Is your stonewaller a sociopath, or someone else? Stonewalling, Part II

I wrote in my last article about stonewalling, that nefarious process (and pattern) of shutting down a partner’s communication either aggressively, or passive aggressively, the effect of which is to leave the “stonewalled” partner feeling voiceless, alone, dismissed, negated as a person.

Many sociopathic personalities stonewall, but many stonewallers aren’t sociopaths, so how do you tell the difference? What are some signs that your partner’s stonewalling is an aspect of his “sociopathy” versus, say, his high “conflict-avoidant” personality?

Clearly some individuals are terrible at dealing with communication in general and conflict in particular. Their stonewalling may be mainly avoidant. Their wish to “deny” that trouble is afoot, their deep discomfort with emotional sensitivity and vulnerability, their high levels of defensiveness, their sense of incompetence and even hopelessness to contribute to the resolution of differences and meet confrontation effectively, may cause them to retreat, shut down, or “stonewall,” less from an attitude of indifference, disinterest and dismissiveness than from anxiety and fear.

Some individuals “freeze” in the face of perceived conflict and take “flight” literally in closing the communication hatches. Their intent may be less to hurt you than to protect themselves, and even you, fearing as they do that danger could ensue from an engagement of your concerns.

This is still stonewalling, and its effect is still perfidious, make no mistake. But its origins may come from a less malign place.

While stonewalling, then, can arise from less malign motives, sometimes, too often, it expresses serious pathological aggression, passive-aggression, hostility, contempt and callousness.

Clearly when “stonewalling” is accompanied by cold indifference—any form of cold indifference—to the stonewalled party’s wounded response to being “shut down,” this is a sign of serious insensitivity.

To state it differently: when the stonewaller, as a pattern, shows contempt towards the stonewalled party’s disturbed reaction to his stonewalling, this alerts us that we are dealing with a deficiently sensitive individual who almost certainly can be located high up on the narcissistic continuum, if not in the range of the “sociopath.”

This isn’t to say that the non-sociopathic stonewaller will react with sensitivity to your experience of his stonewalling. That’s a bit oxymoronic—if he were particularly sensitive to his stonewalling, by definition he wouldn’t be a stonewaller. But his reaction will typically express discomfort with the impact his stonewalling has on you.

He won’t, for instance, like the more sociopathic stonewaller, characteristically lash out at you with blatant hostility and nasty, hurtful, degrading accusations in response to your complaints of his stonewalling. He won’t typically blame you.

More likely he’ll shirk away, convey a perhaps somewhat sincere sense of helplessness to offer up anything more than the inadequate silence he’s offering up, as if to say, “What can I say? I have nothing to say. I’m not trying to hurt you. I just don’t want to, or can’t, deal with this. Leave me alone. Give me a break. I’m sorry you’re so exasperated and hurt. That’s the way it is.”

You will feel shut down, but you will feel shut down by someone who can’t deal, who himself seems, and perhaps is, in a sense, paralysed and helpless to deal responsibly, thoughtfully, engagingly.

In contrast, you will have a different feeling with the more sociopathic stonewaller. When he shuts down your communication, you will feel yourself—I can’t stress this enough—the object of his contempt.

You will feel palpably, viscerally, his indifference to the impact his stonewalling has on you; his indifference will feel as traumatizing as the stonewalling itself, leaving you, in effect, doubly traumatized by the interaction.

There is a sense of shock—that is, his emotional indifference, his callousness, his devaluation of your emotional experience will feel “shocking.”

As I suggested, you are likely to feel his scorn, his scoffing; are at high risk to endure his insulting, degrading comments, along the lines you are making trouble, talk too much, always looking for problems, don’t know when to “shut up,” always have to “over-analyse” everything; that you are mental, miserable; but the key thing that will accompany these, and similarly patronizing remarks, will be, as I keep emphasizing, the “contempt” for your experience that will be dripping shamelessly from his mouth.

These are some of the red flags to heed that you aren’t dealing merely with an incompetent communicator who stonewalls, which is bad enough, but with a seriously, hostilely disturbed communicator from whom you need protection, and most likely, escape.

(This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Steve Becker, LCSW. My use of male gender pronouns is for convenience’s sake only, not to suggest that females aren’t capable of the behaviors and attitudes discussed.)

