What Is Emotional Unavailability?
We all have emotions. That’s what being human is about. But some people have difficulty accepting or discussing their feelings. A fear of intimacy makes it easier for them to keep their feeling locked inside instead of sharing them with someone close, such as a spouse. Such a person is emotionally unavailable.
They do not connect well emotionally to other people. Or, as psychotherapist Pam Shaffer, states, they may “lack emotional depth.” As with the Titanic iceberg, only a little is visible, while most of one’s emotions remain hidden.
Signs of Emotional Unavailability
- Communication is inconsistent. One day, they may be open to discussion; the next day, you are being “pushy” or “naggy” for wanting to talk. It is difficult to connect with something as unpredictable as that. Anyone who cares about the relationship will make an effort to communicate, regardless of how difficult it may be.
- Emotionally unavailable individuals avoid “deep” conversations.” They will talk about yesterday’s Yankee game but remain closed-mouthed about any problem within the relationship. Closeness can be scary and threatening.
- People can feel overwhelmed by emotions. They may appear invulnerable on the surface, but there may be a tsunami of emotions raging through his or her brain that they cannot control. These are the people who consistently seek their own “space.” This happens especially when there is a conflict, and a discussion is obviously necessary. An emotionally unavailable person will simply shut down and sometimes literally just disappear to avoid a discussion.
- Most relationships are like that in some way. The other person is a partner or boy/girlfriend. If you are dating someone who avoids or refuses to define the relationship, he or she is likely avoiding to invest emotionally. They may claim to be “available,” but in truth, they are not.
- Emotional unavailability is easily achieved under the guise of perfectionism. A person who fears intimacy will tell him or herself that they will be more available when they are more “perfect.” Or they take the reverse route and tell themselves that as soon as the other person is more perfect (loses weight, becomes a better cook, etc.), the relationship will become closer. They are looking for non-existing perfection, and it serves as an excellent excuse to remain emotionally distant. Criticism of others or self provides an excellent barrier to closeness.
- Emotionally unavailable people keep their partner on edge by their inconsistent behavior. They may be into the relationship one moment while questioning its validity soon thereafter. They may disappear for a day or so without explanation. This behavior will confuse the potential partner. At the beginning of a relationship, they may come on strong, demanding immediate exclusivity. They need to be in control of how the relationship develops. Once you are into them, however, you will probably notice a chasm developing very quickly. Emotionally unavailable people tend to be superior seducers as well as expert saboteurs of relationships.
- When a partner is unclear or contradictory about what he or she wants and needs, it’s a sign that they may be unavailable emotionally. They may claim to want to spend more time with you one day. The next day, they will complain about being smothered and needing “space.” This allows them to keep the relationship within their control.
- Emotionally unavailable people tend to be unaware of the feelings of others. For example, if they disappear for a day, or don’t call for several days, it will not occur to them to take your feelings into consideration. Should you demand an explanation, you may find yourself accused of nagging. They are the center of the drama. They are the ones in control. You and everyone else are merely supporting characters.
How Emotionally Available Are You?
It is easy – and frustrating – when you recognize signs of emotional unavailability in your partner. But how much thought have you given to your own ability to deal with intimacy? Here are some signs that you may not be as emotionally available as you could be:
- You view a relationship as “work.” While all relationships require effort, when you begin to find them burdensome, you may be emotionally unavailable:
- You don’t readily share your feelings. This type of sharing makes you feel vulnerable, including sharing your goals, hopes, deepest desires. The problem is, you will not be able to connect with another person without allowing a light to shine on the inner, real you.
- You are not willing to commit, even if the other person checks all the boxes. Prefer keeping your options open and seeing other people, which, in effect, dilutes the importance of your main relationship and keeps him or her at a distance.
- You may prefer long-distance relationships or relationships with people who are away a great deal of the time. Or you become attracted to partners who are married and logically unavailable. This keeps the relationship on a fantasy level instead of forcing you to deal with the day-to-day emotional grind. There is safety in distance, whether it’s emotional or physical.
- You don’t trust easily then expect pain in a relationship, so that is your default stance. You shut down emotionally because you don’t expect the relationship to last, anyway. Trust takes effort to develop, and you rarely invest the necessary time.
- It is good not to be lulled into a toxic relationship. But you are willing to cut people out of your life for any reason. He or she doesn’t cook well enough. Doesn’t return calls quickly enough. He or she doesn’t eat broccoli. Any reason will do for you to plan your exit.
The Consequences Of Being Emotionally Unavailable
Being emotionally unavailable does not mean one cannot love. It merely means that one needs to do some work to enjoy a better, healthier relationship. Life is all about learning, and the same applies to becoming more intimate with one’s partner. Unless we learn to become more emotionally available, we will keep suffering in the same unsatisfactory relationships.
Types of Emotional Unavailability
If you or your new partner have recently gotten out of a troublesome relationship, emotional unavailability may be natural, but it will likely be temporary. Moreso, your emotional needs as a child is lacking, the problem could be permanent unless you deal with it. If you’ve been hurt by a parent, the fear of becoming vulnerable again runs deep. When you are in a relationship that lacks emotional depth, you are very much alone, even when you are in the presence of your partner. Don’t underestimate the help that a trained counselor can provide.
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