Withholding emotional vulnerability in relationships

Relationships. Withholding emotional vulnerability. Why does it trigger you when someone does it in your relationship? The first thing l am going to say here is this:


It isn't about them, it's about you. This article will be a long one as there is so much to cover and address here.

Hold up now!

l am not saying that you might not be putting up with unreasonable behaviour from a love interest or a friend, but let's take a deeper dive here, and remember that we cannot control others but we can alter our own stuff.

This leaves us less in 'victimhood' and we can feel more in our own power.

So, back to the navigation.

It is not what is going on with them, not how they are failing you where you can gain freedom, peace and happiness. When, without enough contact, an avalanche of fear-based thoughts throws you into a spiral of pain, self-doubt and catastrophic thinking.

Obviously, it is entirely normal to want to be with and be excited by being with the person you are in a relationship with, however, this is not what we are talking about here.

We are talking about something that takes over within you and is driven and compulsive, that makes you feel on edge, whereby you cannot think straight, or about anything else. It can feel frightening and overwhelming.

Whereby if you don't meet up, see each other, talk, or connect, that translates internally to something being lost, or 'felt' as lost.

No vocabulary around this for you, but it's familiar. Then the grieving experience kicks in. Your thoughts are fear-based, catastrophic and paranoiac. As well as what feels like a descent into sadness, you feel abandoned and not chosen. Meanwhile, your partner is totally unaware that this is all going on and they are just getting on with their day.

All because you don't receive a call or a message from them that signals connection.

This is wildly painful for you and calls shame into the felt experience too, when you can't seem to self-soothe or adequately distract yourself, and deep down inside you, your own inner critic tells you that you "should not" be feeling like this. On top of it all!

Then their call or message comes in and you pretend that everything is fine, when it's not.

Is this sounding familiar?

They tell you they are going to have an early night or catch up on whatever it might be, but basically not get together with you. You play it cool, you don't feel good though, and once again something feels lost and your thoughts are distracted.

The longing distorts reality.

This really is about an attachment trauma

It can show up in the mind and the body because the mind cannot make peace with the trauma. When someone is unavailable or distanced, what is perceived is the threat of the disconnect. This triggers and lights up our nervous system. It interferes with our well-being and sense of peace.

"If only l had said this..." or "They need to do this..." Such discomfort and off you go into a kind of hell.

This wears us down. It is not the other person's responsibility to save us here. It's ours, by way of educating ourselves.

So here we must try to work out what the reality is. Is it our inability to feel balanced and our safe normal self around someone who is reticent in their need to connect? Or is a relationship with this type of person going to work for us and be emotionally sustainable?

All good questions you will be desperate for the answers to.

This is not about them being a poor quality person by the way, or you for that matter, although you will feel a heady mix of anger one minute and consummate sadness the next, and may be driven to irrational behaviour.

One way around this is to tell them about your own needs around connection and explain why and where it comes from. However, here you will risk their capacity for understanding as well as their willingness to meet your needs, most especially if these needs are something they cannot relate to, or call out as a neediness that is undesirable for them as they manage their own needs themselves.

Such discomfort!

Sick with worry. 

You will want relief. It's normal to want relief from suffering. You might be looking to follow certain steps that will rescue you from this uneasiness. Do research for a successful way to behave to garner the reconnection. 

But this is so not about what you can reclaim from them, and so much more about addressing the dynamic of your emotional origins. This is about the development of self rather than removing the obstacles that get in the way. Also your struggle with yourself and in turn others who trigger those historic wounds. It depends also on how you re-examine the resources that your parents or early caregivers had available to them. It might have nothing to do with their capacity for loving you, but more about what got in the way of it.

Either way, it had nothing to do with you.

Learning this is as pivotal as it is the key to recovery from early trauma.

Also our first and most primary need is to be attached. We cannot and do not survive without physical attachment when we are infants as a species. Emotional attachment is also equally pivotal for our healthy development.

A big clue, though, is when and where you find yourself in re-occurring patterns and relationship disappointments that show up at your door and happen over and over again. This most definitely signals attachment trauma.

Each recovery will be unique. It is not one size fits all here.

In coaching and therapy, investigation of your early years is both essential and necessary. The work is long-term. Unless you wish only to deal with how you can put methods and skills around your current situation. Short-term solution,  short-term respite.

One thing l use to help those in coaching with me is a flower remedy specifically for the repetition of patterns that no longer serve us.

Please know that the attachment injury comes from our history, our family system, and our childhood relationships. This creates a template for how we create our adult relationships, but the vocabulary around this is that this is an attachment injury that we are dealing with here. If we can name it and give it an identity, through our awareness, we can begin to heal it. It involves re-parenting.

This can depend upon our adaptability.

Change is not possible without awareness.

