15 signs of a closed-off personality (and how to deal with them)

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Closed-off personalities tend to be private, secretive and guarded.

They can find it challenging to connect with others and may easily become suspicious or distrustful of people. That’s why people who have closed-off personalities can appear to be cold and distant.

They have a tendency to keep their emotions under wraps and struggle to show affection. A lot of the time they are afraid to get close to other people.

Here are 15 signs of someone with a closed-off personality and how best to handle them.

What is a closed-off person?

A closed-off person is someone who probably doesn’t want to open up about his or her feelings. They might not feel comfortable sharing personal information or letting others into their world.

A closed-off person usually has one main aim — to avoid a strong emotional connection with others. So when we refer to a closed-off personality, we also usually mean an emotionally closed-off person.

These individuals often don’t like intimate situations as they fear that others will judge them for what they say or do. They tend to avoid getting close to others because they worry about rejection or getting hurt.

Closed-off people may seem aloof or unapproachable. They may even come across as moody or self-absorbed.

With closed-off people, the intention is always the same (whether it’s done consciously or not) and that’s to keep others at bay. But the techniques closed-off people use to push people away may differ.

15 signs of a closed-off person

1) They’re not interested in getting to know you

A big giveaway that you’re dealing with a closed-off person is their lack of any attempt to try to get to know you.

Questions are important. It’s how we show an interest in others. Research has even shown that we tend to like people more who ask us questions than people who don’t.

Questions are not only how we learn more about someone, it’s how we show we are engaged in a conversation.

Closed-off people are unlikely to ask many questions or try to dig deeper into your life.

If they do ask questions, it’s likely to be superficial ones that lack any real substance.

2) They’re uncomfortable with affection

For plenty of us, it can take time before we are comfortable with being affectionate towards someone. But more so for a closed-off personality.

The more familiar we get, our growing bond is often reflected through both physical and verbal affection.

It’s difficult for closed-off personalities to give and receive affection, and it can quickly make them feel unsettled.

For example, if you hug them, they may pull away or if you offer them an endearing compliment they may awkwardly look away or change the subject.

It can help to understand and use different love languages with someone who struggles with certain types of affection.

They may prefer to show affection in other ways, like doing something thoughtful or buying gifts, as opposed to words of affirmation or physical touch.

3) They don’t want to share themselves

When we talk about someone having a “closed-off” personality, it often means that they don’t share much about themselves. We may see them as a closed book.

This could mean they don’t volunteer any personal information about themselves. They might not share details of their past, current, or future plans.

It can come across as quite intriguing or even mysterious. But this makes it hard for others to really get to know them.

Talking with a closed-off person can feel like getting blood out of a stone. It can also make for a fairly one-sided relationship.

4) They feel self-conscious about showing emotion

Emotions leave closed-off personalities feeling incredibly vulnerable.

The reason why is because emotions are powerful tools that allow us to connect with others on a deep level.

To a closed-off person, they can think that showing emotions in front of others will make them appear weak, needy, or desperate — leaving them exposed.

The reality is that they are usually not comfortable with experiencing emotions full stop. They probably don’t know how to deal with intense feelings in private, let alone in company.

So it’s no wonder that closed-off personalities struggle to express their true selves.

Because of their lack of ability to show emotion, they may be accused of coming across as cold, straight-faced, or even stone-faced.

5) They want to avoid conflict at all cost

Conflict is inevitable in relationships. But for some people, it feels impossible to engage in healthy conflict.

We all need to disagree sometimes. To challenge each other’s ideas and opinions. But for a closed-off person, disagreement can trigger intense emotional responses that leave them feeling incredibly awkward.

These reactions can include anger, fear, sadness, and shame.

These negative emotions can cause them to shut down or become defensive. They can be scared of rejection or the intense feelings that could arise from arguments.

Arguments feel very messy to a closed-off person.

They may avoid getting too close to people as they fear the discomfort that comes from disagreement.

6) They are overly critical of others

Closed-off people tend to focus on what’s wrong with other people rather than what’s right with them. They’ll pick at every little thing and nitpick over every detail.

On the surface, it looks like they are just difficult to please. But if you’re around someone who constantly criticizes others, it’s likely that they are struggling with their own issues.

Unrealistic expectations of somebody are a great tool to push people away. That’s why it’s a common one used by closed-off people who want to keep their distance.

If they expect too much of someone else, then they’re likely to find fault with them very quickly. This then provides them justification for why they need to back off.

In essence, their perfectionist standards are just a defense mechanism that prevents anyone from getting too close to them.