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kim frederick

Thanks for the link, Skylar. I read the whole transcript and maintain my position. The movie, itself, leaves, one in doubt. That is it’s intention; to subvert our notions of good and evil and to leave us disturbed…just enough so we question what we think we know.
To me, this is a good example of Girards theory of the sacrificial victim who carries the sins of the community, so the community can live in harmony without ever having to find any evil in themselves.
The Nun is projecting onto the priest. He cuts his nails, she likes to keep hers long. Long, but clean.
This is symbolic of her predatory nature. She’s a cat, but her hands are clean. She is covert and under handed.
It is the knowledge of her own evil nature that makes her so suspicious, and she tears open the pillows on the roof and lets the feathers fly to the winds with relish that she has such power to destroy others.
The others are her flock. They are easily led, because they doubt themselves. The priest is not without sin, I’m sure, but let he who is without sin cast the first stone, right. He is human and has regrets, as we all do. That I think is the meaning of his sermon, and she, seeing this flaw in him and his moment of weakness seizes the opportunity, like any good spath would, to use it against him. Just my take.


Kim (and Sky),

I definitely (and obviously) have to see the movie.


Aaah, but the relief of some of those boys at his goodbye sermon. And about letting a kid get the blame for the mass wine, and the lies he makes about it.

As for the first stone… Jezus’ tale ends with him getting a judgement seat. No casting the first stone was how I used to think… but not after spath experience.



Take a step back from that initial sermon. What is it about? Doubt, a human weakness (as we know all too well). What is it saying about doubt? What is it selling? That it’s ok to doubt and that people can bond in their weaknesses (we know how long doubt kept us bonded, don’t we?). Note how the sermon does not give a resolution to what happened to the sailor, no victory for certainty. It’s as if Satan’s having a speech up there, trying to tempt the parishioners, just like Satan tried with Jezus in the desert. Why does the priest use it? To get a welcome and sympathy from the community. The whole sermon is a tell, because it’s the sermon of a temptress, and it’s screaming “doubt me!”

That’s the tell!


I think, Kim that you misread that. The priest is the one who keeps the nails long and clean. I remember the scene, he is showing them to the boys who play basketball.

I have absolutely no doubt that he is a spath. She seems tough but has a soft compassion for the nun who goes blind. Her concern is for the moral fiber of her students. And she can read them. She says one of them got a nosebleed which he caused himself. The other nun can’t believe it, “who would do that to himself?” Streep answers, that the kid would set fire to his own foot to skip half day of class. (a spath would do that) She reads people, that is not what her doubt is about.

In the end she expresses doubt but it is only about her own morality because she lied in order to get the truth from the priest. She knows if he was innocent he would have stayed and fought, but what he showed was that his mask was more important. A spath can’t have anyone doubt his reputation because it’s what he works to gain trust.

The priest is portrayed as quite charming and ingratiating.
Reading the transcript, I get why she was suspicious of the sermon on doubt: she knew he was trying to get secrets.

Immediately after, she instructs her nuns to NOT share any doubts with the priest.

The nun knows that most people are not going to understand spaths by explaining the theoretical aspects. She knows you can only get it by experience, so she tries to protect the other nuns and the children through strict discipline.

She knows that if she can instill strong moral codes of behavior, she is saving them from paying the price of getting slimed by spaths in the future.

This story is about spaths, through and through. But even more it is about why nobody believes us. Spaths are more believable than we are. We are the ones who get doubted.


we posted over each other.
yes, he is Satan saying, “come show me your weakness.” That is what the sister feared. She made it clear in her speech to the sisters later. She knows that showing your weakness can lead to being exploited. She was ALL ABOUT BOUNDARIES.


When I first read it, I was first caught up in the stories, but something just felt off (and I don’t know a thing about sermons, never sat through one in my life). I got into the shower, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a very weird sermon. That’s when I realized what I wrote in the above post.

Boundaries are always about taking a step back, listen to your gut and look at the big picture of what’s being said or done. It is never about defending yourself to one word or sentence. It’s the whole slime feeling you get and becoming aware where it comes from. And well, that sermon sure is slimey!

Ox Drover

I’ve got to see that movie!!!!! Meryl streep is my favorite FAVORITE!!!! She is sooooo goood.

Ox Drover

I just ordered the movie “Doubt” I’ll let you guys know when I’ve watched it.



Yup! It’s a total MUST see!

I zapped into the movie in the first confrontation scene in the office, when he blames the boy for drinking wine. I was only half watching at that point, not really understanding or following the convo much.

Next he starts giving a sermon about gossip and telling what gossip looks like per his pillow and feathers example. I instantly sat up and thought, “Oooooooh, that’s a spath!” And then that icky scene where he talks to the younger nun. The last confrontation scene was so total spath – full of gaslighting and evasion and bullying and wanting to find out the sources so he could downtalk them, an attempt to slime her, and of course the pity play… one scene and the whole spath arsenal in a couple of minutes on dispay. That scene confirmed it all. I totally rooted for Streep to just stick to her guns.

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