Emotionally unavailable individuals are far from ideal partners. I’ve read a lot about that. I’ve written about it. I’ve counseled my clients on it. Emotionally closed individuals (also known as avoidant-dismissive) are never portrayed in a positive manner. They don’t open up, they minimize the other’s feelings, they rarely listen, they are controlling, they often communicate aggressively, they are not patient. They are also in a lot of emotional pain, they don’t trust anyone out of fear of being hurt, they experience self-doubt, loneliness, and emptiness. How do I know that? Because I am one of these individuals. Although after a grad degree in psychology and a lot of self-awareness work, I like to call myself a recovering avoidant-dismissive.
The avoidant-dismissive is a true attachment style. It’s a model of how to relate to others, especially in intimate relationships. The brain has built this template early from birth and during childhood based on the type of parenting received and the behavior modeled by the adults in the family. Avoidant-dismissive partners were likely raised by parents (caregivers) who were indifferent or downplayed their kids’ emotions, thoughts, and concerns. These parents typically viewed exploring negative emotions as adding gas on fire. They equated anger with out of control aggression, sadness with weakness and self-pity, and fear with childish exaggeration. Most likely, these parents were victims of the same kind of parenting from their own parents. Emotional immaturity is something that was transmitted from generation to generation. For those that may be offended by the term “emotional immaturity”, it means the inability to cope in a healthy manner with negative emotions, whether your own, your spouse’s, or your child’s.
A stressed and depressed parent, not joyful when around the child, may leave the baby feeling unloved and unworthy. While this type of dismissive approach most likely led to action-oriented people with increased independence and problem-solving skills, it also created a ton of invalidation, a lack of emotional awareness, and lack of empathy for self or others.
These kids grew up into adults that struggle with a deep sense of unworthiness and unlovability combined with an expectation that others will be untrustworthy and rejecting. These individuals usually avoid close relationships with others thus protecting themselves against anticipated rejection. Or, they could have turned into adults that display the appearance of a strong self-esteem but have a negative disposition toward others. They are on constant guard and try to protect themselves against eventual disappointment by avoiding close relationships and maintaining a sense of independence and invulnerability.
How can you tell if you are an avoidant-dismissive or in a relationship with one?
- They show toughness and stoicism under all circumstances, as emotion is a sign of weakness.
- They are low on self-disclosure; they may disclose superficial information not their true feelings
- They shut down their attachment needs and avoid closeness and intimacy
- They are almost incapable of asking for help or relying on others
- They see others as a source of danger and potential betrayal, not safety or comfort
- They need to be in control in both friendships and romantic relationships
- They tend to use work to avoid intimate social interaction
- They often separate sex from love and don’t really know how to define love
The avoidant-dismissive individuals’ motto is: “You are not going to be there for me, but that’s ok, because I don’t need you. I can manage by myself.”
But emotionally unavailable individuals are very attractive during the dating phase. They are fun to chase and they come with a lot of perks such as:
- They are generally independent, not needy or clingy.
- Because they are not clingy, they are often charming, persuasive, challenging, & fun to pursue
- They use humor to maintain their emotional detachment, thus they are often witty and engaging.
- Because they see emotions as a waste of time, they generally avoid them and are drama-free.
- Because they are drama-free, it frees up their time to get stuff done.
- They are busy-bees, task-masters, highly productive, high achievers.
- They are low maintenance, and you don’t need to spend much time or effort to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, or any other special occasions, which they consider to be created by Hallmark in order to sell cards.
And that’s how others end up in relationships with an avoidant-dismissive individual.
We are awesome on so many levels. Things just get tougher when the relationship gets serious and requires emotional investment and constant response. It’s not because we don’t crave it, or want it, or because of our narcissistic tendencies (although they are related).
It’s really because we don’t know how to do it. The only emotion we excel at is our own anger. If, as a baby and child, nobody responds to your emotional needs, it stunts your emotional growth. It’s not any different than teaching you how to ride a bike. If nobody teaches you how to ride a bike as a child, you will not know how to ride a bike as an adult, unless you put in the effort to do it yourself. And it’s a lot tougher to learn to ride a bike as an adult, because you don’t want to take the risk and hurt yourself.
Learning and experimenting with emotions and opening yourself up as an adult is not any different. It’s tough to take that risk because there is a good chance your partner will hurt you. So, you stay closed off and emotionally unresponsive, which most likely will push your partner away and when that happens and you are alone, you’ll end up exactly where you thought you would. It’s really a crazy and maddening experience. It’s a lonely one, which we usually mask with keeping ourselves busy with work and tasks, so we don’t experience the emptiness and frustration that comes out of lacking this ability to connect.
There is no mind-blowing solution to this dynamic, other than taking small risks and opening up, learning about emotions, experimenting, and being patient with yourself or your partner. If you can relate to this post or know someone that could benefit from some more help on this issue, check out this 5-day free email series, From Emotionally Challenged To Emotionally Savvy exactly for people struggling with everything mentioned in this post.
What’s your experience been like? Can you personally relate to this post? Or do you have any friends that do? I would love to hear from you.
ABOUT: Dr. Ruxandra LeMay is a private practice psychologist in Litchfield Park, Arizona with experience in family therapy, ADHD, stress and anxiety management, and executive coaching. She is the author of My Spouse Wants More Sex Than Me: The 2-Minute Solution For a Happier Marriage. Click HERE to check out her free resources on effective communication, emotional unavailability, intimacy, and anxiety management or join her at www.ruxandralemay.com for monthly blogs posts.