Nassim Taleb observed that “if someone is making an effort to ignore you, he is not ignoring you.”
He’s right. Sometimes Molly throws balled-up socks and other miscellaneous items of clothing into the study. It’s an attempt to distract me whilst I’m working. I play it cool and keep doing what I’m doing. I know she finds that annoying. Externally, I’m not responding, but internally, I’m affected. My mind is completely occupied by the effort to block her out.
A similar thing happens when we try to shut someone out. We’ve all done it, and we all know people have who have done it to us. We’re going through a rough time. We’re struggling, with work, with a relationship, with whatever. As a consequence, we’re angry, we’re tired, we’re bitter. So we take it out on those around us. Sometimes actively, and sometimes passively.
The people we care about ask us, “Is everything okay? You don’t seem like yourself.” We respond with a grunt and a nod and give them the cold shoulder. They feel hurt and we get a tiny bit of satisfaction. Because when you’re down it feels good to bring others to your level.
But really, when we shut someone out, we’re inviting them in. When we’re hurting we erect these walls, not to protect ourselves, but to see who amongst our friends and family is willing to scale them.