7 signs you might be emotionally unavailable, according to psychologists.

You're in a new relationship. And it's all going well! Exciting! Big old whirlwind! But then suddenly you get this... niggling feeling. This feeling that you need to reel it all back a bit before things get too... 'official'.

If this sounds like you, chances are you might be emotionally unavailable. That is, while you want a relationship and the intimacy that goes with it - you're terrified of commitment and the feeling of vulnerability.

Watch: Here are the relationship red flags you need to look out for. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

Being emotionally unavailable doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you - it just means you've built some pretty high walls to protect yourself from getting hurt. Thing is, it might mean you're not only sabotaging your own relationships, but your happiness too.

The good news? Being emotionally unavailable is something you can change.

We speak to two psychologists and ask them everything we need to know about how to find out if you're emotionally unavailable - and how to get out of your own head.

What does being emotionally unavailable mean?

Before we dive in, let's take a quick look at what being emotionally unavailable actually... means. We all know emotional availability is obviously a very important part of healthy relationships, but what happens you're stuck at the other end?


"Being emotionally unavailable refers to someone who does not respond to your emotional needs or cues. An emotionally unavailable person has difficulty expressing or handling emotions, and getting close to other people," explains psychologist Carly Dober.

"People who are emotionally unavailable are not comfortable feeling their own emotions, sharing emotions with others, or being present and responsive to someone else’s emotions."

According to Dober, this inability to connect on a deep and intimate level is a clear sign of unavailability - but, it's not something that's just confined to romantic relationships. 

"Whether this is romantic relationships, platonic friendships, acquaintances or family members - this may lead to these connections being severed, not as nourishing as the parties would like, and people may not see you as someone they can depend on," she adds.

Paradoxically, if you're emotionally unavailable, chances are your partner might be, too. 

Emotionally unavailable people are often attracted to each other - because when you think about it, they share the same desires, and fears around intimacy and vulnerability. 

Psychologist Jana Firestone said, "When one or both partners are emotionally unavailable, this can lead to toxic relationships or leave one person feeling frustrated, alone or uncared for."


"If you are unavailable in that way, you might be unable to form meaningful connections, to be vulnerable with your partner and to provide emotional support for them."

Firestone also adds that being emotional unavailable is not something that someone simply chooses - it's rooted in different causes and it may look different depending on the individual person and the situation.

"It is important to note that emotional unavailability is not always intentional, sometimes it may be a way someone keeps themselves safe, or they are not even aware they are engaging in these behaviours," said Firestone.

What are the signs you might be emotionally unavailable?

While emotional unavailability looks different for everyone, the one common theme our experts discuss is - you guessed it - dealing with emotions.

1. You might avoid intimacy.

"If you’re emotionally unavailable, you may fear intimacy. The act of people sharing their innermost feelings and thoughts with you make you feel uncomfortable," said Dober. 

"Painful emotions, or emotions that make someone feel emotionally vulnerable, are particularly challenging to sit with or to share."

2. You might avoid commitment.

If you're avoiding the "are we official?" conversation in order to keep your options open or developing an attachment with someone else, you might be emotionally unavailable. 

"Emotionally unavailable people might prefer having casual relationships with multiple people or may end relationships if things are getting “too serious” to keep people at arm's length," said Dober.

Firestone said, "You might find yourself running at the first sign of having “the talk” and push potential partners away before things get too serious."


When it comes to friendships, Dober said "you may be hesitant to make plans or might cancel plans often, or be evasive with a firm RSVP. You become uncomfortable if someone expresses love or affection for you, or when someone treats you as a confidant."

3. You might get defensive easily.

"Emotionally unavailable people rarely initiate conversations that involve discussing relationship dynamics, hurt feelings, or requests for behavioural change," Dober said.

"You may also respond in a defensive way if these topics are aired. You might find it more comfortable to blame someone else for your problems. You might find trusting others challenging, and this may lead you to emotional detachment as well."

