This article was written by Jessy Wrigley and can be found in my online therapy.com
"That charming guy who sweeps into your life, showers you with compliments and take you out to incredible places – but then suddenly evaporates into thin air a few weeks later. Or the girl who exudes that sexy, hard-to-get aloof vibe but who you later realise you can’t get close to.
If you keep finding yourself drawn to emotionally unavailable people, then you don’t need reminding of how exasperating and utterly lonely it is not being able to connect with the person you care about.
Before we start, let’s get clear on one thing: emotional unavailability is not gender-specific. There’s been a mountain written about emotionally unavailable men – but it can be the other way round too.
Emotional availability has nothing to do with getting in touch with your “feminine side”. It swings both ways. It’s about knowing that your partner will show up for you emotionally; that they have your back. Gender does not have a bearing on whether someone is emotionally available or not.
What does it mean to be emotionally unavailable?
Being emotionally unavailable is essentially about building up a barrier that prevents people from getting close to you. This might present itself as someone appearing very evasive or aloof, avoiding difficult conversations that relate to feelings or the relationship, or maybe even dropping a relationship completely at the first sign of emotional intimacy.
Being emotionally available is not about oversharing or being “intense”. It is simply about having the capacity to create an authentic connection – one where both partners feel supported and cared for. For someone who is emotionally unavailable, this state of being can feel very foreign, driving them to retract.
It’s also important to note that being emotionally unavailable does not necessarily mean that someone does not want a relationship. And it is not about lacking the capacity to love. Emotional unavailability is a conditioning – or coping mechanism – someone has learnt (often at a very early age) as a form of protection. This might have happened for a number of different reasons.
Signs someone is emotionally unavailable
Sometimes it’s very obvious that someone is emotionally unavailable. Maybe they recently got divorced or they live in a different country to you. In these cases, alarm bells should start to ring.
Other times, someone’s emotional unavailability doesn’t become apparent until further along in the relationship. You might find yourself already in a relationship with someone before it becomes clear that they are unable to connect emotionally with you in the way that you need.
The following should be taken as clear red flags:
Emotionally unavailable people: what causes someone to become emotionally unavailable?
It’s important to point out that emotionally unavailable people rarely realise that what they’re doing is harmful. When you have never truly connected to someone emotionally, you can’t understand the depth of pain this vacuum is going to cause your partner.
Emotionally unavailable people are frequently highly intelligent. In fact, it is typical amongst high-achievers who naturally feel more comfortable living and communicating from their intellect rather than their feelings.
One key commonality with all emotionally unavailable people is this: lurking somewhere underneath it all is fear. A fear of things not working out, of being exposed or being vulnerable to abandonment.
We are all born with the drive to connect. Connection is a basic human need – and the emotionally unavailable person is no different. For this reason, normally something has happened in their past that has caused them to reject this aspect of themselves.
This can happen for any of the following reasons:
Why do I choose emotionally unavailable partners?
We don’t purposefully go around choosing partners we know can’t show up for us… Or do we?
The truth is that the way we interact with relationships today is closely intertwined with our past.
Did you have a warm, loving household growing up? What kind of relationship did you have with your parents?
As we grow up we develop subconscious belief systems about what love looks like based on our experiences. In other words, we create relationship dynamics that feel like the ones we had growing up. That’s good news is we grew up in a loving, supportive household – less so if that wasn’t the case.
If you find yourself constantly choosing emotionally unavailable partners, when you dig into your past you might find that this dynamic is actually a familiar one. Perhaps one or both of your parents were physically or emotionally absent when you were growing up, and your emotional needs went unmet. Some people make the discovery that they are actually emotionally unavailable themselves. And as much as they feel like they crave emotional intimacy, they cut and run before any real depth of connection has been formed.
The important thing is this: whatever your pattern is, you can change it. Identifying where it stems from is the first important step in breaking the cycle.
Breaking patterns in relationships
Relationships serve as a mirror to what is going on inside of us. In order to break deeply ingrained patterns like this, we usually have to face up to the pains of our past. To move beyond old wounds, we need to first acknowledge and then release them. Usually this requires tracing back these experiences and looking them straight in the eye, and feelings all the feelings that they bring up for us. Once we have acknowledged and released a pattern, we free ourselves from the compulsion to keep acting it out. We can form a healthier, more supportive view of love. And when this happens, we are better equipped to identify these qualities in a potential partner.
We can only ever truly change ourselves. If you’re in a relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable, this means that they will need to make these realisations in their own time. They will first need to get in touch with their own feelings before they can connect emotionally with you. Therapy is a great place to work on this as the therapeutic relationship illustrates how beautiful it is to fully trust another person and to feel emotionally present. And when we know how good it feels to sit comfortably and present in our feelings, that’s something we will never want to let go of."