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Stonewalling, What Makes It Similar Yet Distinct From Gaslighting? 1 of 2

e832b90d21e91c72d252440dee4a5b97e77fe0d019b218449c_640_stonewallingStonewalling shares some common ground with gaslighting.

Both are effective in blocking healthy communication, in particular, the sense of emotional safety and connection necessary that each person in the communication needs to deepen their mutual understanding of one another, in order to strengthen their relationship.

It’s in their intent that they distinctly differ. Stonewalling is a learned defensive or protective strategy. In general, the person who stonewalls is using a learned albeit ineffective way of expressing intense emotions to a loved one, which may be feelings of frustration, anger, hurt, disappointment to a loved one, on the one hand, or discouragement, emotional flooding, overwhelm or even shut down, on the other.

In contrast, the intent of gaslighting is more severe and offensive in nature.

Additionally, whereas gaslighting includes all or some elements of stonewalling, stonewalling in itself is not gaslighting.

Whereas the underlying intent of stonewalling is to express feelings of disconnect and insecurity in relation to the other, along with the underlying core fears this triggers, such as feelings of inadequacy, rejection and abandonment, etc., the underlying intent of gaslighting, as a form of thought control, is to tear down the defenses of another offensively. It is an aggressive act of one who holds a “might makes right” philosophy, and has a fantasy of himself as a mighty predator and other persons as potential prey.

Because of its intent, gaslighting is one of the most extreme and emotionally abusive.

It is the term emotional manipulation should be reserved for exclusively, that is, a form of thought control that is science-based, uses proven methodology to get into the mind of another, manipulate fears and core-needs, specifically, to silence, belittle, rob the other of any sense of esteem or worth, visibility or presence in relation to the other. In effect, to subjugate the other into thinking and feeling that their only purpose in life is to serve “at the pleasure of” the other, and most importantly, to act as if this sado-masochistic relationship is normal, but also to act as they get pleasure from whatever the master does to them.

At some level or another, a lighter version of gaslighting is used throughout our society in certain hierarchical relationship structures, such as parent-child. husband-wife, socially approved to be used by those in status positions, throughout our society, for example parent-child, teacher-student. not a science-based training many persons we know receive in their on the job training in certain careers, such as military, police, etc., in order to enforce controls and status.

Characteristics of stonewalling

Stonewalling is a refusal of one person to talk, interact or respond to another person they are living with, often married to, or in regular contract, in some cases, working together.

This slang term references a wall because talking to someone who stonewalls can feel as if they’re made of stone, literally, like having a conversation with a wall. They show little or no emotion on the outside, and often take pride in thinking of themselves as strong on the basis of showing no emotion (in truth, they’re stewing and brewing inside).

It’s an ineffective and counterproductive way of handling difficult emotions, ultimately a fear of fear itself. The stonewaller often holds a belief that perceives upsetting emotions, criticism, demands, etc., as dangerous risks or threats to a sense of safety they associate with keeping tight control of emotions (to avoid loss of control and overwhelm).

Stonewalling includes the below or similar defensive-response patterns.

Refusing to talk or giving the “silent treatment” to the other.

Saying as few words as possible.

Shutting down at any sign the other wants to talk about an issue or is upset.

Refusing to answer questions.

Asking for “space” (illusive…) from the other without explanation.

Remaining emotionless when asked to express feelings on issue at hand.

Offering no opinions.

Staying emotionally detached from any issues the other brings up.

Responding with, “I don’t know what I want” when asked to resolve issues collaboratively.

Agreeing to things only to get space from the other, therefore, not keeping “agreements.”

Evading efforts of the other to resolve an issue or agree to a plan.

Withholding information that risks evaluation or angering or upsetting the other.

Withholding affection.

In general, the intent of stonewalling is to express feelings of disappointment or hurt, and to do so indirectly, by withdrawing from any communications or the presence of another. They may also refuse to engage or participate in planned events or to keep agreements.

Though not always the case, it’s not unusual for the stonewaller to feel shut down, automatically at any sign of discord. In some cases, the above behaviors are also associated with persons who have experienced emotional and, or physical abuse, who need healing from a mind set, that has them trapped, living in fear and overly focused, worried, obsessed about not meeting the expectations or demands of the other.

In some cases stonewalling can be a primary means for the stonewaller to avoid what they most fear — conflict, criticism, confrontation — based on a belief, or an unrealistic expectation the stonewaller holds, that it’s their job to eliminate any signs of negative emotions or feedback or demands around them.

In other cases, stonewalling can also be a way to punish a loved one for something they did or didn’t do that was hurtful, often with the expectation they “should have known better” without using words to clarify what they want or what’s hurtful.

In some fashion or other, the stonewaller acts “as if” the other does not exist.

It can range or start as mild and occasional, and grow to a habitual, persistent pattern; and the duration can last minutes, hours, days or weeks, or longer.

Often, for practical purposes, there may be brief breaks here and there, for example, in order to coordinate essential responsibilities, or when friends or other family members are around.

In the words of Daniel Goleman, “Stonewalling sends a powerful, unnerving message, something like a combination of icy distance …and distaste… as a habitual response, stonewalling is devastating to the health of a relationship; it cuts off all possibility of working out disagreements.”

It’s been called the ultimate defense, in effect, the stonewaller withdraws by just going blank.

The partner who wants to talk and resolve issues often finds stonewalling to be extremely frustrating, especially when they are trying to address serious issues.

In contrast, gaslighting may include most or all of the above, however, the intent of the gaslighter is more severe, and goes beyond mere punishing or avoiding conflict.

More on the characteristics of gas lighting in Part 2.

Stonewalling, What Makes It Similar Yet Distinct From Gaslighting? 1 of 2

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2018). Stonewalling, What Makes It Similar Yet Distinct From Gaslighting? 1 of 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Feb 2018
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