When we have this attachment injury, and it gets triggered, and it shows up as longing, coupled with intrusive thoughts, we assume that it is about what we are not getting and we focus on that.

It isn't.

It is about what we never received as children in our past that projects itself onto your relationship. So how do we work with this? By realising there is a victim mentality here at play.

This can evoke a feeling and need to reconcile no matter what, and even if after risking the exposure of our own vulnerability in the sincere honesty of disclosure, the other still chooses not to meet us where we 'hurt'. Whereby we will then in turn choose to overlook this, as the suffering of losing them seems so much worse. We can often pick the short-term to kill the pain we are in.

This is our work, not theirs. It must be our choice to navigate our own wounds and learn how to self-care and self-soothe by way of changing our thoughts and therefore in turn our beliefs.

This results in changing our feelings and driving them away from the assumed danger and the stories we tell ourselves. The observing rational part of our reasoning mind needs to play the major role in our thinking. Otherwise, unresolved childhood grief wins the day.

Separate the story from the intensity of the emotion.

This is challenging work because the longing distorts reality. There is no magic 'one, two, three' solution that heals the not feeling seen, heard, known or understood that we never received during our childhood. But it is the place where we can truly identify where the healing needs to take place and be addressed, and we can choose to do that.

The alternative can often be seen as choosing a different kind of person, one that will and can make you feel 'safer'. Someone who does not get reciprocally triggered by your need for connection. A securely attached partner might be a better choice, for sure.

However, with dating being as precarious as it currently is already, in the 'swipe' world, where being replaced super quickly can seem the easy option, coming across securely attached people, as well as finding and sharing chemistry with them that can translate into 'long-term', has never seemed harder.

We now have awareness of so many things that are unacceptable, as well as the vagaries of what they shouldn't do, and what you shouldn't do. Dating has become like an assault course where so many of the old ways of behaving have been replaced by not being accountable because there are so many ways to hide, block and disregard. As a result, truly relating has become flimsier and flimsier.

Your healing process also depends on your support system.

Whether you work with a coach or a therapist to help you learn new ways and new things, the feeling of haunting loneliness when facing your own attachment trauma is far better shared with someone in a therapeutic capacity who can, by your disclosure, offer you a chance to really see and know that the lack of focus you received had nothing to do with your worth.

Feeling included, as well as a feeling of belonging, increases our ability to heal and experience the knock-on, beneficial effect of what is called 'limbic resonance', which is the sharing of deep emotional states. This soothes the feeling of trauma and injury in where it is felt also in our bodies.

This support hugely helps, and is why in my coaching l offer WhatsApp support by way of sponsoring, so that help and presence are felt, as well as actually being at hand.

Like plants need water, we need the water of connection too to grow.

New skills and modalities can be learned.

Reciprocity between two people is a necessary part of a healthy loving, caring relationship. The quality of this is felt, it is energetic.

Awareness, empathy, engagement and emotional connection maintain this felt energy. It is an invitation to closeness and when it is received and responded to there is a felt sense of completion through its reciprocity. It can be of equal response or of more, or of less, but it is the essence of 'relating' and has a feeling of nourishment and well-being about it.

When it is ignored by way of non-initiating or no response, it lowers the quality of the bond. If the invitation put out is not responded to, or picked up on, it is so confusing for the person who put it out and understandably will feel disappointing.

If it is discussed, and vulnerability is also risked by the person who is offering it, and it is still ignored, then valuing the vulnerability it took to bring it up will be not only being ignored but felt as ignored, diluting the possibility of real closeness.

Maybe the reason here is a need to ignore other's vulnerability because it reminds them of their own which is uncomfortable for them or it is seen as a weakness.

Either way, it can be entirely reasonable to assume that the lack of response might be felt as lonely.

If a person does not engage in, or practise knowing themselves through vulnerability, it is highly unlikely they will be able to meet you in this place of observing.

That can feel incredibly lonely and even when you are aware that dealing with your issues and discomfort around this is your responsibility, it can nevertheless provoke a sense of feeling like you are the only person actually in the relationship.

To conclude here, where the softening and the disclosure of one is met, yet ignored by the other, is it down to their ability and their willingness to accept and give what is needed?

I think it is... l believe it is a choice, and at the end of the day whether it can be either lived with or lived without.

Please remember we are hard-wired to 'connect'. When we do, our hearts can relax and we can flourish. Like plants need water, we need the water of connection too to grow.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, N8
Written by Gail Berry, Emotional and Relationship Coach
London, N8

Written by Gail Berry Emotional Coach - both a therapist and an alternative medical practitioner who works with healing people’s core wounds and uses Bach Flower Remedies alongside talking and behavioural therapy to make real change and transformation possible.

07771 715072
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