keep doing this like you would if you set boundaries (essentially, that is setting a boundary through the stonewalling, that even though they need space, you also need something out of it too and won’t continue to be disregarded). Just keep reiterating every week. At some point, though, you may have to cut off your own contact. So, in the mean time, that means it’s time to put it to bed. It’s time to take care of yourself. It’s time to live it up and help yourself feel better about yourself and how you’re moving forward. Do the things that make you happy and keep your spirits up. The more you do this, the more positive your mental state will stay and it will help you keep firm and positive towards conflict resolution. If you find yourself thinking about it and you’re getting anxious, find tangibility. Count your breathing. Touch a lot of things. Smell a lot of things (pleasant smells of course). As much as it sounds like you would do for a baby, well, because it does, it’s called self soothing. You will also find this in the article about the four horsemen.
If we hold ourselves to a higher value than we did before, we are certainly setting ourselves up for success with other relationships. It’s going to show our past or current relationships that we don’t devalue ourselves because they decided to stonewall us. It just means that we no longer need to value their opinion of ourselves, we instead value our own and therefore respect ourselves as should they. This should be an essential in self care. If the stonewalling continues every time an issue comes up, then maybe it’s high time you stonewall yourself, defensively, and walk away from that relationship. Make it a balancing act. Try to break through the silence, yet know when it’s time to walk away because you have more self respect than to continue in dysfunction and poor communicative skills. Letting go is hard. It is not easy. It is painful all in it’s own way. Don’t let the fear of losing someone drive you to continue in that cycle. Choose better and you will be better, but always know, the right path is never easy.
Just know, that I, too, struggle with the silence. I find myself thinking back to the situation that brought on the silence. I think about my choices and whether or not they were the right ones. And then I catch myself and I say to myself, “I don’t have time for this until it is time. I’m moving on!” And then I go and actually engage myself in something. Usually it’s with my kiddos because I’m beyond blessed with four of them! I have found myself actually engaging with them, not just sitting on the floor pretending to play with them, I’m actually playing Barbie. I’m actually having conversations with them and practicing my active listening skills. There’s no better practice for active listening than with your children. They are equally people who try our patience every single day and at the least challenge me to actively listen (because it’s usually the same kind of fights over and over and over again). When the anxiety and angst of the silence is really getting to me, I find myself turning on my favorite show on Netflix and starting it from the very beginning and putting in my headphones so I’m not disturbed with other sounds (because, you know, my kids). Or, I clean aggressively until it’s time to hit the gym and then I can make all that aggression and anger and anxiety and angst and what have you into something good for my body! I just do what brings me joy and it in turn helps me put that worrisome crap away. And I do this over and over and over until I no longer even try to think about it, it’s not even a blip on my radar. And by then, either the silent treatment ends, or I realize it’s done and over and I no longer have to worry about how painful it can be to “let go” because chances are, I’ve already improved myself and my quality of life and the toxicity it brought on was detoxed and I can more fully and wholeheartedly recover and move on with my life. It makes it so much easier to take better care of myself.