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Emotional Unavailablility Concept

Emotional Unavailability and Emotional Detachment: Understanding These Barriers to Intimacy

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Do you feel disconnected in your partnerships? Have you been accused of being cold, distant, or non-committal? You may be struggling with emotional unavailability. Learning about why this happens, and how you can overcome it, can help you find better success in your relationships.

You are at the end of yet another relationship, and you’re beginning to wonder if any relationship you have will be able to last. You’ve been accused of being distant, detached, or lumped into the category of “emotionally unavailable men” or “emotionally unavailable women.” Perhaps you have even noticed that you tend to pull away rather than lean into a relationship, particularly if you feel that you or your partner is getting “too close.” You enjoy aspects of romantic relationships, but find achieving real intimacy with a partner challenging – and maybe even impossible.

Some of us struggle to make strong, lasting connections in our romantic relationships, even when they are important to us. Understanding what being emotionally unavailable means, why it happens, and how it impacts our ability to engage fully with others, can help us begin to break down barriers to intimacy.

What Does Emotional Unavailability Mean?

A person who is emotionally unavailable is either unable or unwilling to respond to the emotional needs of others. These people may be visibly uncomfortable in the presence of others’ emotions, or be indifferent, avoidant, or detached. Emotional unavailability can impact a person’s physical, psychological, social, and emotional development, and can have negative effects on relationship-building. 

What causes emotional unavailability?

There are several key factors that often underlie emotional unavailability both in situations when a person chooses not to emotionally engage, and when people are emotionally unavailable as part of an unconscious, automatic response. Common causes of emotional unavailability include:

  • An avoidant attachment style – people who didn’t have their needs consistently met in childhood may rely on emotional detachment as a way to protect themselves in relationships and assuage the emotional pain caused by abandonment or neglect
  • Mental health issues – depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and some personality disorders can cause people to feel emotionally numb, leading to emotional unavailability
  • Certain types of medication – medications such as antidepressants can sometimes result in an emotional numbness that can leave people feeling emotionally detached and unavailable
  • Negative past experiences – past trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or loss of a loved one can also impact a person’s ability to emotionally connect with others

What is emotional detachment, indifference and avoidance?

Emotional detachment is a specific type of emotional unavailability that refers to a lack of engagement with one’s own feelings or with the feelings of others. In some cases, this detachment is a conscious choice, while in others the detachment will be a subconscious reaction. Persistent emotional detachment is driven by the same causes as emotional unavailability. This is different from temporary emotional detachment, which may occur in response to an extreme encounter, or as a short-term need due to an unusually busy period or a desire for personal space. 

Other types of emotional unavailability include indifference and avoidance. Emotional indifference, also known as apathy, occurs when a person experiences a very limited range of emotions or moods and stops caring about previously enjoyed activities, relationships or interests. Avoidance is when a person avoids thoughts or feelings perceived as negative rather than dealing with them. 

What are Signs of Emotional Unavailability?

Looking for common indicators of emotional unavailability can help you assess your own emotional presence in relationships, or better understand the engagement of others. Here are 15 signs of emotional detachment, indifference and avoidance to be aware of:

  • Avoidance of intimate or close relationships
  • Lack of empathy
  • Easily defensive
  • Unable or unwilling to talk about feelings
  • Lack of interest in furthering or growing relationships
  • Shuts down or avoids emotional topics
  • Lack of physical availability, particularly if a loved one or partner is in an emotional state
  • Distant or cold demeanour
  • Unhealthy or underdeveloped communication skills
  • Difficulty forming connections or closeness with people
  • Challenges in making and keeping plans with others
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Averse to relationship work and maintenance
  • Puts up barriers to closeness, such as  always talking about ex-partners or stating that they’re “non-committal” or “not interested in anything serious”
  • Persistent attraction to others who are emotionally unavailable

If you think that you struggle with being emotionally unavailable, and would like to improve levels of closeness and intimacy in your relationships, it’s important to address the root causes of detachment, indifference, and avoidance in order to strengthen your connections with others.

Building Bonds: How to Stop Being Emotionally Unavailable

Overcoming emotional unavailability and achieving true intimacy is an impressive and realistic goal for those looking to build closer bonds. The process of becoming more emotionally expressive and vulnerable takes time, as people must recognise and address the root causes of their emotional unavailability and shift problematic patterns of thought and behaviour. There are several ways in which people may begin to do this work and initiate genuine change in their relationships with others.

Explore the cause

Emotional unavailability is a wall that is built for a certain purpose, and for you to begin to dismantle it, you need to understand why it was constructed in the first place. You may be immediately aware of why you’re emotionally unavailable – perhaps you went through a terrible break-up in which you vowed never to really trust anyone again, or you had a traumatic childhood in which you had to learn self-reliance early on in order to survive. Sometimes, more subtle traumas sustained in childhood and early adulthood contribute to emotional detachment, and these may be more difficult to identify. Talking through your feelings with someone you trust or a therapist can be useful in sorting through the root causes of your emotional unavailability.

Practice connecting with your feelings

Emotional unavailability doesn’t just mean that you’re unable to engage with the feelings of others; it often means that you face difficulty in connecting with your own feelings. Taking the time to get to know your feelings is an important step in exploring your own emotional breadth and beginning to become more comfortable with emotional expression. Journaling, meditation, art, or music are all ways to tap into and channel your emotions. 

Consider therapy

If you are struggling with where to begin in unpacking your emotional unavailability, therapy can be an extremely helpful resource. Individual therapy can help you work closely with a trusted, trained therapist to understand and analyse your specific history, challenges and goals. Common methods of psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioural therapy, helps to identify and change problematic patterns of thought and behaviour in order to achieve better results.

Interpersonal therapy can also be very useful in transforming emotional unavailability. These group sessions are facilitated by a therapist, and focus on analysing the thoughts and behaviours that come up in interactions with others. This setting helps provide a practice ground for healthier communications and emotional expression, and often builds a supportive community of peers with similar experiences and goals.

Overcoming Emotional Unavailability at The Dawn Thailand

Overcoming Emotional Unavailability at The Dawn

For those grappling with emotional unavailability, intimacy often triggers fear and stress rather than fostering love and comfort. Yet, therapy can be transformative, paving the way for deeper, more fulfilling connections. At The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand, our goal is to facilitate this powerful, personal transformation. We have helped over 1,000 individuals from around the world overcome addiction and mental health problems. Far from the stressors of home, you’ll be able to focus completely on your needs, heal old wounds, and build healthy relationships. 

Internationally accredited by CARF, The Dawn uses personalised treatment plans to uncover and address the root cause of each client’s mental health issues, by blending evidence-based therapy with holistic techniques.

Call us today to explore how we can support your path to emotional openness and more satisfying relationships.

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