And it probably has nothing to do with you.
By Sile Walsh
Being emotionally available is not that easy for any of us. And for a man in a society where we give out such mixed messages, it’s no surprise that both the people asking men to be emotionally available and the men who are trying to achieve it, are confused.
My male clients desperately want to connect with friends, lovers, and family in a very real way. But often they have no model of what that looks like and how to do it.
One of life’s interesting phenomenon is that we often reject the very thing we seek. So the most distant and emotionally unavailable people desperately want to be available and feel that connection, but the fear and learned coping strategies get in the way.
Generally, emotional availability in men is different than in woman both because of society’s conditioning and because most men experience interpersonal bonding differently than most women.
For most men, being emotionally available is not just about sharing his emotions; it is about his openness with another person and himself. It’s about where he is at in this moment emotionally and staying with that discomfort, instead of running or presenting it as fixed, resolved or all sorted out.
It is not about oversharing or being dramatic for the sake of it, it is sharing what is relevant to develop that connection in an authentic way. It is about knowing the personal behaviors that avoid true openness and availability. It is at the start very uncomfortable, awkward and even alien to someone who wasn’t taught how to be available emotionally growing up.
What we have to accept is that no one can lead you to emotional availability not even someone you are truly in love with. You were born with it, then life happened, and you developed coping strategies.
The only person who can change this is the person who is presently unavailable. Remember that being available or unavailable has nothing to do with love, it is all about conditioning and a choice to continue to be unavailable or to change it. That choice can be inspired by love, but there are times when its just too great a step for someone to take.
As a life coach and recovering “emotionally unavailable person” myself, I see this pattern so often and what lies under it is the fear of rejection, hurt, and not being good enough. When we move into a more authentic and available space, we feel more emotion and we also create deeper, more authentic connections, with ourselves and with others.
Signs of emotional unavailability and how to address them:
1. Blames others in relationships
This can be romantic or simply friendship, someone who doesn’t recognize the impact they’ve had on the demise of a friendship or relationship, isn’t really being open and available. Instead they are pointing fingers and avoiding themselves.
If you do this, take a moment and reflect on three things you learned from your relationship with this person and next time you’re trying to share and be available talk about YOU.
2. Starts Off Fast and Furious
In romantic relationships a man who is emotionally unavailable will move into the sexual phase of the relationship quickly. But it won’t be just because he wants sex.
Relationships have a natural development flow. People who are emotionally unavailable actually do the beginning of relationships really fast, sometimes even really well, because they are bypassing the discomfort and natural rhythm of intimacy as a way to avoid being open.
If you do this, practice slowing down and learning how it feels to go at a mutual pace, rather than your usual pace. At the end of the day a relationship is a unique coming together and it deserves the space to occur mutually.
3. Can’t go there
Relationships, romantic or otherwise, require you to “go there” from time to time to develop intimacy. By “go there” I mean talking about the ugly truths, the insecurities, the “this is not OK for me” boundaries.
A man who is emotionally unavailable will attempt to bypass this because it feels too unsafe, to unsure, too ugly. They will even label it as wrong or limiting because society’s stereotypes don’t allow men to explore those emotions let alone show them.
If you do this, be compassionate with yourself. You are unavailable for a really good reason, it’s a safety technique. To grow into a more available person, you need to “go there” with yourself first, you need to get comfortable with seeing uncomfortable things about your behavior, history, and experiences. Then when your body is crawling inward, wanting to run, just breathe and stay for a moment longer. It does get easier.
4. Tells the truth but doesn’t change
Someone’s actions speak louder than their words, but from time to time people will say “I am no good at relationships” or “I always lose friends.” These statements are showing you that this person has a pattern of behavior and they own it, but are not attempting to change it.
If you do this, see your behavior but think, “It’s always been like this and it will never change,” then please go to therapy or coaching, it is changeable. There is a really good reason you are doing it, but you can make a different choice. You deserve the connection you so badly want and yet indirectly negate.
5. Treats people as less than
The waiter, the barman, a friend’s friend who doesn’t have connections — when you treat people differently because you see them as less important then you are definitely unavailable because you are always assessing and not actually experiencing.
If you do this, start practicing connecting to people whom you don’t know or who don’t necessarily benefit you. This starts to open you up to connection, intimacy, and having no personal agenda. And it feels so good to connect with people with no agenda.
Men who are perfectionists are deeply hurt and insecure and they’re trying to avoid vulnerability and insecurity. This is a very unavailable place to be coming from as it means others are never good enough and you never need to be open. It means you can sit back and judge, without ever being on the playing field.
If you do this, take a deep breath. Perfectionism is a hard cross to carry. It’s one that can only be beaten and overcome with lashings of self-compassion. Start getting OK with OK, you will find a natural balance over time but you need to be OK getting it wrong first. Support yourself with compassion self-talk and practice.
7. It’s all about me
Men who work from a place that it’s all about their needs, wants, and feelings even in relation to others are unavailable. Yes it’s good to know what you want, feels and need — however in relation to others, it’s about the matching of your wants, feelings, and needs with another person’s. Not about someone else or you negating each other’s wants, feelings, and needs.
If you do this, you know become self-absorbed with your needs, feelings, wants, and agenda in relation to another person. You are avoiding vulnerability and avoiding true connection.
It’s about getting comfortable with the to and fro process that takes place between two open people, regardless of how it ends. So you may decide some of your agenda is not fitting for the connection and adapt it, or you may even leave, but true emotional availability is going into this space with another person, risking the outcome, rather than staying in your head and coming to conclusions alone.
8. Inconsistent connections
If you disappear and get easily distracted from relationships you spent a lot of time in when they began, when you’re withdrawing without being open and saying, “I am swamped and need to spend some time processing me,” but instead give half reasons or elusive ones, then you’re unavailable.
If you do this that that it’s a coping strategy that works when you’re flooded with things to do, feelings, and thoughts. The issue is that it undermines availability and connection with others. To be more available instead of withdrawing, have a dialog with the person about what is happening for you and what you need in this moment. Regardless of the outcome, you will have shared and been open.
Even if you only practice one of these new strategies you will create greater capacity for you to manage the discomfort of being emotionally unavailable and start moving towards a more open, connected and authentic version of yourself.
In my practice and in my life, I have never met a person who can’t unlearn being emotionally unavailable with a little bit of self-compassion, personal responsibility and awareness.
This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.