When it comes to emotional unavailability, there are various reasons why people have issues with closeness and intimacy. As elaborated on in my book GAMES, some people have emotional unavailability issues going all the way back to their childhood. These issues, sometimes defined as R.A.D. [Reactive Attachment Disorder], classifies children who have a problem forming meaningful attachments/bonds with others. Scientists examined how the lack of attachment (stroking) that babies received over a period of time made them either not respond or react negatively to social attachments with others. In addition to the emotional, social and cognitive components, this lack of response and/or negative reactions towards attachments was also measured in the low or stabilized levels of Oxytocin these children had during pleasurable inter-activities. Children like this, without the proper counseling, tend to carry this into adulthood. Other reasons some people are emotionally unavailable include, but are not limited to, failed relationships, divorce, [sexual, emotional, physical or financial] abuse, trauma, mental illness, parental alienation, addiction, being workaholics and etc. Whatever the cause may be, the effect is the same; a person’s unwillingness or inability to be close to and share space with others. One of the other things that's worth mentioning here in regards to emotional unavailability is the trans-generational trauma First World [Original] People have suffered at the hands of western colonialism, global white supremacy, institutionalization racism and sexism. As a coping mechanism, many of us have learned to not put our thoughts or feelings out there and have been emotionally unavailable to America, so-called Americans and American ideals for generations; our livelihood and survival has depended upon that.
According to Dr. Judith Orloff, psychiatrist/author of Emotional Freedom and other books, the ten key signs that someone is emotionally unavailable are:
1. They are married or in a relationship with someone else.
2. They have one foot on the gas pedal, one foot on the brake.
3. They are emotionally distant, shut down, or can’t deal with conflict.
4. They’re mainly interested in sex, not relating emotionally or spiritually.
5. They are practicing alcoholics, sex addicts, or substance abusers.
6. They prefer long distance relationships, emails, texting, or don’t introduce you to their friends and family.
7. They are elusive, sneaky, frequently working or tired, and may disappear for periods.
8. They are seductive with you but make empty promises — their behavior and words don’t match.
9. They’re narcissistic, only consider themselves, not your needs.
10. They throw you emotional crumbs or enticing hints of their potential to be loving, then withdraw.
While some of these signs are obvious, others aren't so obvious because sometimes people send mixed messages. An example of this dilemma is a person who may be separated, still legally married or still in a quasi-relationship with their Ex while simultaneously presenting themselves as single. They may share themselves with you on various levels yet still be unavailable emotionally when it comes down to true transparency, closeness and intimacy. As a narcissist who is emotionally unavailable, they're comfortable dealing with people at a distance while simultaneously expecting them to be close to them; they desire a commitment from others that they're unwilling or sometimes unable to reciprocate. Sometimes this intimacy dilemma can become a tumultuous relationship similar to fighting Mike Tyson in a phone booth; where every time you get close, you get hurt.
Aside from recognizing these obvious signs and mixed signals, the biggest challenge for us is accepting what we see and not rationalizing these signs and signals away. Our willingness and ability to see things for what they are, not what they appear to be or what we want them to be, is the key factor in not losing time waiting for unrequited love. Not only do we suffer but our families and communities do as well. How? Because other important areas of our lives get neglected when we prioritize people who only view us as an option. One of the biggest complaints I've had and have heard from others about relationships that didn't work out is the time wasted. Whether a person is dealing with emotional unavailability temporarily, it's chronic or they've been diagnosed with the anxiety disorder Gamophobia [a fear of commitment], as partner or prospective partner it's still time we're investing that we have no way of knowing if it will ever be reciprocated. Some people are simply unwilling or unable to give of themselves in a relationship and need help to get to that place to do so. We may be one of those people and it requires an honest self assessment, willingness and ability to seek that help. Again, and even with that help, there's no way of knowing if this person, or we, will ever be emotionally available. This commitment to self development is the first true commitment they, or we, must make in regards to addressing these issues with commitment and intimacy. And it is through this commitment to self that we learn to develop the trust, honesty, courage and other qualities that are necessary to commit to others who are deserving of us. It's a risk. It's vulnerable. It's frightening at times to depend upon someone to do the right thing with our heart, but it's ultimately worth it when we've found the right person. As people of color in America, the socioeconomic landscape and cultural backdrop has historically created an environment that breeds unrequited love. There are numerous daily challenges we face and open attacks on our self identity that the dominant society doesn't have to consider such as western colonialism, global white supremacy, institutionalization racism and sexism that has distorted our ability to love ourselves and each other. Finding healthy ways to address and define ourselves outside of these conditions is also paramount to our commitment towards self development. Again, it's a risk. It's vulnerable. It's frightening at times to depend upon ourselves and each other to do the right thing outside of these conditions, but it's ultimately worth it when we've found the right alternatives.