14 Examples & Why It’s A Problem
According to Pierre, people may stonewall during conflicts as a defense mechanism for self-preservation. When that occurs, here’s what she says is happening inside your body.
After a conflict thrusts us into fight, flight, fawn, or freeze mode, our ability to reason goes out the window. That’s because the prefrontal cortex (the region at the front of your brain) checks out, and the amygdala—your brain’s fear center or “alarm system”—takes over, signaling your body to escape the triggering situation.
You’re likely feeling quite stressed, so your body is activated, your blood is pumping, and your heart rate is increasing. “Not engaging with or ignoring the other person can make us feel like we’re in control again,” says Pierre, “so stonewalling is often used to regain some semblance of vindication, maybe even power.”
But that’s not the only reason people resort to this behavior. Sometimes, she says, people stonewall to seek relief because they truly “feel stuck and are unable to engage with the other person in a meaningful and rational way.”
Herzog points out that stonewalling “directly stops whatever confrontation is happening,” so it really can provide a sense of relief to the disgruntled person, even if it’s to their partner’s detriment.
“[Stonewalling] is not effective or sustainable, and over time will erode any relationship,” Pierre asserts.
However, complicated life experiences often make defensive behaviors hard to avoid. “It’s important to remember that when we don’t learn how to communicate properly within our relationships, we turn to the ‘skill’ we may have learned in order to survive in the past,” Herzog explains.
That’s why she thinks stonewalling typically shows up later in relationships: If a couple has worked on communication long term with little to no improvement, “stonewalling becomes the mechanism one or both partners turn to during an argument to get away from the pain and stress of what they’re feeling.”