Sunday, June 6, 2010

Refusing to communicate is toxic behavior...

Came across another great post on the DoNM board today that I had to share with you all. This one was taken from the Sanctuary for the Abused blog.


Communication & the Functional Sociopath
By William Polowniak, Ph.D.

Fritz Perls a famous Jewish psychotherapist known for his founding of Gestalt therapy once said that refusal to communicate is the most toxic human behavior. I am convinced that he is right. Refusal to communicate really means refusal to listen and to enter into dialogue especially when we disagree. Usually people who refuse to communicate live their lives as “functional sociopaths.” That is, they are self-centered, they do as they please with total disregard for others and they indulge in subterfuge, self-delusion and see themselves as persecuted. Their delusions of self-persecution cause them to become angry manipulators.

So why label people in “either or” categories as “toxic” or “nourishing” people? Labels themselves are dangerous and often unfair, but for the wise person they do help us see what to avoid. They help us to invest our energies in more productive ways. When we use labels, however, we must be aware that labeling others without caution is in itself a toxic behavior. Let us “be aware” when we choose to label others or ourselves.

“Action speaks louder than words” Everyone’s mother has probably said this during our childhood more than once. My father used to say “Talk is cheap, whiskey costs money.” The typical behaviors of those who refuse to communicate are labeled by psychologists as the “fight?flight” response. Those who refuse to communicate are usually adept at manipulation, they have toxic behavior in general and when confronted by circumstances that proves their position is faulty, they will attack or run away, or they will attack and run away. "Toxic people are adept at pushing our buttons and provoking an over-reaction in others. But the up side of that is that they challenge us to remain centered and be a positive influence even if there is no reward to us directly. Our efforts to not add to the pain and suffering toxic people use to justify their emotional cruelty and brutal behavior is our best strategy. If they do not run they will not listen using a variety of tyrannical behaviors. They begin by raising their voices, then will shout, scream and rant and rave often appearing to be a raving lunatic. They typically indulge in anger, condemnation and blame. They are adept at interrupting and often will not allow their adversary to finish even one sentence. We often see people like this on TV talk shows."

So how does a person deal with those who refuse to communicate? The best defense is listening, in silence, and adopting the posture of a detective. While listening, try to discover what is really at the root of the problem. All the while, if you must communicate, focus on short, simple and clear statements using "I" statements frequently; that is, if your adversary permits any pauses in their onslaught of anger, condemnation and blame. At the very least, actively listening in silence and non-judgment will provide your adversary with needed catharsis, will often defuse their anger and will not add to their fear of retaliation.

Another thing that helps is to rely on trust and the great healer—time. We’ve all heard the biblical quote “Vengeance in mine, sayeth the Lord.” The fact is that time and life will usually bite these kinds of people in the behind when they least expect it. They sabotage their own life by alienating others, when in fact they desperately need and want love and affection.

Another helpful thing to realize is that to the wise person, knowing that “not communicating” can often communicate more than we realize. Not retaliating, not interrupting the interrupter, but listening in silence or basically allowing the adversary to wallow in their own delusions of persecution will ultimately allow the TRUTH to emerge. Reality is the second best teacher. Do you know what the best teacher is? Pain. Very often only pain and suffering can communicate to the person who refuses to communicate.

A final thing that is helpful is to remember that “help is not always helpful.” Recently I tried to help a person who was wallowing in her anger and hostility. Her remark to me was “I don’t need your help.” Often it is wise to avoid unnecessary contact with people who seem to be waiting to pick a fight or to blow up. If communication is really necessary it should be done in writing (and keep a copy) so that it is less likely to elicit a reaction or temper tantrum. And in the worse cases, if a toxic person retaliates and legal action becomes necessary to remedy the situation, what you have in writing may be valuable. In addition if a toxic person acts out threats they will thereby create the proof you will need to legally prosecute for blackmail and malicious mischief. Those of us who believe in community do not like to think of things like legal action or legal defense but the reality is that sometimes legal remedies do in fact create community and can force a more healthy emotional situation to prevail. Legal remedies can show the bully and the emotional tyrant that you are not afraid.


  1. A powerful post. Packed with really useful information. However, I have tried to sit quietly while my Nfather rages and it always seems to enrage him even more.

    Well done, DA!

  2. Well, when face to face, not responding to my NM generally seems to enrage her more but I find it works great long distance now that I'm NC. Refusing to dignify my N FOO's immature, P/A tactics with a response seems to be working wonders! ;o)

  3. thank u for sharing this article! its so difficult to deal with people who refuse to communicate. especially when it leaves u feeling like ur not worth the effort. its done so much damage to my selfesteem.

  4. Refusing to communicate IS toxic behavior. Indeed, and agreed! Thank you for posting.

  5. What's the difference between setting boundaries and not communicating?

  6. @ David H. Smith - Setting boundaries is part of being mentally and emotionally healthy. We all have boundaries in some form or another based on what we are willing to tolerate or not. We don't set those boundaries with the intent to punish anyone but rather to protect ourselves. That is to say, the intention behind the act is good.

    By contrast, refusal to communicate is done with the intent to punish someone for some infraction, perceived or real. An example would be a DoNM (or SoNM) politely asking an NP to be more respectful. The NP in turn goes off in a rage and then refuses to speak to the DoNM for weeks or months. Another example could be my attempting to speak to my NM about what is bothering me and her saying something like, "This again??! I don't want to hear this shit anymore. Get over it and move on already!" By refusing to communicate, she is invalidating my feelings.

    People who mean you no harm and/or truly care about you WANT to communicate with you and work any potential problems out for the good of the relationship. They care more about having you in their life than being right whereas toxic people only care about being right and punishing those who stand up to them.

  7. So very true. Thanks for the validation. Have gone through this with verbally abusive ex and now again with SO. Both began as what appeared and stated to be sensitive loving males... Only to then change to these tactics.
    Way to assess this before I'm years into the next relationship????