Recently, I’ve been learning about shutting down, particularly in the context of a relationship. That awkward, hurtful silence as you realise something has gone awry.
Opening up is difficult, especially when you’re very upset or pissed off, and you just can’t seem to find the right words to express yourself, if indeed you wish to express yourself at all!
The situation may become more complicated when tricky mental health issues are involved. As someone with OCD, anxiety issues, and a history of depression, I’m only too aware as to how these sort of problems can skew an already difficult moment in relationships and friendships.
Unfortunately, shutting down often has a consequence. If I talk to you about something that you’re insecure about, and something I say “triggers” you, thus leading you to shut down and feel upset, then it’s problematic.
Because when someone shuts down like that, the other person doesn’t know how to react; the person being blocked out has no facts on which to base his or her thoughts and feelings, which leads to confusion, frustration, and sometimes even aggravation.
This can be resolved with some careful communication. Even just a word or two from the person who has shut down—and an understanding approach from your partner—can make the world of difference.
Let’s say I tell you something that nudges your insecurities and you find yourself getting upset. You could then tell me “I’m feeling insecure,” or something to that effect, then it would very likely prevent my brain from jumping to the conclusion that I’ve totally and utterly screwed the pooch. Incidentally, who would screw a pooch?
Communication is so key because miscommunication can be damaging. Without clarifying misunderstandings, we can be lead to believe and react to all sorts of silly things that may be no more true than the sky being made out of chocolate. Mmm.
I was once in a relationship with someone who would frequently shut down on me. In my young ignorance, I handled it badly. I didn’t understand, and I didn’t know how to deal with that sort of thing. As a result, I became bitter and felt as though I couldn’t say anything for fear that it would be the wrong thing. While I did feel a similar way recently, I had the experience and foresight to deal with it better.
With that in mind, I recently ran into this situation in which mein Schatzi shut down on me a couple of nights ago. The situation was not handled well, because communication went entirely out of the window, leaving me confused (as to what I did wrong, for the most part) and frustrated, then eventually upset and annoyed. Once again, I went through that fear that anything I say could make her feel like crap; because of this, I myself started shutting down. I felt shut out, which doesn’t feel great.
There’s a happy ending here, I believe. We did talk very recently and the problem came to light—it actually wasn’t me, but rather, something with which she struggles and has done for a long time. Praise Jebus! A real problem became only a hurdle over which to leap. Progress was made, and we’ve began healing, now having more understanding and more strength as a couple.
Please don’t shut your other half out without so much as a how do you do. I know it can be hard. I’ve done it myself, many times. But, for the sake of you both, you are best to push yourself to say at least something that could alleviate any possible confusion or misunderstanding.
If you really can’t tackle whatever caused you to shut down, try something like, “I can’t talk right now. I’m going to take a break.” If it’s not something your partner has done to directly piss you off or hurt you, then you could try adding, “it’s not you.”
As for the person trying to deal with someone who has shut down on you: don’t force him or her! Encourage, sure, but know when to call it quits and give that person space, even if they don’t say anything!
My advice, should you choose to accept it, is to be mindful of how you give your partner space. Shouting, “I’ve had it with you!” then disappearing for a day might not be the best solution, nor is vanishing without saying anything.
However, calmly saying “I’m going to give us both some space to figure this out,” or something along those lines, could really help make it clearer what’s going on. Whatever works for you guys, really.
By no means am I a couples counsellor, so feel free to ignore all this—I’m just a 29-year-old guy with frankly lacklustre experience, however, I am an observant, analytical man who tries to pay attention to the details, and likes to learn from life, rather than breeze through without a care in the world.
Thank you Mental Health and Invisible Illness Resources for sharing this.