If you display these 7 behaviors, you’re being emotionally unavailable without realizing it

If I had to pick the perfect example of an emotionally unavailable person it would have to be none other than Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw’s “perfect man”: the one and only “Mr. Big.”

The man whose character name wasn’t even revealed until the series’ finale (that’s how emotionally unavailable he was) was emotionally crippled from a history of failed relationships. 

Sex and the City fans know that Big strung Carrie along constantly (she, in turn, was addicted to his on-again, off-again ambiguous behavior). Big had a HUGE fear of commitment—so much so that he halted the wedding on the way to the wedding in a movie version of the show. 

Bottom line: Big was marked with red flags from here to kingdom come. 

You don’t have to be exactly like “Big” to be emotionally unavailable (of course, anyone from any gender can be emotionally unavailable), but you might still be exhibiting some of the traits—even if you don’t realize it. 

How to know for sure? Here are the seven “deadly” signs. 

1) You pull out of promises and plans

When we think of emotional unavailability, we tend to think of it in terms of romantic relationships. But you can also be emotionally unavailable to your friends and family. 

If you’re consistently backing out of plans and breaking promises, then there’s a good chance you’re emotionally unavailable on some level. 

If you also don’t return texts or take a long time to respond (and even when you do write back your reply is usually minimal), then you’re most likely emotionally unavailable

Of course it’s another matter altogether if you’re doing this because you’re sticking to boundaries from certain toxic and demanding relatives. 

When it comes to dating, emotionally unavailable people are often experts at ghosting. 

Ghosting means you’re permanently or periodically disappearing on someone—leaving them hanging and wondering about your whereabouts. 

So if you’re intentionally creating more space between yourself and your partner by taking more time to reply or you’re always coming up with excuses, you’re being emotionally unavailable—even ghosting, says the editorial team at Better Help

“The act of ghosting is one of the most common characteristics of emotionally unavailable people.”

2) If you do show up, you’re almost always late

Emotionally unavailable people tend to be experts at excuses. 

They can be quick to find excuses to explain why they’re late (yet again), don’t show up on time (if at all) to dates, or haven’t been able to talk to you in a while, continues Better Help. 

There’s always something going on or something they have to take care of last-minute.

Emotional unavailability and disrespect often go hand in hand.

People who are late to dates, appointments, and netting’s are basically saying that their time is more valuable, says Amie Leadingham from The Dating Coach

“This ‘my time’ versus ‘your time’ battle most especially applies to those who tend to be unreliable with making plans by either canceling at the last minute or failing to show up at all,” she says. 

“When you’re emotionally available, you show kindness and thoughtfulness towards others and understand that the time of others is just as important as your own,” Leadingham emphasizes. 

“Chronic lateness is inconsiderate, and it can also indicate that the person is avoiding relationships,”

says therapist Darlene Lancer.

If you aren’t respecting someone else’s time, quite frankly, that’s a red flag to them.

3) You think you’re looking out for yourself by keeping your options open 

In a world where options are infinite (especially when we have the internet at our fingertips), it can be easy not to commit to any one person or passion. 

Emotionally unavailable partners tend to avoid making long-term plans for fear of missing out (FOMO—it’s actually a thing).

This of course, doesn’t mean that you commit to anyone, but it means you don’t run away from relationships either. 

Being emotionally unavailable because of fear of being vulnerable and getting too close to someone is quite frankly stunting your growth.

You need to reflect and evaluate why this is and perhaps even see a licensed therapist to dig deeper into why you’re chasing choices.

4) You find it difficult to truly trust someone 

pic1684 If you display these 7 behaviors, you’re being emotionally unavailable without realizing it

A big reason people are emotionally unavailable is because a parent or guardian was emotionally unavailable to them when they were a child. 

So, they, in turn, find it difficult to trust and rely on anyone since they don’t have that foundation of trust that was their birthright. 

