Emotionally unavailable and the impact on relationships

Doubts about self-worth make us receptive to painful encounters and allow certain behaviors we shouldn’t tolerate.

By Anne Lomberg on July 12, 2023 -
Updated on October 21, 2023

Also available in German
Emotional unerreichbar und die Auswirkungen auf Beziehungen

What was going on there again? You think to yourself when an initially beautiful encounter suddenly vanishes into thin air, and you wonder how that actually happened. Desperately you try to put the pieces together, to find answers from the one who has already shut down and said goodbye, until you have no choice but to give up and settle this matter with yourself.

Emotional unavailability is a mass problem of interpersonal interactions; it creates waves and unfolds even among those who were actually emotionally available until now. It is a condition that runs its circles, involving people who have never questioned their emotional needs and now consider normal expectations completely misplaced because their feelings have been devalued; a vicious cycle emerges that takes old-fashioned relationship thinking to a whole new, perhaps even toxic level at least if you choose to open yourself up further to emotionally unavailable people.

The Beginning

Suppose we look for the causes of emotional unavailability. In that case, the origins lie, as so often, in childhood. Still, painful experiences of past relationships can also trigger regression in dealing with open feelings, withdrawal from any responsibility, escape into unpleasant silence, and ghosting until break-off. When our parents teach us that thoughts or feelings are not important or justified, this provides the first toxic foundation for emotional unavailability in adulthood. Of course, this can also trigger a backlash, so we are automatically attracted to unavailable people because feelings of neglect and abandonment seem all too familiar, and we seriously wonder whether or not we really deserve love.

Doubts about self-worth make us receptive to painful encounters and allow certain behaviors we shouldn’t tolerate. The inner child has yet to process the past and internalize the complexity of the parent-child relationship with its implications. This trauma rubs off on future relationships by becoming emotionally numb oneself or getting involved with emotionally unavailable people and probably chasing after them for a while until one understands the process of healing and takes a different path.

Failed relationships, with which one associates painful experiences, often lead to dissociation from feelings because, on the one hand, we have not yet processed them, and, on the other hand, we do not want to experience them again. After all, openly exposing feelings to one’s partner is to make oneself vulnerable, a danger one prefers to avoid; this keeps the new relationship at arm’s length, without addressing serious topics at all, to know that you can get out at any time without getting hurt. Emotionally unavailable people are very controlled in their communication by what they share and what they prefer to keep to themselves. They will never fully reveal themselves, so the relationship only scratches the surface, much to the chagrin of the emotionally available partner, as they will constantly critique themselves and try to convert the emotionally unavailable partner. It’s a dead end where it is better to be true to yourself and pay more attention to your needs.

The Path

If you are fed up after a few experiences with emotionally unavailable people because they only draw energy and cause pain, you will try to change your strategy and find explanations as to how this could have happened in order to clean up in the end; namely, your own traumatic circumstances that make you feel attracted to these people over and over again, to reflect and appreciate yourself and recognize first Red Flags that have always been an invitation instead of a warning.

Red Flags make clear whether you want to take the risk of getting hurt or whether you’d rather stay away and escape as quickly as possible. After an endless journey with emotionally unavailable men, I quickly recognize my red flags and set the emergency brake because I have no desire to continue to accept my childhood feelings of rejection, assuming that this is what true love means. Sometimes, however, I take the risk consciously; one could call this a masochistic component, which brings a certain redemption with the repeatedly experienced pain. But that is another story.

The Goal

Exploring one’s emotional world offers a revelation to understand the process and deal with one’s personal traumatic experiences; this involves, on the one hand, valuing oneself, making cutbacks when certain warning signs appear, and making decisions. Decisions that are good for your mental health and help you live a more satisfying life with people by your side who celebrate communication of feelings and are no strangers to empathy. On the other hand, it’s about being open to new relationships without transforming yourself into an emotionally unavailable person, recognizing the Red Flags but not pigeonholing everyone, either.

Those constantly moving from one relationship to the next should take time out and engage with themselves to heal deeply, face their fears and desires, and make room for the trauma to create new experiences; positive experiences that will affect the next relationships. Relationships at eye level that simply feel beautiful because everyone is able to show and express their vulnerable side. Who doesn’t wish for that?

As for my journey, I haven’t quite arrived yet, even though I’m facing my own traumas repeatedly and have sought help from a therapist to do so. Somehow my inner child is not yet ready to give up and is feeding off the painful experiences that continue to keep me on my toes. The development is in full swing and never seems to stop. Nevertheless, I sense a clear change in terms of my demands towards a potential partner. Now my antennae are fine-tuned and receive clear signals that prevent me from investing too much and rather indulge in sexual pleasure when it overcomes me. This distinction no longer compromises and consciously chooses the emotionally available man.   

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