What to Do When You’re the Emotionally Unavailable One
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I am addicted to reading articles with titles like, “are you dating a narcissist?” and “signs you should get out of your relationship now,” because deep-down I’m afraid that I am the narcissist and that my partner should “get out now.”
I search and I search for content that will tell me how to stop my self-centered ways and start being a kind-loving-open person, but they almost all end with, “dump that egotisitical a-hole and move on.”
I can’t dump myself though—I have often wanted to.
I am not alone in this desire to self-breakup. Many of my friends also suffer from crippling emotional unavailability. We’re cognizant of it, but we don’t know exactly how to fix it.
Many of us share a background that has taught us to be strong independent empowered women—and though those are fabulous qualities to possess—the reality is that trying to project that persona often leaves us building tall walls so others can’t knock us down.
The truth of the matter is this: even though we can’t break-up with ourselves entirely, we can dump the parts that we don’t like to make room for better things.
Tearing down the walls of emotional unavailability is hard, like probably the hardest thing, but it’s worth it in the end because of the whole deep meaningful super-connected relationships thing. We all want that, but many of us are actually afraid to truly go there.
Here are 11 Things I’ve Tried to Become a Little More Emotionally Available
Baby steps my friends, baby steps.
1. Figure Out Your Biggest Fear: Face it or F it
I am afraid of looking a fool.This is my biggest fear. From grade school to high school I had multiple teachers say that girls were too dumb to do math. I had a teacher once tell me I wasn’t capable of understanding Shakespeare. I was inundated with messages that as a blonde, as a woman, as someone from the working class that I was not capable.
And that pissed me off.
Eventually that “pissed off” feeling fueled me enough to prove them wrong. I worked really hard to “fool,” everyone around me into thinking that I am smarter than I am—I mean that’s basically why I went to grad school.
So, when it comes to relationships—something that I can control, something that I choose to get into—I am afraid that if I admit to liking someone, if I open up to that person and things turn out poorly, it will prove that I am dumb, that I am not smart enough to make decisions about the people I have in my life.
But that is the actual dumb thing.
All of us emotionally crippled people have shit like this hanging us up. Each of us have our own fear holding us back. It might be looking (feeling) dumb, it might be fear of rejection or getting hurt again, whatever it is, fuck it.
That’s right, figure out what the big one is and fuck it—look dumb in front of someone, get rejected by someone, get hurt—once you feel it, really feel it, you’ll realize that you can get over it, that you’re more durable, you’re stronger, you’re more empowered than ever before—and it’s not so bad. (I mean, yeah it sucks, but you won’t die from it.)
2. Write this Shit Down
Yeah, you’re going to have to dig deep. It’s not going to be pretty. Pen to paper helps get it all out.
3. Write Happy Shit to Other People
Start with your best friend or your mom. Write down the things you like about them. Write down the things you’re grateful for within that relationship. It can be something deep like their loyalty or something small like the way they always offer you the last cookie. Share it with them. Feel free to run away and hide in your room while they read it, but share it anyway, it’s a start. Eventually it gets easier.
4. Let that One Asshole Go
You know who it is, it’s that one jerk that completely broke your heart causing you to put steel armor over it, shielding it from any future pain. Sure, you think you’re “over it,” but no, you’re not—if you’re still emotionally unavailable, you haven’t let it go.
For example, I was with a guy for 5+ years and I’m still pissed off that it ended how it ended.
He even said to me, “I cheated on you because I wanted you to hate me.”
Yeah. That happened.
I’ve written plenty of emails to him (that I haven’t sent), I have written articles about him, I still have dreams about him and the truth of the matter is that I don’t know if I ever loved him. I am just pissed he intentionally hurt me and that I “wasted my time” with him.
But really, I’m not mad at him anymore, maybe I never really was, I’m mad at me. This goes back to the fear of looking a fool. To become emotionally available and able to connect to true love, I have to let go of the fact that I let myself get hurt, that I was “dumb.” As a wise friend once told me, “we do the best we can wherever we are at the time.”
It didn’t turn out. I lived through it. Now, I must let it go (and let go that part of myself).
5. While You Have that Journal Out…
Write down everything that’s lovable about you. Seriously. Do it. People are always talking about self-love, but it’s not like it just magically starts because you know that you should love yourself. It’s challenging.
Knowing that you have a really long list of amazing qualities helps whenever you do something shitty—because we all do shitty things—but it’s not like we do them to purposely hurt anyone.
The idea is that once you fully embrace yourself, all of those fears, insecurities etc. will fade away. Sure they might come up occasionally, but when you love yourself you don’t take them as seriously and how other people treat you isn’t as big of a deal (plus you’re empowered and don’t let other people treat you like crap).
6. Say Some Positive Affirmations
This is the kind of B.S. that emotionally unavailable people hate. I know, because I am one of them. Flip it so whatever the saying is isn’t as corny as “gosh darn it, people like me.”
Personally, I’m for simple phrases like, “I got this,” or “I’m a badass B.”
Other, more emotionally available people like things like, “letting go is safe,” which is a pretty good one, but it’s also pretty emotional (you can do it!).
7. (un) Learn (re) Learn Communication
Most of us never learn how to properly communicate. We learn from our families and most families are dysfunctional. What we need to do is take a class on it or read a book about it and then practice it.
“I” statements suck, but they get better and seem less cheesy over time.
Truly listening to what others are saying, being mindful, thoughtful, calm—these are talents that are developed. Personally, I think the polyamory community is pretty strong in this arena and we could all learn a thing or two (regardless of our relationship structure) from how they interact with each other—think the book Ethical Slut or the technique of heart-centered communication.
8. Sharing is Caring
Do it every day. Share a hope, a fear, a dream with someone. Utilize social media if you have to. Call a friend. Whisper it to your significant other. Get it out, because if you keep it in, you’re keeping yourself from the world (and the world wants you, that’s why you’re here).
9. Contemplate How Your Addictions Are Serving You
Many of us emotionally unavailable people find attachments to things that don’t care about our attachment. They are a means of distraction, numbness, false support. The drugs, the booze, the cigarettes, I’m not saying to let them go, if someone told me that I’d tell her to go f-herself, but it is good to reflect on why they’re being used. Are they for good or for evil—and is that evil a necessary one?
10. None of Us Are Judge Judy Except Judge Judy
Unless you’re getting paid to judge, perhaps consider a different hobby or area of interest. It’s taken me like a million years to calm down my judgmental side; I have to often repeat, “everyone has their own story,” or, “we all have our own shit,” whenever someone else makes me angry (via commuting to work etc.) or someone looks or acts totally different than what I’m used to or what I like. “It’s not my problem,” has also become a staple. What other people do with their lives is their thing, we’re all just trying to make it as joyfully as we can.
11. Work on Being Kind
A recent study showed that the people who are in the strongest relationships, the ones that last forever, are the type of people who practice kindness and generosity.
Kindness, compassion, trust, these are like muscles of the emotional kind—you have to work them out to make them strong. This is all about turning toward your partner instead of turning away. Engaging in developing interest in who they are—I mean, why else would you be with them anyway?
Maybe you’re like me and you spent years building walls, that doesn’t mean we can’t take a sledgehammer and start busting them down. It can be heavy, it can be hard, but in the end, it’s totally worth it to get to the other side. I’ve heard that’s where all the good juicy sunshiny stuff is anyway.
"What to Do When You're the Emotionally Unavailable One" was originally published with MeetMindful; republished with permission.