7) They find it difficult to trust anyone

Closed-off personalities seem to be instantly wary and guarded. This makes sense because they’ve learned that trusting others leads to disappointment.

When someone doesn’t live up to your expectations, it can lead to an overwhelming amount of pain. They don’t trust that they won’t get hurt again. So they put walls up to protect themselves.

People who struggle with trust may find it difficult to take you at your word, await betrayal, and can be unforgiving of even the tiniest mistakes.

Trust is incredibly important in any relationship. Speaking in Psych Alive, relationship expert Shirley Glass points out that the absence of it can spell disaster.

“Intimate relationships are contingent on honesty and openness. They are built and maintained through our faith that we can believe what we are being told.”

8) They seem lacking in empathy and compassion

Cold-hearted, a bit of a “cold fish”, a total “iceberg” or such an “ice queen”.

These are the types of words that might be used to describe a closed-off personality who struggles to connect on an emotional level.

These descriptions are more like symptoms than causes. It’s not always that a closed-off person doesn’t care, it’s that they aren’t sure how to express it.

It’s difficult to display empathy and compassion when you are trying so hard to control the situation and yourself.

Their discomfort with handling intimate emotions is too great to display sincere compassion.

They can also become so focused on themselves and what they are experiencing, that they fail to see the needs of others.

9) They avoid commitment

A closed-off person will often try to avoid commitments. We’re not even talking about heading down the aisle. They may simply dodge set plans or saying yes to anything they think they may regret.

They prefer to keep things light and can be evasive about giving defined answers. This can make it hard to build a solid foundation for a relationship.

If you’re dating a closed-off person, they may be evasive about defining your relationship status. You could end up feeling frustrated as you try to force them into something they aren’t comfortable with.

Of course, you can never force someone to commit to something they don’t want to commit to. The problem is that closed-off people can give mixed signals. Seemingly blowing hot and cold.

Deep down they are most likely struggling with their own emotions as they go through cycles of freaking out about commitment and you getting too close.

When a closed-off person is honest with you about being not ready for a commitment, it’s something you should definitely heed.

It’s tempting to think as someone falls for us they will change their mind, but this is very rarely the case. Being emotionally ready for and available for commitment is an important precursor to relationship success.

10) They’re charming but in a superficial way

Up until now, you might be wondering how anyone could like a closed-off person. After all, they’re not sounding very friendly. The truth is that closed-off personality types can also be incredibly appealing when they want to be.

They may flirt or be charming. But it’s usually in a shallow way. There is little substance behind their warmth or charm. It’s just a façade.

They are using it as a mask to wear which guards people against seeing the real them. As pleasant as they seem, it is more of a pretense. You will still struggle to dig any deeper than the surface of their character.

This tactic is common with so-called love bombers. As noted by professor of psychology, Chitra Raghavan, in the New York Times:

“One partner, typically male but not exclusively, showers the other person with attention, affection, compliments, flattery, and essentially creates this context where she feels like she’s met her soul mate and it’s effortless.

“The reality is, the person who is doing the love bombing is creating or manipulating the environment to look like he’s the perfect or she’s the perfect mate.”

But this exaggerated behavior isn’t sincere, and there’s no genuine connection underneath it all. In fact, they use the persona of charm as a way of avoiding one.

As soon as things start to feel real, love bombers then run for the hills.

11) Their connections are shallow

Closed-off people rather unsurprisingly get along better with fellow closed-off personalities. That way they get to avoid the discomfort of someone wanting to get too close.

These people may have a lot of friends, but few true friends. The friendships tend to be superficial in nature.

There’s nothing deep or meaningful between the two. They could have known one another for years, still without finding out anything that deep. Their friends may not feel like they have ever truly seen the real them.

Because of the tendency for emotionally unavailable people to attract to one another, if you keep finding yourself dating a closed-off person you might want to consider if you are emotionally available yourself.

If you feel like you are seeking deeper intimacy, but often find yourself drawn to those who won’t offer you it, this could be a defense mechanism. But going for the “wrong types” you may in fact be holding yourself back without realizing it.

12) They avoid deep and meaningful chats

As mentioned earlier, emotionally closed-off people can appear to not really care much about what others think because they don’t show any interest in getting to know you on a personal level.

They prefer to keep their distance. If you try to engage them in any deeper conversation they’ll likely respond with short answers or quickly change the subject.

They may say something like, “I’m fine” or “I’m good” when asked how they are feeling. Or they may just ignore your questions altogether and talk about something else.

Even though they may appear friendly, they resist revealing any intimate part of themselves. They are guarded to the extent that they can appear secretive.