You may be projecting your fear of being abandoned onto your partner

“Despite not committing to a relationship…the emotionally unavailable partner may still express that they don’t trust…as being emotionally unavailable stems from a fear of getting hurt and this is their way of projecting that off of themselves and onto you,” says Brooke Schwartz from Choosing Therapy

5) You’re afraid you won’t recognize yourself if you commit to a relationship

Emotionally unavailable people are often afraid they will suffocate in a relationship. They fear that they will lose their autonomy, identity, and independence if they commit to a relationship. 

For this reason, emotionally unavailable partners might prefer having casual relationships or may have a track record of ending things when they start to get “too serious,” says Julie Marks and Sandra Silva Casabianca of PsychCentral

They’ll feel stifled easily and say that they need some space from the relationship. 

The fear of losing independence may develop in someone who grew up with overbearing caretakers or whose needs were not met in childhood, says Roxy Zarrabi, PsyD

“A heightened need for independence may manifest in dating as a tendency to fixate on a partner’s flaws or claim that ‘something is missing’.”

Zarrabi explains that people who place a high value on maintaining space within their relationships and fear losing their independence may have an avoidant or fearful avoidant attachment style. 

“The fear of losing your independence may develop as a result of growing up in a family where your independence was stifled and you felt a loss of control due to overbearing caretakers or growing up in a home where your emotional needs weren’t met and you learned early on to rely on yourself.”

This is why it’s important to really know yourself before getting into a relationship. Take the time to understand your values and belief systems, cultivate your own passions, and know what’s important to you.

When you have a strong foundation of who you are, you will attract a person who is likewise on their own authentic path.

Remember: you want to be with someone who adds to your life. If you attract someone who is taking away from it, then that could be an indication that you don’t yet know who you are yourself. 

6) You end up with enablers

Despite the title of that catchy eighties’ Paula Abdul song, opposites don’t attract;m. As a matter of fact, like attracts like. So it would make sense that emotionally unavailable people attract people who are “comfortable” with it themselves. 

“People who attract emotionally unavailable people tend to have grown up in homes where one or both parents were also emotionally unavailable,” says Lexi Inks of Byrdie

This tends to happen because we are unconsciously repeating patterns and family cycles familiar to us, adds licensed marriage and family therapist Emily Jamea, PhD.

The concept comes from IMAGO therapy (a form of relationship counseling founded by Dr. Harville Hendrix). The idea is that we tend to be attracted to partners who we had the most issues with growing up. 

IMAGO therapy has something called the “Triple P Effect”.

This means that “people pick, perceive, or provoke characteristics in a romantic partner that are reminiscent of unresolved wounds they may have had from a primary caretaker growing up,” says Jamea. 

7) You have a hard time handling emotions—yours or anyone else’s

This doesn’t mean that you don’t care about other people and their feelings, but you might not be emotionally equipped to honor someone else’s needs, say Marks and Casabianca

“Since an emotionally unavailable person isn’t comfortable exploring their own emotions, they might not be able to connect with other people’s emotional needs, either.”

Licensed clinical psychologist Lindsay Jernigan says that a lack of exploration of one’s own emotional landscape leads to a lack of personal insight, “and ultimately, limited comfort with and atonement to others’ feelings.”

Show up for yourself first so that you can eventually be emotionally available for someone else 

Emotional unavailability is usually a sign that you aren’t quite in the healthiest place to date other people. 

Spend your singleness figuring out how to heal any limiting beliefs you have. A licensed therapist is in the best position to help you get to the root of the behavior. 

Then you may be ready to couple up and feel more emotionally at ease in a relationship—if a relationship is something you want. 

Take your time and do the inner work and explore who you are as a person first so that you can also be emotionally present for someone else

The beauty about being emotionally available is that you can have a profound connection with someone. In the words of one mental health expert from The Wellness Collective

“It means you’re literally able to hold their emotions…You can be there for other people and not feel drained. In romantic relationships, it’s a game changer.”

Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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