Have you heard someone say that a person is emotionally unavailable? Or maybe they have said that they are emotionally unavailable. This is a term that gets used a lot on social media so we thought we’d take a moment to clear it up and explain what it is.
What is emotional unavailability?
“Emotional unavailability refers to someone who doesn’t respond to your emotional needs or cues. An emotionally unavailable man or woman has persistent difficulty expressing or handling emotions, and getting emotionally close to other people.” (Psych Central | How to Spot Emotional Unavailability: 5 Signs | Julie Marks and Sandra Silva Casabianca, September 24, 2021)
Sometimes people may be emotionally unavailable because they have a lot going on in their life and they don’t have the time, energy or desire to invest themselves emotionally; this is natural. Then there are people who are emotionally unavailable consistently and it’s due to past trauma, a mental health or personality disorder, or some other reason.
Being in a relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable can lead to you feeling insecure because they may not be affectionate, seem distant, or have trouble talking about feelings. In addition, if someone you care about is not responsive to your emotions, it can be hard to build trust or feel connected to them.
And, sometimes, you are that person! It’s OK! We’re all here to learn.
How can you recognize this in yourself?
Often times this is something that’s easier to notice in other people. However, if you find yourself noticing it in a lot of others, it might be lurking somewhere for you. It’s important to be honest with yourself and assess your relationships and interactions and be willing to see the signs if they are there.
One of the signs is that you avoid commitment and/or labels. There is a fear of things getting too serious or for deeper connections to be established, so you keep things on the surface level so there aren’t too many emotions involved. You would prefer to just have casual relationships and if the other person expresses care for you, it makes you uncomfortable.
Another way to recognize this in yourself is if you withhold personal feelings and thoughts. “If you’ve found yourself unable or unwilling to share your feelings, you’re likely emotionally unavailable…this includes things like life goals, life regrets, wishes, hopes, and longings. While it may feel like you’re just “being careful” with the vulnerable details of your mind, you can’t create meaningful connections without taking some risks.” (Mindbodygreen.com | mbg relationships | Emotionally Unavailable: What It Means & 15 Signs To Look For | Gigi Engle)
Lastly, reflect on how you handle conflict with others. Are you willing to work through them and try to work it out or are you quick to cut people off? If the latter is true, then you may be emotionally unavailable because ending the relationship is easier than doing the emotional work to maintain the relationship; so to protect yourself you just let them go.
How can you improve your emotional availability?
It is possible to manage this and change is possible if you are willing to work at it. Like with most emotional issues, it’s important to take it slow. “ True vulnerability takes time, and pushing yourself to open up before you’re ready can sometimes trigger distress or discomfort. A better approach? Small, gradual changes.” (Healthline | What It Really Means to Be Emotionally Unavailable | Crystal Raypole).
More than likely you built up walls or defenses over time that led you to being guarded with your emotions, so it’s unlikely you can break down those walls overnight, and that’s okay.
Identifying and taking responsibility for your own emotions is a good first step. Being in tune with what you are feeling before you share it with others can be helpful because you will feel less vulnerable. Keeping a journal of your feelings is one way you can get your emotions out and get comfortable with them on your own, and prepare yourself to let others in.
Communication is important, so be upfront with the people that you care about and tell them that expressing emotions is hard for you. If you find it difficult to talk to them then maybe it will be helpful to talk with a therapist. They can offer guidance, help you identify the causes and work with you to develop strategies to be more comfortable with your own emotions and receptive to the emotions of the people in your life.
“…the process of being in a therapeutic relationship with their therapist allows an emotionally unavailable person to experience, perhaps for the first time, how safe, rewarding, fulfilling and comforting it is to be emotionally available and present.” (All Relationship Matters: Relationship Counseling in Melbourne, Online and Telehealth | Understanding the Emotionally Unavailable)
Emotional unavailability, whether on your part or others, can be frustrating and lead to the breakdown of relationships. Meaningful relationships are built on emotional connections; if you are closed off emotionally then you may miss out on feeling connected, feeling loved, having fun, feeling supported in some of the most important relationships in your life.
If you need guidance on how to deal with the emotional unavailability of your partner or yourself, contact us, we are here to support you.