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This is one of a series
of brief articles on how to respond effectively
to annoying social behaviors. An "effective response"
occurs when you get your
primary needs met
well enough, and both people feel
This article offers (a) perspective
on emotional "unavailability," and (b)
proposes effective ways to relate
to an "unavailable'' person.It assumes
you're familiar with...
This brief YouTube video clip introduces
what you'll read in this article.
Pop-psychology materials refer to
"emotional unavailability" as a significant
relationship problem. In my experience, authors
and gurus avoid trying to define that, and/or
assume audiences know what it is. Can you define
it? Have you ever met an adult or child who was
"unavailable" - e.g. a relative or romantic
Let's say that an "unavailable" person is
mostly "in their head" - i.e. s/he is usually analytic and intellectual. If you ask "What are you
feeling?" they often say "I don't know" or
"Nothing." The opposite trait is emotional
availability - meaning the person can
appropriately feel and express their current emotions, thoughts,
"Unavailability" ranges from
unawareness of one's own emotions,
thoughts, needs, and
some physical feelings ("numbness" and/or
being aware of
some or all current or recent emotions,
thoughts, needs, and/or physical feelings, but
being unable to describe them - perhaps
because of fear, shame, and/or
emotional-mental overwhelm; to...
to disclose or discuss some, most, or all
emotions and/or uncomfortable thoughts,
memories, needs, and/or perceptions. This
may include not wanting to discuss your
current relationship other than in
superficial generalities (intolerance of
promote an inability to sense, identify, and
validate other people's feelings and
needs (i.e. an inability to empathize).
In important relationships like mate-mate and
parent-child, if one person is often
unavailable, the other person may feel
frustrated, disconnected, "distant," and anxious. Effective
communication requires a mutual, spontaneous verbal and nonverbal
exchange of thoughts and feelings - do
survivors of childhood trauma often sustain up to six psychological
wounds. The most
tragic wound is an inability to feel,
with some or most people. Clinically, this is
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).
Most professional attention is given to RAD
kids, vs. adults - partly because such wounded
adults don't realize (or admit) they have a
Common behavioral symptoms of RAD include
emotional "flatness," little "affect," a "frozen
face and body," "woodenness," impassiveness,
an "expressionless" face, little verbal
inflection, difficulty feeling and expressing
the normal range of human emotions, and
superficial, broken, or no significant relationships.
tragic cases involve parents who can't bond with, or feel or express genuine love for, their children.
Some cultures and families prize stoicism and
"self control" (minimizing emotions, as in the
British advice to "keep a stiff upper lip," and
stereotypic Oriental "inscrutability") -
specially in males. That can be amplified by a
genetic tendency is some males to mute their
emotions and be less "sensitive" than typical
females. There are many exceptions.
By late adolescence or early adulthood, most
RAD sufferers have learned through observing others
to unconsciously pretend degrees of emotion to gain social
acceptance. Often, other people grow doubts or
distrust because the (wounded) person may not
seem genuine or "real."
children don't know what it's like to hear .In
the same way, emotionally unavailable (wounded)
people can't know what it's like to be
"available." So hinting, asking, demanding, or
pleading with them to be "available,"can never heal their wounds. If this is
true, then what can you do with such a person?
"Communication" happens when one or both
people have unfilled needs. An implicit
challenge here is to accept that the unavailable
person cannot (vs. will
not) fill your need for "connection" unless they
hit true bottom. This limits your behavioral
When you're with an unavailable (wounded)
person, mentally review these
needed. Your options depend on what you
If you need to improve your general
communication with this person, (a)
true Self in charge, and (b) select from
here and here.
If you need to vent (be heard and accepted),
(a) ask if the person has time to listen to
you, and (b) periodically ask for
need to learn what the other person feels,
needs, and thinks, ask - and be aware
that s/he may not be able to identify or
describe these things because of inherited
need to offer feedback on how the person's
"unavailability" affects you:
specifically how you feel when you're with
ask if s/he is
open to constructive feedback; If yes...
you don't look at / respond to me, I feel
times it's hard for me to be with you
because I can't tell what you're thinking or how you're feeling
(about me / us)."
without moralizing or preaching - i.e. naturally
describe your feelings, thoughts, and needs as
Does anything prevent you from using options
with "unavailable" kids or adults? If
you're hesitant, reluctant, or skeptical about
trying them, suspect that your true Self is
Responses to Avoid
Communications like these are apt to amplify the
"unavailable" person's wounds and degrade
Expecting the person to change by willpower
can't, unless they commit to
recovery from psychological wounds;
criticizing - e.g. "After all I've done for
you, you forgot my birthday again!"
Blaming / Guilt-tripping - "You
say I'm important to you, but you never
Questioning - "How come you never ask about your grandkids
or visit them?" (Implication: "You're a
Gossiping - "Can
you believe it? Paco didn't want to go to
the doctor with his wife. Louisa is so
Lecturing - "You
never disclose your feelings. You need to
see a shrink!"
scorn - "For you, intimacy is a four-letter
name-calling - "People who don't care about
other people are really selfish and
pathetic, don't you think?"
Labeling - "Poor
Portia - she's a real social cripple."
/ "Rudy just won't make the effort."
resentment - "Is it too much to ask that you
call and tell me you'll be late?"
denial - "Why no - I really do enjoy
being with you. Really."
Puzzling - "Lou
insists he loves me, but I don't feel
loved!" (This may be because you're
Avoiding - "Marta's a real cold fish, but I'd never
tell her that. It'd hurt her feelings."
Advising - "You
should socialize more. Get out and have some
fun! Life's passing you by!"
things like this but not saying them.
your thought and feelings now. Do you see any
themes in these examples?
This is one of a
of brief articles suggesting effective ways to
respond to common irritating social behaviors.
This article proposes that "emotionally
unavailability" is an inability or
unwillingness to feel and express emotions,
needs, thoughts, and perceptions.
unintentional, and comes from early-childhood
psychological wounds, The article
illustrates relationship options with an
"unavailable" person, and responses to avoid.
The former are