A question often asked when learning about the Four Horsemen is: Are stonewalling and silent treatment the same thing? The answer I give is yes and no. There are some similarities between the two but also a big difference I see as well.
Stonewalling is when someone emotionally shuts down and withdraws from the interaction. It can appear they are ignoring you, pretending you aren’t there and are angry. What is happening is the person is in diffuse physiological arousal (DPA) also known as being flooded. This means they are overwhelmed to the point their brain can’t function normally.
Our Body’s Alarm System
Flooding is our body’s alarm system for perceived threats. This can be helpful when a bear is chasing you, surging your adrenaline to give you the strength to escape or outsmart the bear. When you conflict with your partner, it can make the conflict worse.
Also Read: Stages Following Betrayal – What Are They?
When people stonewall, they often display “freeze” in the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. It can be something they are aware of, such as, “I better shut my mouth so I don’t make things worse,” or dissociation which we sometimes are not aware of.
The silent treatment feels more like a game from childhood where everyone ignores the target and pretends they don’t exist. It is an intentional refusal to acknowledge the other person. Often it intends to hurt the other person and to “win” the conflict. If it goes on too long and the other person continues to try to engage, it can make the victim feel crazy and desperate. It doesn’t do anything to help the conflict.