Withholding Causes Pain- How to Find a Better Way

Withholding is a form of emotional abuse, but something we've all done. Let's find a better way to communicate than to withhold from others.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.
Don't Withhold and Cause Pain
Withholding is a form of emotional abuse, but something we've all done. Let's find a better way to communicate than to withhold from others.

Ultimately, pain in life doesn’t come from what we weren’t given in the past, but from what we’re not giving in the present.  Many of us were unwittingly taught that a way to hurt another is to withhold ourselves from them.  This behavior comes in many forms: the silent treatment, not showing affection, or sharing information.  These examples are forms of rejection that cause pain to all involved.

Technically withholding is a form of emotional abuse and one that is, in my opinion, the most toxic.  Why?  Because this rejection means that authentic communication cannot occur. So, we can never resolve the underlying issues unless the withholder lets go of the controlling behavior. 

Rejection from another makes us feel that we aren’t valued because what we say is ignored.  Or someone refuses to communicate with us or share crucial information that affects us.  A person who minimizes our accomplishments is exhibiting withholding behavior.  If someone is isolating us on purpose is another example. 

It’s damaging because the target can’t stop the behavior. We feel trapped by the circumstances. The only way out is to remove ourselves from the situation or end the relationship with the abuser.  Otherwise, we believe that this is how we deserve to be treated, which isn’t true. 

Withholding love is a form of self-sabotage, as what we withhold from others we are withholding from ourselves. ~ Marianne Williamson

How is Withholding Different from Personal Boundaries?

Personal boundaries are the guidelines, rules, or limits that we create to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave towards us.  It’s also about how we respond when someone steps over those boundaries and the consequences of the actions we impose. We build these boundaries out of a mix of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and experiences we have had in dealing with others.

Being assertive about what we need is not being unkind.  We can always stand up for ourselves without hurting others.  Using the words “I need” or “I feel” and not pointing the finger at others allows us to be assertive without offending someone. 

Self-awareness and learning to be confident are the first steps in setting personal boundaries. It’s self-care each time we say “no,” we are saying “yes” to ourselves.  It builds our self-esteem and self-concept to know that we are not being taken advantage of. 

We have all set personal boundaries with others to protect ourselves from being treated poorly.  We don’t do this as a form of control, but out of self-love. 

The love that you withhold is the pain that you carry. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Why Do People Withhold?

The egoic mind uses withholding to some extent, but abusers use it regularly.  Many of us learned this behavior from a family member who rejected us in this manner to discipline or to get us to conform.  And thus, we think this is a way to deal with people.   

Others use this behavior to deal with conflict because they don’t know how to handle the disagreement in a healthy way.  So, they give us the cold shoulder to force us to make amends because they don’t know how to. 

Many refuse to take responsibility for their actions because they are fearful of what others think about them.  So their need to be right, even if they know they aren’t, causes them to withhold an apology. 

Withholding is a form of control.  The other person wants us to take the first step in resolving the issue, thereby keeping the power in the relationship. They get what they want at our expense.  It’s also used as a weapon to make us suffer.  They believe they are forcing us to behave differently to maintain the relationship. 

And when these different strategies work, they do it again.  The egoic mind repeats what has worked in the past.  So if there is a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior that the ego believes helps maintain itself, it will use the tactic again.

If you withhold love as a form of punishment, who is being punished? ~ Donald L. Hicks

What are Gaslighting and Crazy-Making?

The most insidious form of emotional abuse is gaslighting because it leads us to mistrust our feelings and intuition.  We see examples of this when we are told that we’re too sensitive, another says they speak for us, or that we don’t know what we’re saying.  We begin to believe our feelings are “wrong” and doubt our experience. 

The abuser is constantly undermining our confidence, knowledge, and abilities.  We are told that what we experienced didn’t happen as we describe it. Some are even told their behavior is crazy.  We become isolated, hopeless, and find it difficult to decide because we second-guess ourselves by the other’s manipulation. 

When a manipulative person is trying to foster self-doubt in another, the behavior is called crazy-making.  They do this by acting one way yet saying the opposite.  Creating confusion causes us to doubt ourselves. 

For us to overcome this conditioning, we must become aware of what is happening.  Seek a trusted person to validate our feelings and experiences.  Get quiet and remember who we authentically are so we can see the lies we’ve been told.  Be compassionate to ourselves so we can learn to move forward.

Lies require noise and misdirection to blend in; silence is the best way to draw the truth to the surface. ~ Anne Pitoniak

Why Do We Give In?

There are many reasons why many of us give in to the manipulative behavior of others.  

  • We all want peace in our lives to maintain the illusion of harmony we give in, and in doing so, we lose respect for ourselves. 
  • For me, the fear of abandonment kept in a relationship with my mother for far too long.  The belief that I’d be alone outweighed the pain she was causing.
  • In the past, we’ve seen this behavior played out as children, so we know the manipulator always wins, so we concede so the drama can end quickly. 
  • By surrendering, we feel righteous.  We are so uncomfortable at being right that we prefer to be in pain than to protect ourselves. 
  • We are afraid of loss, so to avoid it, we acquiesce.  Since we aren’t risk-takers, we don’t challenge anyone because we don’t want to look bad. 
  • Or we sit silently, so there is no escalation of the unrest. I did this because my mother had sudden outbursts of anger towards me, so I said nothing to prevent the eruptions. 

So we dance this complicated tango until we realize that there is a better way to respond to this controlling behavior. 

Changed behavior is the only apology; otherwise, it’s just manipulation. ~ Maranda Pleasant

How to Respond to Withholding Behaviors

We don’t want to encourage this bad behavior, but at the same time, we don’t want to withhold our love from the other.  First, understand how another reacts is about them, not us, so our actions aren’t the cause of their choice or conduct.

