What do we mean when we say someone is emotionally distant or unavailable?
To anyone living with it, emotional unavailability can be devastating.
People often mistakenly understand it as a deliberate act on the part of the emotionally unavailable person to use others, or to get without giving. However, emotional unavailability tends to be done unconsciously. The emotionally unavailable person spends an enormous amount of psychological energy maintaining emotional distance from themselves as well as others. In order to avoid dealing with their own emotions, their defense mechanisms have become automatic and spring up the way a bridge over a castle moat springs up to prevent intruders from approaching too closely. It is only when the emotionally unavailable person becomes conscious of this process that they are in a position to do something about it.
Our emotional, psychological, or spiritual scars are somewhat different. We canít see them just by looking for them. Sometimes the only way we know they are there is by the absence of something. Early childhood attachment studies indicate that abandonment by the parents, and particularly by the mother, creates greater problems with emotional availability later in life than even physical abuse does. The experience, whether it actually happened or was just a false perception, or happened for totally innocent reasons (illness, death or busyness), carries enormous weight in the adult child and with his or her intimate relationships.
These are individuals who under stress tend to:
- cut off from their own emotions and emotional processes
- cut off from otherís emotions and their emotional processes
- be very disconnected from the emotional content of their lives
At the same time, however, they may still love or be emotionally able to connect with small children who do not pose any emotional threat. It goes without saying that an emotionally unavailable person does not have a clue about the state of another personís emotions, even when faced with that personís tears or recriminations, or pain. These feelings may be very evident to others but not necessarily to the emotionally unavailable person.
In the face of these emotions in other people, the emotionally unavailable person often feels put upon or feels burdened with an onerous duty. Because the burden feels so heavy, and heavy often feels dangerous, the emotionally unavailable person wants to escape from the situation. That makes for a very difficult relationship, to say the least.
In contrast, it is not uncommon to hear the partner of the emotionally unavailable describing their relationship as lonely and disconnected. They work very hard but they feel emotionally neglected and unimportant.
If you are in a relationship with a partner who is emotionally unavailable, please know that there is much that can be done. There are skills that can be learned that can evolve into wonderful, extravagant exchanges of our emotional selves. This is what Ďsoul matesí experience. This is definitely worth your time! The safe and confidential relationship of trust with your therapist will allow you to explore your emotional self at your own pace.