Saturday, April 2, 2011

Shutting Down - Emotional Unavailability.

When we've allowed unhealthy patterns to develop in a long-term relationship, trying to limit previously-accepted behaviors by setting a new boundary, can feel like trying to saw a 2"x4" with a carrot. We may find ourselves on the receiving end of temper tantrums, verbal and emotional abuse, or icy silences and rejection.

Emotional rejection can be a powerful tool of manipulation, because we all need to feel recognised, valued, worthy ... loved. If someone punishes us with rejecting behavior whenever we say something they don't want to hear, it can be confusing and distressing trying to set and maintain a boundary.

Being rejected when we speak up, may stir up feelings of hopelessness about the relationship. What's the point of trying to be honest with someone who can't, or won't, listen or hear? Why try to speak our truth, if we are only going to be rejected and ignored for it? For some of us, it may feel so intensely frustrating to be thwarted in this way, that we will begin to act out, in an effort to provoke a response, any response, from the other person. This doesn't work, because we only feel embarassed and ashamed of our own behavior once we calm down. I've done that many times in the past, and felt awful afterwards. I don't want to be that kind of person, who responds to unkindness with my own anger.

If we allow our boundaries to be trampled because we're afraid that setting them, reaffirming them, maintaining them, will result in punishing silences, we are teaching the other person how to manipulate us. If anger and rejection from our partner/family member/friend the first time we speak up or set a boundary, causes us to let them trample the boundary the next time they walk up to it, we have shown them we don't have the self-respect to say "Back up, please, you're standing on my toe."

I don't need to allow another person's silences or rejection of me, to alter how I feel about myself. I am the same person before and after their unacceptable behavior - I haven't changed. I don't deserve it, I didn't cause it, I can't control it, and I can't cure it. That's between them and their conscience.

We don't deserve to be treated unkindly, but we cannot force anyone else to change.

If the rejection is causing me hurt, I can seek comfort and solace in my Higher Power. I have never asked for help, and not received it. I need to be willing to let go of the other person's choices and behaviors, not sit obsessing about our interaction, trying to imagine a different outcome. It was what it was, and it is what it is.


  1. That is powerful
    So often I encounter an ego or a disfuntional person or denial. If I speak up I am not responsible for their reaction.It is uncomforable-- experiencing the results of their reaction. I agree do not obsess
    over it.
    It is a waste of time and energy. I try to read some approved litature, then it will all make sense, not only will I feel calm and balanced my thinkling is adjusted about the situation. Love it

  2. I think for me I have to speak up for myself even if it is likely the other person won't react the way I want. I do it for me and accept that the outcome is out of my hands. If have already decided how things are going to turn out they usually turn out just as I expected. Sometimes if I am open and have no expectation I get a surprise. Being honest about my feelings is a release and helps me to not have resentments. It is self respect and not about the other person.

  3. Thank you for this post I needed to read this tonight. Y has been living in fear this weekend which has affected our home. I still feel responsible for making him feel good about himself. We are going through alot of money problems which can cause such strife for us.

  4. I loved this post and could so relate to being, "on the receiving end of temper tantrums, verbal and emotional abuse, or icy silences and rejection." Navigating through and around that is always so stressful and exhausting to me. I am especially vulnerable right now when my mother is in poor health. This is when I know I must detach...again.


  5. From experience I have found that those who emotionally reject or withhold are also the ones who will lavishly give tangable rewards and presents to get what THEY WANT. It's all about control. Manulipulation.

  6. The angry outbursts and defensive positioning is something that used to bother me. I would feel the rejection. Now I realize that it is alcoholic behavior and does not have to do with me. I don't take it personally and either walk away or remain silent. If it becomes too much, then I can choose to leave the scene. I think that it is interesting how alcoholics not in recovery dislike to take responsibility for their actions. Much better to blame someone else!