This is going to be a long one folks…hang tight…
There’s probably a variety of ways one could describe how emotional unavailability occurs, but I am a psychology girl so I will discuss the one that makes the most sense to me. Emotional unavailability is a coping strategy resulting from some stressor a person has gone or is going through. Men are more susceptible to it because of the social norm that men shouldn’t express feelings and be tough. A variety of situations could lead to this including growing up in or have later being involved in an abusive childhood or relationship, having to commit a lot of time to a new job or other activity, or not being able to recover from a past relationship. Considering this for those of us who are emotionally available, it is easy to feel compassion with the urge to try to help the emotionally unavailable person we are falling for.
One of my favorite sites, The Good Men Project has an article talking about some of the signs and reasons for each sign that an emotionally unavailable person may have. I want to note that the signs discussed here may be expressed a little differently in women, but the concept remains the same. The majority of literature focuses on men. According to the article, all these signs stem from the fear of rejection, being hurt, and not feeling like you are good enough. One of these signs is the ability to do the beginning part of relationships really well because it doesn’t involve sharing oneself on any deep level. Emotionally unavailable people also tend to be big flirts and often rush into a sexual relationship quickly as a way to bypass having to be intimate without much intimacy. Another sign is not being able to have discussions about any insecurities, needs, or boundaries. These are conversations that involve discomfort and confrontation which emotionally unavailable people avoid at all costs. There’s an interesting dynamic with emotionally unavailable people in regards to how they express their self-esteem. They may often put themselves down, but they strive for perfection. They will tell you they aren’t good enough, then rate themselves as better than others. They will set unrealistic expectations for themselves, then get depressed when they fall short. This brings us to another sign which is that the actions and words of an emotionally unavailable person will never match.
Emotionally unavailable people are generally loners. Even if they have friendships they are known as the one who never shares in the group and are teased for it. They wear a mask, never wanting to appear weak, only allowing others to see a well put together – perfect – person. Any situation that becomes too difficult or intimate will be abandoned by an emotionally unavailable person. Positive and supportive people tend to freak emotionally unavailable people out and upset them more because they don’t feel like they deserve it nor do they understand their optimism. Emotionally unavailable people also never talk about their feelings or problems. (College Times)
Adam LoDolce also discusses some signs we’ve missed. One important one is that an emotionally unavailable person sometimes talks a lot about their baggage or their ex. They may tell you repeatedly they just aren’t ready to take it to the next level. Emotionally unavailable people will tell you they are always busy. They will avoid making plans with you to the point you will feel like they never want to see you. They’ll never want to meet your friends or family either. There won’t be any forward progression to the relationship. In fact, they will withhold information that most people would be fine with sharing. Additionally, they will lie to you to keep the relationship stable so you won’t be upset with them.
This isn’t an all exclusive list, but now you understand what causes emotional unavailability and what it looks like. I know you’re thinking I can love someone through this and help them change, but the reality is you can’t. Believe me; been there, tried that, got the broken heart. Most emotionally unavailable people don’t realize they are causing themselves pain. The only person who can change the behavior is the person exhibiting it and that includes deciding to change. Many emotionally unavailable people aren’t ready to change; they think this is just who they are. Any effort on your part to change it will just produce stress for the emotionally unavailable person.
Here are some things you can put in place to recognize emotional unavailability and guard your heart from it…in other words how to get out before you fall.
- Jayson Gaddis recommends pulling away and seeing how long it takes for a partner to notice you’re gone and contact you. The longer he waits, the less invested he is.
- Adam LoDolce always recommends never investing more in a relationship than the other person. If it’s a one-sided effort, it’s time to re-evaluate.
- Set a simple boundary that requires an action on your partner’s part. I told the guy I was seeing that was emotionally unavailable we needed to see each other within a couple of weeks and he completely shut down.
- Pay attention to catch these red flags. Evaluate them. Make a list of things that concern you. Are the actions and words matching up?
- Evaluate if the relationship is progressing. Are you sharing information? How much do you really know about your partner? Do you feel like one wrong move will end the relationship or worse if you quit putting in the effort there won’t even be a relationship?
- Know your own worth! Focus on yourself. Keep your activities. Expect respect. If you have to explain to someone how to respect you, it’s time to move on.
- Lastly, watch how you are acting. Love is a happy experience. If you feel worried or miserable, it’s not love. If you find yourself playing detective, get out.
If you’re reading this and see yourself in the signs and you want to change, see a counselor! This is a completely fixable problem. You just need to learn better ways to cope and come to terms with whatever taught you to cope this way in the first place. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it.
Remember, you can’t change an emotionally unavailable person and until they are ready to change themselves being in a relationship with them will be a one-sided and painful almost relationship.