When it comes to considering issues in our relationships, the focus is often on how to spot when others might be emotionally unavailable — be it a parent, a friend, or a romantic partner. But learning how to tell if you are emotionally unavailable yourself can sometimes be more of a challenge. It can also be a little scary to confront, since the reasons for emotional unavailability usually stem from pretty vulnerable feelings and experiences.
"Under the superficial behavior of distancing during courtship, the emotionally unavailable person is usually terribly anxious about being hurt, fearing that they could be rejected or controlled," counselor Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC and founder of Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, tells Bustle.
"In other instances the emotionally unavailable person is responding to the terrifying memories that they have about what it means to commit to loving someone," Wijkstrom says. This might mean that during childhood, they felt overly responsible for their parents, or were terribly heartbroken by a partner in adulthood.
If any of these things ring true for you, know that you're not alone in feeling this way, and there are ways to heal these feelings and shift these behaviors if that is something you are looking to do. Below, are a few of the indicators that you might be dealing with some personal emotional unavailability, according to experts.
You Have Difficulty Loving Yourself And Others
Feeling and having unconditional love for yourself might be life's greatest challenge.
"But if you have a lot of trouble feeling love for yourself, or struggle with lower self-esteem, it will be difficult for you to love others," Jackson says.
"You cannot give to others what you do not have and cannot give to yourself," Jackson says. "Self-doubt, negative self-talk, and coming down on yourself can make it hard for you to feel you deserve the company of others."
Insight is your greatest tool in disrupting this tendency, Wijkstrom says. That simply means understanding what you are doing, so that later you can uncover why you do it, and form a plan for a healthier way to relate to people.
Reaching out for mental health support is a great first step in doing this.
You Are Drawn To Unavailable Partners
While this might be counterintuitive, if you are emotionally unavailable yourself, you might be drawn to others who are also that way.
"You might tend to date people who are unavailable, already in a relationship, or who are emotionally unavailable themselves," Jackson says. "You do not expect much from them so they cannot expect much from you, and you do not have to get too deep or committed."
Jackson says that on a personal level, doing some soul-searching and questioning your mindset to identify why this exists is a good place to begin, as is trying to have conversations about these feelings, even if slowly, with trusted friends or counselors.
You Always Find Reasons Not To Get Close To Someone
"The emotionally avoidant type is typically a master at fault finding, and projecting their reasons to not progress the relationship with anyone they encounter," Wijkstrom says. "They will only idealize or ‘love’ the kind of partner one who can never actually commit to them and reject those who can."
If you seem to have an immediate and never-ending list of reasons why you can't get close to people, even before you do, this might be something you want to look at. Are you always critical of others? Do you perhaps idolize people who you can't get close to for one reason or another?
You Are Turned Off When People Are Interested In You
If you notice a pattern of not developing long-term relationships because you are turned off as soon as you're sure that someone is interested in you, this also might indicate that you are emotionally unavailable, Wijkstrom says.
"This at times manifests as a paranoia or distrust of people who exhibit interest in you," Wijkstrom says. "If you usually chase or feel attracted to the wrong kind of partner, or you feel confused by the fact that your attempts at falling in love never seem to work out, you might be unconsciously sabotaging yourself."
Wijkstrom says that one way to help manage your distress tolerance — meaning learning to cope with the difficult feelings that arise — is starting to acknowledge the fears that love opens up in you.
"The truth is it is scary for most people to start out in love and to remain there," Wijkstrom says. "Long-term psychotherapy is usually the best way to manage the transition from emotionally unavailable to connected and stable in love."
You Are Reticent To Share About Yourself
Is the conversational focus always on the other person instead of you? It might be that you fear exposing yourself, having your needs truly seen, and eventually, being let down and hurt, psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson MA MFT ATR, owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle.
"You may prefer communicating by text rather than being alone to hanging out in person, because then there is no real intimacy, conversational or otherwise, to run from," Scott-Hudson says. "Being vulnerable may feel to you and your inner-child like being naked and exposed to the world."
Test the waters when you talk to others, share bits about your life and your opinions, and recognize how it makes you feel as you do it.
You Shut Down When People Encourage You To Open Up
"If you refuse to allow your vulnerabilities to be seen, if someone pushes you to share too much or too fast for your comfort, you may retreat even further into yourself," Scott-Hudson says.
Remind yourself that you can go at your own pace, Scott-Hudson says. Share what feels comfortable and right to you.
If a partner or friend reminds you that your words are safe with them, and allows you to trust your own pace, Scott-Hudson says, you may find yourself feeling close and safe enough to sink deeper into genuine intimacy.
Again, if these things ring true to you, don't fret. Reaching out for help is a good instinct to working through these issues as you learn to trust yourself and others.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.
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