What Is Emotional Unavailability?

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We begin experiencing emotions early in childhood and soon learn to recognize when someone else feels happiness, anger, disappointment or sorrow. As we grow we learn various new emotions along with how and when to express our feelings appropriately. However, when subjected to abuse, trauma or any type of emotional or psychological pain, victims often shut down emotionally as a safety mechanism in order to avoid more pain. The person becomes emotionally unavailable.

They not only no longer desire to express their own feelings, but they also do not acknowledge emotion in others. Depending on the reason for building the barricade, being emotionally unavailable may be a temporary occurrence or the condition may last for years. In addition to being emotionally void, these individuals make themselves the center of their own universe. Their desires, needs and wants take precedence over the desires, needs and wants of everyone else around them. There are many character traits of someone who is emotionally unavailable.

• Compromise is not an option when it comes to their routine. These individuals are inflexible when it comes to a request to change a schedule.

• They expect perfection in a partner. If they detect something that they view as a character flaw, as far as they are concerned, the relationship ends.

• There is no consideration for others. They lack the ability or refuse to show affection, caring and kindness. This trait may play out in a number of ways.

• Charm and seduction are commonly used by someone who is emotionally unavailable as a manipulative ploy to control people. These traits are also commonly used in excess early in a romantic relationship. Attention and flattery may be misconstrued as emotional involvement.

• Displaying abusive tendencies is another red flag. They may continually criticize, humiliate and pass judgment on people, be generally mean or have angry outbursts. This person has no emotional intelligence and is likely to be emotionally and/or physically abusive.

• They are often extremely interested in gaining knowledge about a potential partner while being excessively secretive about themselves.

• Prefer sex to intimacy or spending quality time. If they choose the bedroom and consider spending time and money on someone a waste, they are not looking for a committed, long-term relationship.

• They have no desire to meet your family and friends and avoid introducing you to their social circle.

• Communication is inconsistent or one-sided.

Determining if the relationship is genuine and reciprocal requires evaluating whether there is mutual empathy, generosity, honesty, openness and sharing. In order to find out if an individual has the potential for being in your life on a long-term basis, do a little digging. Ask about their last relationship. Evasiveness in this area may indicate that they are currently have a significant other and are merely looking for fun. Ask about the qualities that they deem essential in a potential mate. Learn where they see themselves in five or 10 years. Listen carefully and read between the lines.


Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "What Is Emotional Unavailability?," in PsychologyDictionary.org, January 10, 2016, https://psychologydictionary.org/what-is-emotional-unavailability/ (accessed August 11, 2022).