Dealing with Stonewalling

Dealing with Stonewalling

Dealing with a person who starts stonewalling can be frustrating. You try to engage with the person in a conversation but the person gives short answers that may not make sense to you or appears to be uninterested. The person is physically but not mentally present. You may then raise your voice, position your body in front of the person in the hope of getting their attention, and make gestures such as waving or snapping your fingers in front of their eyes – all in a bid to get them to get them to give you a sign that they are acknowledging what you are doing and saying.

The person looks at you but their eyes appear soulless. You start to feel helpless, sad, frustrated and many other negative emotions as you do not know what to do and how to continue from that moment. You may start to retreat out of exhaustion, or continue to rage at them until the situation gets out of hand. You seem to be the only person making the effort, putting in all your energy, time and emotions into having a talk with this person – but it’s going nowhere.


Case (*names have been changed to protect the identities of individuals)

Casey has had enough of Diana, her mother. Diana has not said a single word ever since she got terminated from her workplace several weeks ago. The only words that Casey has heard so far when her mother got home on the day she was forced to quit were “hey Casey, I got fired at work today. No one wants me anymore.” Casey thought her mother needed some space to process what had happened and so she let her be. However, Diana never said a single word ever since that day. She joins Casey for meals and appears to be listening to what Casey says, but she does not ask any questions or initiate conversations. Casey wants to help her mother to find a new job. She tried to provide some numbers for her mother to call but the calls did not happen. Casey tried to call and set up interview appointments for her mother, but her mother did not show up for them. When Casey asked her mother why she did not show up, her mother simply kept quiet and looked at the floor. Casey became frustrated and started to shout at her mother, however, her mother still remained silent.


If you feel increasingly uncomfortable or start to panic as you feel helpless and anxious about where all this is going, you would need to remove yourself from the situation by physically going to another location until you are calm and comfortable, or find other self-soothing ways to first cope with the state you are in as a result of the situation. At this point, confronting the person further may only result in an unproductive loop of blaming and raging, which could also then spiral down to potential physical violence or emotional abuse.

If you are not quite able to get out of the shared physical location between you and the person, you could consider finding a corner and getting into a position that could help you to be less tense and more relaxed. You could also find other temporary distractions such as drinking a glass of water to hydrate your body while trying to be as comfortable as you can within the shared space.

Once you get into a comfortable space, you could attempt to register what is happening to and for you. You are dealing with the much dreaded stonewalling, or shunning, or isolation, or ghosting – all different terms that essentially meant ostracism1. It can be extra painful when the person whom you care a lot for and whom you thought cares about you does this. Being exlcuded2 or rejected hurts as you can go from feeling confused to depressed, or even harbour thoughts of harming yourself or the person.

Although there are many reasons for a person going into stonewalling, it is never useful to try and force them to respond in the way that you expect. Stonewalling is not an acceptable behaviour, but resorting to fear-inducing tactics can make matters worse for you and the other person. If you are the one dealing with someone who is stonewalling, you can consider the following:

  • Call them out on their behaviour. You can be direct or tactful. Do this only if you know what works with the person. Decide on how and what you want to do or say to them. Planning is essential here as this should not be done only out of your own frustration or impatience.
  • Recognise you may play a role in the way the person chooses to engage in stonewalling but that this is not an excuse for them to do so. It is often not a single person’s fault if fingers are to point to who is at fault. In fact, determining whose fault it is that led to the stonewalling situation may not be helpful at this point. Rather, take this opportunity to first understand how you can contribute to making things better for both you and the person who is stonewalling. If possible, get them to join you in implementing some positive actions.
  • Ask yourself if you still want a relationship with this person. If yes, check with them if they also want the same. Only if both parties still value the relationship they have with each other then any work that is done can be meaningful and impactful.


There are many other possible solutions that can help you with the person who is stonewalling. While you and/or the person may feel it is a hopeless situation, remember there is always something you and the other person can do.




  1. Austin, D. (2022). What you’re saying when you give someone the silent treatment. Retrieved from
  2. Swanson, M. (2012). Ostracism – the painful exclusion. Retrieved from
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