Respond with love, no matter what they say or do.  Be kind, pleasant, and don’t get defensive.  When we react, we only escalate the negativity.  By showing them, we will not allow their actions to take away our joy and peace; they will choose to interact with us.  Remember, compassion begets kindness. 

Take responsibility for our part in the conflict.  It takes two to tango, so we need to own our part and ask for forgiveness. Seek ways to better communicate with others.  Learn to listen with our hearts instead of waiting for our chance to defend ourselves. 

Please note that if the abuse we are receiving from the emotional withholding is severe, we need to leave the relationship.  Despite having put personal boundaries in place,

I made the hard choice to end my relationship with my mother.  She wouldn’t take responsibility for her life and instead blamed me for the choices she made.  She also wanted me to suffer from her lack of affection, thus maintaining power and control. 

Whatever you think people are withholding from you-praise, appreciation, assistance, loving care, and so on-give it to them. ~ Eckhart Tolle

Withholding Information

We all know that information is power, especially in the age of the internet.  But many people withhold data as a way to manipulate.  We see this in companies where keeping the evidence away from others harms many, like the cigarette companies withholding the harmful effects of their products.

This behavior destroys any relationship and is a form of oppression.  We’ve seen examples of this conduct by dictatorial regimes that control the media, so they misinform the public like in North Korea or Venezuela.

When we withhold information, we put others at a disadvantage in their decision-making process.  Without all the data, they are ill-informed and potentially making a choice they wouldn’t if they had all the facts. 

The genuine power comes from sharing the information we have with those who can take the data and make the right decisions. 

Power, today, comes from sharing information, not withholding it. ~ Keith Ferrazzi

Relationships Require Authentic Communication

We all want loving connections with others, but we need to be our authentic selves and communicate from the heart to have this.   We aren’t mind readers. We cannot know how another is experiencing their lives unless we are genuinely communicating from a place of love and not fear. 

To break the negative cycle of withholding and manipulative behavior, we need to have compassion for one another.  We each have our communication style and emotional triggers.  Awareness of them helps us navigate conflicts with others.   Remember and remind one another that we both want a loving resolution to the issue. 

When we communicate, we need to tell the other how we feel using statements like, “I’m feeling hurt because you’re not talking to me.”  This way, we aren’t trying to place blame but are allowing for resolution.   Keep the conversation in the present, and don’t bring up the past.  Apologize for our part of the conflict, but not the other’s conduct. 

When both parties share their feelings, it validates one another, which opens our hearts to forgiveness and a positive outcome.

Think of one person who you are tempted for any reason to withhold love from, and pray for their happiness. In that moment, your pain will stop. ~ Marianne Williamson

Are we Withholding from Ourselves?

When we are dishonest about living our authentic life, we are deceitful with ourselves and others.  Therefore, we cannot have genuine connections with those in our life.  We must be open to expressing ourselves by being fearless in verbalizing what we think and how we feel. 

When we are aware and yet withhold the truth from ourselves, we are destructive to our authenticity.  Many do this because we think we’re not worthy or that the course of action we must take is too hard.  But by ignoring the truth, we allow the egoic mind to control and react to situations from a place of fear.  It’s keeping us in a painful state, allowing our thoughts to keep us suffering

By letting go, we discover that we are much stronger than the ego believes.  Our weakness comes from living from a place of fear.  Our strength comes from living from a place of love. 

Something we were withholding made us weak until we found it was ourselves. ~ Robert Frost

We Must Give to Receive

For us to live from the heart and not the mind, we must give love unconditionally.  We open ourselves to receive love because we cannot receive that which we do not give.  Remember that there is a method of giving and receiving; you must have both sides to complete the process. 

If we believe the world is withholding from us, it’s because we are not giving of ourselves.  Flow comes through the surrender of the egoic mind to allow the heart to lead.  By letting go and allowing flow to occur, we’re in harmony with the Universe, and our inflow increases as our outflow rise. 

All the answers we are looking for are within us.  All the love we desire, all the dreams we have, all arise from within ourselves.  We have all that we want and need, but we must let it flow out of us by letting the heart give of ourselves.  As we give, we receive.

You cannot receive what you don’t give. Outflow determines inflow. Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you already have, but unless you allow it to flow out, you won’t even know that you have it. This includes abundance. ~ Eckhart Tolle

Moving Forward

Our fearlessness to give of ourselves allows us to live a gratifying life full of love.  For withholding our authentic selves means it slowly perishes, making it harder to find and excavate. 

Yes, it’s scary to give of ourselves, but that is what we must do to live authentically.  Withholding our love or gifts we are to share with the world doesn’t allow us to fulfill our mission. 

As we become more conscious of our withholding behaviors that the egoic mind uses to react to situations, we can instead retake control of our lives by letting the heart respond from a place of love.

Withhold no good impulse. You may fear that you will run to excess and squander too much, but those feelings are born of fear. In God’s reality, the more you give of yourself-in feeling, generosity, self-expression, goodness, creativity, and love – the more you will be given. ~ Deepak Chopra

If you would like to receive more informative and mindful articles right into your mailbox, fill this out

Do you need support to help you let go and give from your authentic self?  Do you want a strategy to help you overcome the ego’s limiting beliefs and live a successful life? If so, please contact me, and we can put together an action plan for you to create the life you desire.

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...


    How to Help a Friend Get Past Their Anger

    by Dennis Santiago

    3 Secrets To Overcoming Fear Of Rejection

    by Philip Schreibman
    Forgiveness = Healing

    Forgiveness is the Greatest Recognition that We’re Healing

    by Terri Kozlowski

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.