Sarcasm and humor could be another deflection tactic that they use to dodge certain questions or topics which feel threatening.

The reason why these people avoid deep conversations is probably that they are uncomfortable sharing more.

It’s easier to stay away from anything that makes them feel exposed or vulnerable.

13) They seem aloof and standoffish

Aloof people tend to come across like they don’t give a damn. They may also seem unapproachable or distant.

This doesn’t mean that they’re always unfriendly, but they do tend to keep their distance. It’s sometimes hard to tell if they’re being rude or simply keeping their guard up.

You may notice that they don’t smile very easily. They rarely laugh. They may even look bored or disinterested.

When you approach them they may act like they don’t see you. They may walk straight past you without saying hello. Or they may pretend to be busy doing something when you reach out to speak to them.

Some people may even appear hostile. When closed-off people appear aloof, they might actually just be feeling shy, introverted, or socially awkward.

They may feel out of sync with the rest of a group and so withdraw into themselves to deal with it. So, while they may appear aloof, they could be trying to protect themselves by acting this way.

Standoffish people aren’t always arrogant, even if they do seem a bit haughty or superior in their manner.

It could be that they lack the necessary social skills to know how to handle themselves. In this way, it’s just another one of their defense mechanisms.

14) They appear a bit self-absorbed

Not all closed-off people are quiet and reserved. The defining quality of being closed off is about not letting people in, rather than not speaking much.

As we’ve said, there are different ways to control this. Another tactic used by some closed-off people is by making everything all about them.

Someone who is closed-off might end up controlling the narrative by talking about themselves, excluding you in the process.

What you will notice though is that they instantly shut down when you ask anything that they don’t want to talk about.

Closed-off people certainly aren’t only timid. They may be self-centered and narcissistic. They might think only about what they want and need. They may seem largely focused on themselves and their own interests.

15) They sit back

An emotionally closed-off personality can look pretty detached.

Rather than engage and contribute, they may prefer to sit back and observe. For example, whilst you do the talking they stand there smiling and nodding.

Emotionally closed-off people tend to be less expressive and more withdrawn. They are also more likely to hold things inside and not express their true feelings.

When they do open up, you might find that it is brief and superficial. They may only tell you what they think you want to hear.

This can cause problems in relationships where communication is important. Because they aren’t able to communicate effectively, they may end up being misunderstood by potential partners or friends.

Why am I such a closed-off person?

Closed-off personalities are often misunderstood because they don’t show their emotions or feelings easily. But most people aren’t either open or closed-off, it’s a spectrum.

We can all be closed-off in certain contexts. But closed-off personalities struggle more with opening up generally.

There are many reasons why people might be more private or guarded around others. Some people are simply shy while others fear rejection. Others may be keeping secrets because they’re ashamed of something.

Closed-off qualities can be down to certain character traits, like being shy. Or something may have happened to make a person more cautious, like certain experiences or even traumas. For example, when someone has experienced heartbreak they might find it harder to let another person in again.

It’s important to realize that people can be closed-off in different ways. There is a big difference between dealing with an introvert and someone who is avoidant attachment or is emotionally unavailable.

Introverts can be socially reserved and need more solitude and privacy, but they are not necessarily emotionally unresponsive. After getting to know someone they usually start to open up and become warmer. Neither do they have a problem with being committed in their relationships once they feel comfortable enough to open up and trust.

However, with emotionally avoidant or unavailable people the problems are more likely to persist. For this type of closed-off people, their behavior can cause problems in forming intimate relationships.

How do you deal with a closed person?

The main reason why someone is emotionally closed off is that they don’t feel safe to open up.

If you notice a love interest or friend seems to be holding back, try to figure out if there’s anything going on that could be causing it.

Gently encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings with you. Ask them sensitive questions, but don’t come on too strong. It’s about showing them that you are interested, rather than turning it into an inquisition.

Emotional intimacy is a two-way street, so be sure that you are divulging things about yourself too. Proving that you can be vulnerable with them might help them to feel secure enough to also share.

When you do talk about yourself, turn it around to include them in the conversation too. For example, you may say something like “I really struggle with small-talk, it can make me feel really uncomfortable. How about you?”

It’s important to remember that we communicate through far more than just what we say. Our body language is hugely important. Warm gestures like eye contact, smiling and a friendly tone of voice may help a closed-off person feel more comfortable.

Getting through to a closed-off person can take some time, so you may need to be being patient and understanding. Try to see things from their perspective and don’t take any of their defense mechanisms too personally.

It can take a while for them to warm up to you and start to trust you enough to let their guard down.

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