Tips for Understanding Emotionally Unavailable People

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When someone isn’t emotionally available, they don’t connect with others – or themselves on a feeling level. This typically causes frustration for family and friends because the emotionally unavailable person doesn’t see their inability to connect as a problem. As a result, loved ones assume that the person doesn’t care but that’s not true, they just don’t know any different.

In this blog you will learn how to recognize someone who is emotional unavailable so you can make healthy choices and preserve what is good with those who can’t connect.

What Does Emotionally Unavailable Mean?

Spotting a person who is emotionally unavailable isn’t difficult, but it does take patience. It takes time to observe a person in situations that require an emotional response. Some people are naturally more guarded with their emotions, which can make them harder to read (though being reserved or shy is not necessarily a sign of emotional unavailability).

People who are emotionally unavailable will show most (if not all) of the following signs:

  • Shows a lack of emotional expression

  • Has discomfort with emotions

  • Struggles with being close with others

  • Has multiple romantic partners

  • Can be uncomfortable in crisis situations

  • May struggle with substances to avoid feelings  

Lack of Emotional Expression

When people are emotionally unavailable, it feels like something is “off” about them. You get a sense that they are physically there but emotionally absent. There seems to be a lack of genuine connection. This can be why detecting this trait can be so difficult: it takes time to see how people respond in different scenarios.

This lack of expression also shows up in response to stressful situations. For instance, when something requires a heartfelt response, they often use humor to minimize the seriousness of what’s happening. Or, they tell a story to distract from the intensity of the moment. Typically, they are uncomfortable in crisis situations that require an emotional response.

Tip: Having realistic expectations of what the emotionally unavailable person can give lessens the resentment. Find a different focal point for the relationship like doing activities both of you can enjoy together. That way you are preserving what’s still good in the relationship.

Discomfort with Emotions

They are almost always uncomfortable with any display of emotion or vulnerability. Instead of showing empathy they might offer superficial antidotes. When a situation becomes too serious or upsetting, they might have a blank look on their face as if they aren’t connected to what’s happening. In relationships, emotionally unavailable people don’t recognize other people’s pain, which makes them appear less supportive.

Click here to read How to Get Comfortable with Difficult Emotions.

Tip: When you’re hurting, don’t continue to seek them out for support. Otherwise, you are going to a dry well for water. Instead, find other means of support to get your emotional needs met. That way, you can keep the relationship but take care of yourself as well.

Difficulty in Becoming Close in Relationships

Being in relationships with those who are emotionally unavailable feels lonely, even if they are fun to hang out with. When trying to connect on a more personal level, you may find getting close to them difficult.

Emotionally unavailable people avoid showing any type of vulnerability, including being honest about themselves. They tend to relate on a more superficial level that – over time – creates a feeling of disconnection. This can be the beginning of the end as attempts to be closer continue to fail.

Emotionally unavailable people generally miss the subtle cues when someone is upset which makes intimacy and healthy communication more challenging.

Tip: Because these people don’t know to connect, help them out. Talk about how each of you define the what’s working in the relationship. Once they know what you need, it’s easier for them to feel more successful.

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Other Romantic Partners

Another aspect of emotional unavailability is when someone has many romantic partners at the same time. This lack of commitment to a single relationship makes it impossible to commit and feel close.

While feeling distant occasionally in a relationship is normal, when a lack of closeness becomes the norm, it’s a sign of emotional unavailability. Identifying the signs early helps you make healthier decisions about who to commit to on a deeper level. People show up as they are from day one. We just need to be willing to recognize it.

Tip: Be honest about what you need in a relationship. Settling for less or chasing the unavailable person leads to a lonely life. It’s okay to want more.

The Role of Addiction

Addiction can be another sign of emotionally unavailable people. By using substances or compulsive activity, the addict avoids having to feel the stress of life. They become numb to their feelings because they can’t tolerate them.

\While some addicts and alcoholics can be quite charming, they often lack the ability to be present in situations that require more seriousness and emotional maturity.

Tip: When someone is struggling with addiction, deep emotional and physical intimacy is nonexistent. Make sure you have plenty of support such as Al-Anon, for friend and families of addiction.

Final Thoughts

Being unable to connect emotionally often traces back to childhood experiences that have nothing to do with the present situation. The saying “it’s not about you” serves as a helpful reminder to not take the behavior personally.

By understanding the characteristics of an emotionally unavailable person, you’ll be less frustrated. You can still choose to be in relationship with that person but with more realistic expectations. Enjoy what works and take care of yourself around what doesn’t.

Not every relationship is meant to go the distance but picking someone who can handle emotions is absolutely essential for a healthy partnership.


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