Emotionally Unavailable–Another Relationship Killer

Emotional unavailability is the situation in which one person is not able to be empathic with another person. Emotional unavailability almost seems like it has reached epidemic proportions in relationships. Parents become emotionally unavailable to their children. Teachers become emotionally unavailable to their students. Intimate partners become emotionally unavailable to each other. Conflict, chaos, and deep unhappiness results.

In tai chi, there are two paradoxes: the softer you are, the stronger you are; the more vulnerable you are; the more powerful you are. These paradoxes describe the nature of emotional availability. You have to be soft to be strong and vulnerable to be powerful.

So, let’s say you experience some of these behaviors from your boyfriend:

  • He shuts down when you express any kindness or love.
  • He dismisses your compliments.
  • He becomes sarcastic when you get too close emotionally.
  • He dismisses your feelings.

These are common shut-down reactions. Have you ever thought about what’s really going on? Let’s look at these five behaviors from the perspective of his inner, mostly unconscious, voice.

He shuts down when you express any kindness or love.

 “Jeez, she is freaking me out and making me insecure. I am really anxious that she might leave me. This is really scary being in an emotional place. I have no clue how to act. I hate feeling incompetent like this. How the hell am I supposed to know what to do? Jeez, I hate being anxious like this. I’m just going to go into my shell to protect myself.”

He dismisses your compliments.

“I’m really nervous. I don’t deserve the compliment. I know she is reaching out to me, but I don’t know how to respond. I have been such a lousy Dad. I am worthless. Why does she even try. But I love her and I feel lost and lonely. Dear God, help me, I am so alone and frightened.”

He becomes sarcastic when you get too close emotionally.

 “This is scaring the crap out of me. Get me out of here! I have to push her away.”

 He dismisses your feelings.

 “Her emotions are too intense. I can’t handle them. I am afraid. I don’t know what will happen next. I feel threatened. I can’t doing anything. I am no good. What did I do wrong? This is too hard. I don’t like the anxiety I feel around all of this. It must be my fault. I can’t fix this.”

 Did you notice the common theme through these inner dialogues? In every instance, your boyfriend (father, teacher, mother, friend, colleague) was feeling anxious, fearful, incompetent, and frightened of the emotions. Strong positive emotions like love triggered strong negative emotions in him. He was not emotionally unavailable; he was scared to death. Worse, he didn’t even know it; he was completely unaware of his fright.

 Takeaway: Everyone Around You Is Just As Emotional As You Are

Every human is on an emotional ride. The need for soothing and security triggers fears of incompetency, worthlessness, and abandonment. Dad deals with his emotions by denial, avoidance, and escape because that is what his family and society have conditioned him to do. He becomes emotionally unavailable to protect himself, and neither of your needs in the moment get met. Ooof!

 The Solution

Learn how to be emotionally soft and vulnerable while being strong and powerful. Our culture confuses softness and vulnerability with weakness and incompetence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Society dismisses softness and vulnerability because the social norms do not understand or recognize the proper way to be emotionally present. To borrow a phrase from the early 20th century philosopher and sociologist Thorsten Veblen, we have “trained incapacities” around emotions. We have literally trained ourselves to be emotionally unavailable for each other.

The secret to being soft and strong and vulnerable and powerful is to learn how to listen. When you are able to step into another person’s reality, if even for 15 seconds, your ego disappears. You become emotionally available, yet maintain enormous strength and power. It is literally pure magic. Here is the two step process:

Step 1: Listen for the core message. Ignore the words and allow yourself to find the true meaning of what is being said. Reflect back the core message, not the words spoken.

Step 2: Read the emotional experience. As your partner, parent, co-worker, child, or student is experiencing emotions in the moment, reflect back those emotions in simple, declarative statements.

All of this is covered in the It’s Pure Magic online workshop. I hope you will be curious enough to check it out.

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