This question from came from a brilliant counselor and healer who opened a powerful discussion about emotionally unavailable men…
I would be happy to add some questions/ideas that I think would be important to include regarding relationships. Here are two patterns that I often see within my clients, and that I have struggled with in the past:
1. Being attracted to wounded people that require being in the role of caregiver/teacher/healer. In this dynamic, we are initially drawn to them because we recognize ourselves in them, or perhaps, they align with a role we have played out in familial relationships, or other dynamics. Initially, we find fulfillment in the relationship through helping the other, but the relationship dynamic requires that 1. The other person be wounded and therefore unable to give back to their partner (us) 2. Us to be looking at our partners as needing to change – not accepting them and loving them as they are. It goes deeper than this and there are many layers and overlaying dynamics, but I imagine you know exactly the dynamic I am referring to. We find ourselves attracted to emotionally unavailable men/partners and wonder why they are not fulfilling our needs, and yet we ourselves are unable to tend to and fill our own needs, and ultimately do not feel ourselves deserving of receiving love.
2. That leads into the second common dynamic that I encounter… we do not know how to give love to ourselves, we do not feel ourselves deserving of love, and oftentimes, we do not even know what it truly means to love ourselves (or perhaps, more simply put, we do not know what it means to love, period). We generally have very poor role models in this area, and numerous societal norms that flat out reject the idea of self-love all together.
Ultimately, to find love in this world, we must first find it within our own hearts. When we are full, we no longer seek someone else to fulfill us, therefore leaving us open to both give and receive love without fear, a sense of lack, or with putting unrealistic expectations on another person. We are able to open our hearts knowing that we can give love freely because there is more than enough.
So, that is my $.02! Looking forward to seeing your book!
Ah, the bane of being attracted to emotionally unavailable or wounded men. And the resulting BIG, “Why the heck did I do that?” question afterwards.
Like you, I’ve seen it with my clients, and I’ve gone through it myself.
I know it all too well.
We attract men who are wounded or emotionally unavailable thinking we can love and care for them enough, so they’ll heal and get over the past.
As women, it’s in our natures to be caregivers. We can be generous to a fault.
We think that if we just do more, are more understanding, more giving, they’ll become emotionally available.
Yet, somehow, it just doesn’t quite work that way.
I was in one of those relationships with a man years ago.
I excused his inability to give back emotionally, because he had been deeply wounded in a previous relationship.
I thought by showing him the love and acceptance he said hadn’t received before, I could help him open his heart and love again.
So I willingly accepted his emotional volatility. Gave him unceasing amounts of love and attention. Catered to his unpredictable and unreliable nature.
Looking back, I see it was kind of like living with a two-year old. But two year-olds grow up. This guy didn’t.
And after a few years of constant caretaking, I was not only exhausted, I was emotionally drained.
Taking care of his emotional needs was a full-time job.
I realized I had to start taking care of my own needs, or I wouldn’t have anything left for either one of us.
But when I started to do that, my partner didn’t like it. In fact, he resented it.
I was less available to cater to his unending needs. And like a two year old, he threw tantrums to show me how MUCH he didn’t like it.
I had unconsciously stepped into the role of a parent and caregiver under the guise of being in love.
As parents, we may have to deal with tantrums and immature, selfish behavior from our young children.
But as adults… with adults? We really don’t have to.
The problem is no matter how much we may love someone who’s wounded or behaving badly, if they’re not willing to grow and change, the relationship stays stuck in that pattern.
When I was no longer willing to be the unconditionally accepting parent and caregiver I had been, the resentment and animosity between us grew.
We went to countless therapists and counselors, but none of them could help. He simply didn’t want to take responsibility for ANY part of the relationship, or his behavior.
Why should he? From the beginning, our unspoken agreement had been that I would give and he would take.
To him, if something wasn’t working, it was my fault. I just needed to DO more.
But I was drained. I had nothing left to give… to him or to me.
And without the relationship changing, I was dying a slow death.
I had to leave.
Getting free of the drama, trauma and pain of that relationship felt liberating.
But it was also one of the most difficult things I ever had to do.
All that drama and trauma had actually become addictive.
I had started to think that’s what love is (it’s not by the way).
My emotional wound of needing to be needed fit in perfectly with his wound of needing to be taken care of and a constant need for attention.
I grew up with an absentee father, so it made sense that I yearned to feel needed.
I also grew up with an abusive stepfather.
So there was a LOT of drama, trauma and pain growing up, which made it easy to become attached to a man who replicated those same familiar patterns.
Sometimes we mistake something we grew up with for love, because it feels familiar.
It doesn’t mean that’s what it is.
You’re absolutely right, Linda. To find love we have to find it within our own hearts first.
We have to give love to ourselves before we can give it to another.
And just as nobody can do that work for us, we also can’t do that work for somebody else.
My mistake was both in not learning to give love to myself first and not healing my emotional wounds.
It was also in thinking I could somehow give someone else enough love that they would start loving themselves, heal from their wounds and become emotionally available in a relationship.
It just doesn’t work that way.
But after I left that relationship, the question then became WHY did I attract this to begin with? And what could I do to make sure it didn’t happen again?
What have you experienced being with a wounded or emotionally unavailable man?
What did you learn?