There are people who make life easier for us and those who make it difficult. There are masters in untangling soul knots and specialists in creating entanglements. There are those who calm the storms and those who create storms in a teacup. As simple as that.
Throughout life we meet all kinds of people and we have to be prepared to deal with them since from those relationships can arise our greatest joys or deepest sorrows. Stonewallers have one of those profiles that we must learn to manage. If we don’t, we’ll end up entangled in their web, with no energy or motivation to move forward.
Signs that reveal a stonewalling attitude
Stonewalling makes coexistence difficult, turning almost everything into a problem. These people have a problem for every solution, so they only look at the spots of the sun, ignoring its light.
We can identify them because they always have a negative and hostile attitude, so that the encounters tend to be rather disagreements since they generally end in conflicts. Stonewallers do not build visible barricades to stop us, rather they create a fine, almost invisible spider web into which we fall.
These people often develop a passive-aggressive coping strategy, which means they don’t usually attack directly, but resort to more subtle tactics, from deception to emotional manipulation. Contempt, indifference, inaction and evading any kind of responsibility are also typical stonewalling attitudes.
Other characteristic behaviors of stonewallers are:
1. Hostile and immature communication. Stonewallers have not developed their communication skills, so they tend to relate to others like little children. When they don’t want something, they just throw a tantrum. They do not reason, do not listen and do not even express what they want, but resort to silence as punishment.
2. Voluntary forgetfulness. A typical behavior of stonewalling is premeditated forgetfulness. These people refuse to help or cooperate, but instead of saying it outright, they compromise and then go back on their word, citing an inadvertent forgetfulness that they downplay. Thus they end up obstructing the progress of others, planting mines on their path.
3. Permanent ambiguity. Stonewallers avoid engagement, so they often navigate ambiguity and drag everyone else into those waters. Even their day to day is marked by this uncertainty, so that they constantly push us to make decisions for them. They often give vague answers or respond with other questions to avoid committing themselves.
4. Constant blocking. With a stonewaller by your side, it is almost impossible to take any steps or make any plans. They find faults and problems with everything. Even if they don’t say it clearly, in the end they end up taking away our desire to do almost anything because they infect us with their pessimism.
5. Undermine mood. Stonewallers are specialists in undermining our mood. They see obstacles and problems everywhere, making us doubt not only the project but even ourselves. Their preferred tactic to prevent us from moving forward is to undermine our trust and security, usually through hints.
In most cases, stonewalling is a tactic intended to buy time, avoid a problem, or manipulate the other. This attitude can be seen in those who have a problematic and immature personality, but sometimes it can also be the result of traumatic experiences, such as great disappointment or depression.
Stonewalling as a strategy to block plans and cancel people
Stonewalling ends up boycotting any attempt to reach an agreement and fills the relationship with latent conflicts. In fact, the stonewaller person transfers the weight of the bond to the other, which is not only unfair, but ends up being exhausting.
For this reason, stonewalling in the couple is the main predictor of separation. A stonewaller partner will block all attempts at communication and, unable to resolve issues constructively, the relationship breaks down. In fact, living with a stonewalling person means having someone who constantly cancels us out.
In a way, the stonewalling attitude could be compared to one of the classic torture techniques in which people were kept standing for hours, preventing them from sitting down, sleeping or going to the bathroom. This type of abuse has a profound effect on the mind because it makes the victim feel that they have lost control and fall into a situation of learned helplessness.
A classic study in Psychology carried out in 1956 showed that if we are exposed to the same stimulus over and over again, is activated a process called habituation. Stonewalling not only absorbs our energy, but also takes away our enthusiasm, so that we fall into the web of laziness and pessimism, which is precisely what the stonewaller wants, that we lose our desire and momentum.
How to deal with stonewalling in relationships?
Responding to stonewalling is not easy. Arguments and ultimatums are useless with these people because we are usually the ones who lose patience and strength along the way. Running up against an stonewalling attitude over and over again can be downright demotivating.
The key to dealing with those situations is assertiveness. It is important to make it clear to the stonewalling person or partner that there is a problem in the relationship. We must describe the behaviors that we do not like and that harm us without assuming a recriminatory tone. In fact, it is important not to blame that person for their way of being and focus on their behaviors so that they do not perceive our words as a personal attack. The idea to convey is that we want to improve the relationship.
However, we must keep in mind that stonewallers do not always recognize what is happening, so we must be prepared to set limits. It is essential to make clear what we are not willing to tolerate. If we have a stonewalling partner, for example, we can make it clear to them that we are not willing to always take care of the plans so that they can later criticize or sabotage them. Instead, we would like our partner to become more involved and take on new responsibilities in the relationship.
It is also essential to make the consequences clear, especially if we notice that there is no progress or will to change. If it is a stonewalling colleague who slows down work, for example, we must let him know that we are not willing to accept this attitude and that he will have to account to the team.
Finally, we must remember that stonewalling not only nullifies our plans, it can also nullify us as people if we are not able to get out of that toxic influence. Therefore, we must make it clear that if they are not going to help us take off, they must at least clear the runway.
Jasper, H. & Sharpless, S. (1956) Habituation of the arousal reaction. Brain; 79(4):655-80.