As humans, images of what we’re supposed to want are all around us.
Do you find that relationships feel like work? Do you hate it when people get too close and don’t want to talk about your feelings?
Well, you might be guarded or emotionally unavailable.
Being guarded can harm your relationships, but luckily, you can work on taking the first step to recognizing why you’re guarded in the first place.
1. Were You Ridiculed for your Feelings?
People with big feelings can get teased for them and learn to hide those big feelings away.
If you’re an adult and you find you’re emotionally closed off in romantic relationships, you may have learned to shut down your emotions at a younger age.
Children prone to excitement or outbursts of affection (excessive hugging) are often told to modulate their feelings and shrink themselves down.
Learning to manage your emotions is, of course, a critical skill. Some children take this a step too far.
They hide their feelings about what they’re excited about, and those behaviors can carry over into adulthood.
Hiding your feelings is a sign of being guarded. You don’t want others to know how excited you are or how happy or even unhappy.
Therefore, you don’t open up much to other people, bottling everything inside.
2. Is Your Personality Predisposed to Being Guarded?
Sometimes, it’s easy to think of emotionally unavailable people as having suffered significant trauma. That might not apply to you.
Some people operate differently than others naturally, rather than because they have suffered from something in the past. Instead, they might not have that emotional drive like other people.
Therefore, you may not need to express your feelings or display affection to feel love.
Different people have different needs in relationships. If you are in a relationship whose love language differs from yours, you may have some issues.
The love languages are:
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Physical touch
- Acts of service
- Receiving gifts
So, for example, if they expect and need loving words, but you’re more interested in acts of service, those discrepancies can cause tension.
Clashing personalities rarely make a good long-term relationship, so be open and honest about yourself as much as you can, even if you are guarded.
3. Were You Taught to be Guarded?
You may have been encouraged or forced to be guarded as a defense mechanism.
Many parents do their best, but that doesn’t mean they get everything right. Parenting is such a difficult job (that doesn’t come with a guidebook) that most parents make mistakes—some are more impactful than others.
However, many kids are told that they should “stop crying” or otherwise have their feelings minimized. That happens even in “healthy” households, and some people internalize that more than others.
Unlocking deep childhood issues isn’t fun for anyone, but if you notice that you struggle to get close to people, examining your previous home life might provide you with some insight.
Whether you grew up in an emotionally or physically abusive household or come from a culture that doesn’t teach emotional expression, you may have learned to be guarded by those around you.
You might have had to be guarded at school or with friends if your home life was less than ideal to “protect” your family or yourself. You may also have been expected to parent younger siblings, which led to acting more emotionally mature than you were.
That can lead to repression and unavailability down the line.
4. Past Relationship Problems?
Physical and emotional abusive leaves deep trauma in its wake, and it can be incredibly difficult to recover from those wounds.
It’s possible, but it takes a lot of emotional work. If you haven’t done that work, you may be closed off with your partners to protect yourself from being so vulnerable again.
Also, surviving an abusive relationship may make it difficult for a person to trust their instincts and feelings. Most people in an abusive relationship were attracted to that person for some reason or have some good memories with that abusive person.
It may be hard for you to think that the next person won’t also be abusive because they’re nice at the start of a relationship.
5. Do You Have Low Self-Esteem?
If your self-esteem is low, it may not be easy to understand why other people want to love you. You might feel unworthy of their love and affection, so you can’t engage reciprocally.
Low self-esteem can be lowered even further when you constantly compare yourself to other people.
Maybe you’re comparing your life to your friends, your relationship with your parents, or your reality to someone else’s.
Perceiving that you’re lacking may make you unwilling to get close to other people, lest they find out that you’re “a fraud.”
6. Have You Lost Yourself in a Relationship Before?
Being in love doesn’t mean surrendering your own identity.
If your romantic relationship had previously taken over your entire identity, you might be unwilling to open up. It is easy to merge your identity with your partner’s and lose yourself.
In the 1999 movie “Runaway Bride,” Julia Roberts’ character, Maggie, always says that her favorite kind of eggs are the same as whatever her partner’s favorite eggs are. When she finally decides to figure out who she is, she tries all different kinds of eggs to find out her preferred style.
If your last relationship left you out of touch with who you are, it could be scary to go into another relationship. What if that happens again?
It’s easier to keep people at arm’s length, so you don’t forget what kind of eggs you like.
The trick is, it’s possible to have your eggs and eat them too. Healthy relationships are the sum of two distinct people who work together, and they don’t require one partner to disappear into the other.
7. Do You Struggle to Express Your Feelings to Yourself?
There’s a lot of value in journaling about your feelings, but it’s not easy for everyone. However, writing things down for yourself in private can make it easier to share with someone else in public.
Emotions are messy, and many struggles to sort them out for themselves. If journaling isn’t your jam, mindfulness meditation is a great way to take notice of your thoughts and feelings without self-judgment.
It’s not easy!
Those skills are critical to healthily expressing your emotions, and if you can’t figure out how to do it, you’ll likely hit roadblocks in your relationships.
8. Do You Believe in the Perfect Partner?
This might sound counter-intuitive, but you’ll always be disappointed if you expect perfection.
Using some perceived expectation of a perfect romantic relationship is a recipe for disaster. By pointing out all of the ” wrong ” things with your partner, you can justify not getting close to them.
What the ideal partner looks like will vary, but no matter what that partner looks like, they won’t magically appear for you.
No one is perfect, and there isn’t necessarily a perfect person for you, ready-made and out there in the world just waiting.
Instead, let go of the idea of your ideal mate. Begin to work on yourself and grow with the real person in front of you.
If you’re the person in the relationship who’s emotionally guarded, you may be causing your relationship to fail.
Through self-reflection, emotional work, and growth, you can overcome this emotional unavailability and have the deep, strong, healthy relationships you deserve.