“Most people in the psychology field believe that if we do not get a child to bond at a deep level with someone by age eight, we have lost them. We can never recover them and teach them empathy. Never.” ~Patti Henry, Author of The Emotionally Unavailable Man
Emotionally unavailable people in relationships can often be appealing to people – especially those of us who like to help “fix” people’s problems, those of us who enjoy solving a good mystery, and those of us who may have experienced an overly emotional person in a toxic relationship. In some cases, you can potentially take steps to connect with an emotionally unavailable person and actually create some positive change in both of your lives. But in the case of the emotional unavailability being a side effect of NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) or otherwise on the cluster B spectrum – or even with someone who just has strong narcissistic tendencies but who hasn’t been officially diagnosed with the personality disorder – you’re going to be fighting a losing battle if you try to create genuine connection.
What does it mean to be emotionally unavailable?
Someone who is emotionally unavailable refuses to let his or her guard down. People who have been hurt or rejected often in their past may take this position without realizing it. They may find it difficult to trust new people or anyone at all if there has been significant trauma in their lives. In many cases, these people can be helped with counseling, coaching or even simple discussions with their loved ones. Toxic people, such as narcissists, who are emotionally unavailable might also be helped through counseling or therapy, but usually refuse to get or accept help as they don’t see anything wrong with their behavior.
How does it feel to be in a relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable?
Whether the emotionally available person is your partner, your parent or your best friend, you might find yourself feeling very lonely and even rejected by this person. You might feel unloved, and you might feel like their repeated rejection of your attempts to connect are related to a big wall this person puts up around him or herself. You feel like this person isn’t there for you in the way that a normal parent, partner or best friend would be. It’s a one-sided kind of relationship.
If this person is a narcissist or other kind of toxic person, it gets even more complicated. This video playlist offers a powerful compilation of red flags to look for in toxic relationships.
Can an emotionally unavailable person change or heal so they can become more emotionally available?
This depends on whether you’re dealing with a toxic narcissist or a “regular” person. In both cases, the behavior is most likely a subconscious way to self-protect themselves. They refuse to allow themselves to be vulnerable to you in order to reduce the chances that they might be hurt or rejected again – or to manage their own emotional response if it (inevitably, in their minds) happens to them again.
However, with narcissists, we need to consider the fact that they have impaired empathy, which could also appear to be emotional unavailability. And we must remember that while it’s theoretically possible that a narcissist could create true change in their lives, it’s also highly unlikely that they will. That’s because most narcissists are unable or unwilling to take any sort of responsibility for things that go wrong in their lives and their relationships – so they generally look to blame someone else (with deflection and projection) and see themselves as victims or at least innocent bystanders.
How do you deal with an emotionally unavailable person?
If you’re dealing with someone who is capable of change, it could just take some time and some talking to work the situation out. You could sit down and have a conversation with this person and ask thoughtful questions about how they feel and why. Do your best to make that person feel safe and comfortable with you and like they can trust you, and then show them this in your own actions and behavior.
If you’re dealing with a narcissist or another kind of toxic person, the game changes. In this case, it’s unlikely that the person will change at all, nor will they be willing to admit they have a problem, to begin with.
That means the first step to dealing with an emotionally unavailable person is to determine whether they are a toxic person, or not. Take this quiz to find out if you’re dealing with a toxic narcissist.
Once you submit your answers, you’ll be given resources to help in your situation.
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.