Emotionally unavailable people make tricky partners so time to learn the signs
The good news is if you think you have a pattern of picking emotionally unavailable people, you can learn the signs and stop doing it! It may take time but it is not impossible.
Do You Pick “Projects” Not Partners? You Might Attract Emotionally Unavailable People And Not Know It
Many people who are emotionally unavailable, don’t even know that’s what they are. This is why they may stay in relationships without realizing their partner’s needs are not getting met. If you find yourself in relationships with people who are never ready to commit or too messy to have real relationships, that’s something to be looked at.
What Does Emotionally Unavailable Mean
When Lisa’s boyfriend broke up with her, we were all surprised. Yet after a few questions, it became clear that he was fiercely independent yet feared loneliness. He loved sex but not intimacy. He wanted a relationship but not the inherent growth attached to it. With the exception of Lisa, he consistently chose partners who were emotionally unavailable — married, cheaters, physically abusive — all who used seduction to reel him in.
Lisa was heartbroken.
“He seemed perfect. He loved his children. He was involved with his church. He loved his work and had tons of friends. He cared for his parents and we just clicked on so many levels. Yet despite him telling me that I was the one he looked for in his life, that he felt at peace whenever we were together, he literally became more distant the closer we became.”
“Maybe he wanted that,” I responded.
Lisa looked at me shocked.
With no addictions or character disorders, he definitely wasn’t on the list of “Projects”… those emotionally unavailable folks who do not have the ability to connect with their partners, nor can they grow within a healthy relationship without the help of therapy or self-reflection. And even then, some may not be able to change at all. What does a great relationship look like?
What Kind Of People Are Projects, Not Partners
- Addicts. Addiction comes in many forms, not just alcohol and drugs. It could be work, shopping, social media, video games, porn, sex, romance novels or even exercise. People literally can be addicted to anything to avoid their pain or their feelings of shame and anxiety. Most addicts tend to surround themselves with friends who also escape reality while justifying their behavior by blaming someone or something for their actions. Remember, you cannot help an addict until they decide they want help. Until then, you will always have a threesome — you, them and the addiction.
- Slackers — The ones who don’t have a job or close friends. Either one is a red flag but together it’s a highway billboard screaming “Stay Away!” Similiar to every “project” on this list, their friends or the lack thereof, will tell you a lot about a person.
- Dreamers — Those who think great things will appear magically including romance and refusing to put effort into anything. They falsely believe that perfect partners (those they have chemistry with) will last forever without deliberate work on their part. This category also includes those people who subscribe to toxic positivity which professes they can attain their goals through manifestation. This lets them off the hook because I don’t know of any successful person who hasn’t put in thousands of hours of work going after their dream.
- The Entitled— The arrogant ones who believe someone will give them a wonderful career or relationship just because they are so talented or smart or beautiful (without possessing any credentials or experience or preparation). They collect friends for pure unadulterated praise.
- The Character Disordered — Narcissists, Sociopaths, Psychopaths. Numerous people with these disorders are hugely successful but have limited emotional intelligence despite their ability to mimic a wide range of emotions and exhibit socially acceptable behaviors. Their relationships are transactional, focused on attaining power, and always a reflection of their perceived self-image. If they are after you, you have something they want. Beware. Their seduction skills are legendary with an arsenal of love-bombing, complete with excessive flattery, extravagant gifts, and empty promises. In romantic relationships, they will tell you that you’re the one they have waited for their entire lives, that you’re their soulmate coupled with the best sex of your life. Given Americans’ romance with “love at first sight,” most people won’t recognize the danger of exceedingly charming and deceptively smooth men and women who easily dupe their targets with flattery. They are the ultimate conmen, addicted to adrenaline, disdaining boredom or routine. Since these people are devoid of conscience (psychopaths actually have reduced connections between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in their brains), they are psychologically dangerous and incapable of any emotional growth. They use sex to bind their partners to them. How? During an orgasm, a person receives a blast of dopamine which in brain scans resembles a heroin rush. Oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone” is released in the bloodstream during sex, the same hormone that is responsible for creating the bond between mother and child. Highly sexed psychopaths and sociopaths use that intense bond to keep their lovers bound to them despite the psychological and physical torture their victims experience. So, if they have set their sights on you, RUN! Why? Because according to Martha Stout, Ph. D., a renowned expert on sociopathy, “if you are targeted by them, “winning” means controlling you in some way — making you jump through hoops — no matter how vehemently they claim to have no such ambition.” Their circle of friends are sycophants, unknowing enablers or like them, character-disordered.
- Non-compromisers. Sometimes people become so comfortable with their lives that they are unable to make room for a romantic partner let alone welcome change or emotional growth. They have fantasies of a lover being able to slide into their life without any effort on their part. When presented with a potential match, they shut down in the face of possible happiness if this person does not fit their “ideal.” Remember, people will usually choose partners that feel familiar to them subconsciously based on their family of origin and abandon the ones they actually have a chance of real emotional connection. Even if that means choosing abusive partners over healthy ones. Until they work on themselves, it is extremely difficult for them to choose solid relationships or share their life.
- Borderline Personality Disorder. Although these people are on the spectrum of character disorders, they did not ask for BPD which researchers believe is caused by a combination of abuse, neglect, mistreatment and/or genetics. They have trouble regulating their emotions and are terrified of actual or perceived abandonment or rejection. They have frequent shifts in self-perception and often engage in impulsive and reckless behavior. Their intense mood swings and emotional behaviors can reek havoc on families. Many children of BPDs suffer PTSD and insecure attachment styles, much like the children of alcoholics and addicts. If the non-BPD partner leaves the marriage after several years, chaos becomes their set point. They then have trouble recognizing normal behavior and in fact, run from it because it’s not the “familiar drama” they know subconsciously. These people, unfortunately, fall into a vicious cycle of avoiding intimacy to avert conflict or choosing “projects” because that is what they know.
Emotionally Unavailable Can Be Hard To Recognize
Now back to Lisa’s ex-beau, Roger, who had more of an avoidant attachment style. It’s hard to recognize this attachment style because these folks come across as warm and engaging with a positive self regard which they actually don’t have. Many are successful with lots of friends but they actually don’t let these people get too close. They also struggle with high levels of anxiety and perfectionism.
As long as there is no risk of them getting hurt, or being vulnerable, they don’t avoid relationships. In fact, they are much more comfortable with easy going friendships than emotional intimacy. But as soon as their vulnerability comes into play they have to back up or do things that sabotage connection.
Why? As infants or children they learned to suppress their emotions such as anger, fear or sadness so they would not be rejected by their caregiver or parent who did not have the psychological tools to deal with them.
- As a result, they confuse their partner’s desire for emotional closeness as clingingness.
- They suppress their emotions and withdraw to cope with difficult situations alone.
- They have high anxiety surrounding relationships and will end them in order to gain a sense of freedom.
- They will also retreat from relationships through distractions to avoid their feelings. They literally have a conscious fear of being trapped and a subconscious fear of being left.
And because our culture glorifies work and encourages emotional avoidance, it is very difficult to suss these puppies out.
I asked Lisa what type of romantic partners she had in the past. She laughed and admitted that they were mostly “bad boys” or people who couldn’t commit to a relationship. She realized she was part of the problem in finding an emotionally stable partner.
Until each of us look at our own romantic past and attachment styles and make deliberate choices (where our actions match our words) about healing ourselves and being with friends, family and partners who are actually good for us, we will continually repeat our past mistakes. How to recover from a toxic relationship.
Although I don’t know if Lisa and Roger will ever get back together, I do hope that they each find committed partners and not “projects”.
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