Emotionally Unavailable Men – Avoidant Attachment?
The media and your friends want to condemn men who just can’t seem to relate the way we do. What’s wrong with them, anyway? They should just decide to be like us. We are the open, generous, caring gender that is the model of humanity.
We can take a look at the wonderful theory that explains so much about what went wrong in childhood, and how it impacts how we relate in the present. If we understand Attachment Theory, we can understand those men. And, of course, ourselves.
Elizabeth Wedington and I created a Practice presented in our book, Stop Depriving Yourself: A Self Care Practice to Remove the Obstacles to Living Life Fully available October, 2018. It includes a 10 step guide at the end so that you can engage in the Practice on your own – often preferred by those liking the avoidant style. See my post, “Stop Depriving Yourself,” to read the Introduction.
Tons of research has established that we all fall along a continuum of kinds of attachment. Securely attached is the ideal, and the one we all want. Anxious attachers want closeness way beyond normal, feeling needy and demanding of their partners.
And then there are the Avoidant Attachers. AKA emotionally unavailable.
Each of us developed one of these three styles (and the ambivalent one which is flipping back and forth between anxious and avoidant) developed during early childhood. Those of us who had mothers who couldn’t really embrace motherhood don’t grow up feeling securely attached. We may want to over attach, claiming the neediness of the anxious style. Or we may find that our mother is so upset by those demands that we elect the avoidant one instead. Children who were left in cribs or playpens, whose tears weren’t responded to, or who were scolded and shamed for having needs will likely pull back into an avoidant style.
So if we know this, we can have compassion for that man who just can’t access emotions in the way we want. We can ask him to look at how meditation might help him be happier by reading Meditate Your Way Out of Avoidant Attachment. Dr. Joe Dispenza has created a science based meditation that allows us to look at how we want to be different, to change, and then meditate ourselves toward the way we want to be. So it is all in the hands of your man. He doesn’t have to go into therapy to change in ways you want him to. He gets to look for himself at what would feel good. And what, in himself, doesn’t. It’s in his hands! He’ll like that much better than going to a couples counselor who will side with you in seeing that he needs to be different.
And what else can a therapist do? When seeing a couple like this, I would ask the man what he thinks is reasonable to work on, and they usually say, “nothing.” They know their partner has issues with them, but they don’t know what to do about being emotionally unavailable. And, they have no internal motivation to learn how. It doesn’t feel right to poke around in his world when he doesn’t want me to.
Now I have a way to engage men like him.
Put it in his hands.
Ask him to read Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, and come to a meditation gathering I offer. Then he can see what he himself wants to change. And how he wants to become. It’s his. Now I can be of help to him. And indirectly to you.
Here’s some more about why so many men become unemotional. Since mothers tend to push boys out into the world more quickly than girls, it makes sense that boys would become “independent.” Independence of course can be a good thing, but when it is premature, it becomes the avoidant style. In this way, parents teach their sons to develop the skills of Avoidant Attachment.
But what about the person who is in relationship with an avoider? Right now we are talking about the avoidant man because of the popularity of this phrase. But all of us can be in that realm.
I was a strong avoider. I have healed it so much that I can look back and be amazed at the difference. The problem is, I didn’t know that it was inhibiting my life. I thought I was a studious, introspective introvert. That’s all. It wasn’t until I divorced and moved to another state that I realized that I suffered this way of life that just didn’t work.
Your friends and perhaps your lover may not know either. If you read up on it, you can see if it would be helpful to examine your own style. And if you have one of those men in your life who just can’t seem to access and employ his emotions, you can gently and gradually educate him.
If he is open to learning, you stand the chance of developing a truly wonderful, intimate relationship. When avoiders want to examine how they interact, and what it deprives them of, you together can develop intimacy.
It goes like this. You want to talk about a conflict. He freezes up, saying not now, maybe later. You know it will never happen later. It never does.
So now, instead of critically reminding him that he never wants to talk, you can ask him to think about how he wants to avoid. Ask him to work with you to manage the conversation a little at a time, at a pace he can handle.
Now he will feel loved and supported. His lover hasn’t backed down. You hasn’t shamed him for how he is. He will feel safer coming forward. And over time, can develop trust that he no longer has to avoid in his classic ways.
This can be a paradigm for the two of you. Accept how you are, and create wonderful intimacy around it. It is also the route to evolving into a securely attached relationship.
And there’s more.