4. You might find it difficult to empathise with other people’s feelings.

According to Dober, emotionally unavailable people tend to “turn off” emotions, have poor insight and demonstrate low empathy (the inability to understand or share someone else’s feelings). 

"You may find it difficult to be able to relate to others, put yourself in their shoes, or consider their feelings when making a decision."

5. You aren’t available for people.

Do you kind of feel the urge to run the other way when people seek you out for emotional support? 

Dober said, "If you are around when people want emotional support, you might minimise their emotions by trying to change the subject, or simply withdrawing from the conversation. You might also persistently want to keep topics “light” so conversations stick to surface level, comfortable themes."


Firestone adds, "To avoid engaging with your own emotions, you reject the needs of those around you, dismissing them as unimportant. You may appear to have a distinct lack of empathy for others, but this could be your own protective mechanism at play."

6. You favour superficial connections.

Another way to spot emotionally unavailability? Firestone said to look at the friendships you keep. 

Are they deeper, personal relationships? Or are they a little more superficial?

"You tend to keep friendships and conversations at a surface level, unless firing up about something you can back up with evidence. Friendships are most comfortable at acquaintance level."

7. Relationships feel like work.

It should feel good to be connected to someone - but if working on a relationship feels more like a task, this is another red flag.

"Relationships can feel like a burden and hard work, with very little reward. You feel depleted by the effort required," said Firestone.

What are the common causes of being emotionally unavailable?

According to our experts, the causes behind emotional unavailability are differing - and some might be stronger than others.

First off, Dober said you need to take cultural and gender influences into account and think about the role they play in someone’s tendency to be emotionally unavailable. 

However, both experts reveal the causes might also run deeper - especially if you're willing to be in a relationship with someone, but just find it really difficult to bring down those barriers of intimacy.

Dober said, "There could also be a history of trauma that the person might have, where they had to hide their true emotions, and to pretend things are “okay” and not serious which can be an incredibly difficult habit to break."


She adds, "Developmentally, emotional unavailability can also occur when someone’s caregivers deny affection and emotional support, or reprimand the child for emotional expressions. These children tend to repeat this pattern in their adult relationships, leaving them unable to forge healthy reciprocal adult bonds."

"Those children who may not have experienced adequate responses to their emotional needs may also be more likely to develop an avoidant attachment style, a form of disrupted attachment."

"This means they will tend to be more independent, physically and emotionally, and have a harder time getting intimate with others or relying on them."

Firestone said it can also come down to current life circumstances - maybe you just started a new job or you've had some family issues you're struggling to get through.

"It can also occur as a result of current circumstances such as extreme stress or challenges with mental health, or major disruptions to life, including grief or loss that might cause a person to shut down."

What's the best way to navigate this?

Contrary to what you might think, emotional unavailability can be managed - "it's not a life sentence", said Firestone. However, sitting at either end can be painful - one-sided relationships aren't fun for anyone. 

The good news is that there are some things you can do.


"You can absolutely shift away from this and become someone who thrives in emotional intimacy and connection," said Firestone.

And it all starts with acknowledging that there's an issue.

"While it might feel incredibly confronting at first, getting to know yourself and your emotions is the big first step... By learning to identify the feelings you might be having, you will start to notice what they actually feel like. The whole messy spectrum of emotions," she said.

This can mean getting comfortable with being uncomfortable for a while, adds Firestone. 

"Then, once you have become more comfortable with identifying your emotions, try sharing them with someone you trust. Practise linking the two together – noticing and acknowledging the feeling, then learning to express it in a healthy way."

As well as acknowledging the issue, seeking help is the next important step.

Firestone said, "Talking with a therapist is a great place to start, especially given the complexities that may arise if the root of the issue stems from childhood. It is incredibly important to have a safe way to navigate your past, while exploring your newfound emotions."

Could you relate with any of the above signs? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Feature image: Getty

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