Step-by-step guide on how to be emotionally available

How to be emotionally available: Emotionally unavailable meaning, Emotionally unavailable signs , and Emotional walls

Estimated reading time: 20 minutes

When we are constantly entangled in the chaos of our daily lives, grappling with work pressures and the never-ending stream of distractions, genuine emotional connection can end up taking a backseat. Learn how to be emotionally available.

Being emotionally available is about tapping into our hearts and cultivating the empathy and openness required for authentic connections. Whether you’re seeking deeper connections with loved ones, navigating the complexities of dating and relationships, or simply desiring a more fulfilling existence, embracing emotional availability can be a profound catalyst for positive change.

In this blog, we will embark on a journey to explore the essence of emotional availability and discover practical ways to cultivate this invaluable trait in our lives.

How to be emotionally available: Emotionally unavailable meaning, Emotionally unavailable signs , and Emotional walls

The term “emotionally unavailable” refers to a person’s inability or unwillingness to engage in emotional intimacy or establish deep emotional connections with others. This can happen in platonic or romantic relationships.

When you have your emotional walls up, you tend to guard and protect your emotions, creating barriers that make it difficult for others to get close to your vulnerable inner world.

It can be challenging to express your true feelings, share personal experiences, or establish deep emotional connections. You may find yourself adopting defense mechanisms, such as detachment, deflection, or emotional distance, to shield yourself from potential emotional pain or rejection. You may have developed this self-protective mechanism in response to past hurts, betrayals, or emotional traumas.

While these walls provide temporary security, they also hinder your ability to form authentic connections and prevent you from experiencing the depth of emotional intimacy and fulfillment that comes with vulnerability and openness.

Emotionally unavailable signs

Are YOU emotionally unavailable? | 8 Emotionally Unavailable Signs In Yourself

It’s hard to express your feelings

Sometimes, it can be hard to figure out how you’re feeling and explain it to others. You might struggle to find the right words or have a clear understanding of your emotions.

You avoid emotional conversations

When conversations get deep or touch on personal feelings, you tend to steer away from them. You may give surface-level answers, change the subject or make jokes to avoid discussing your own emotions or getting too vulnerable.

You’re afraid of getting too close to people

You might feel anxious or afraid when it comes to forming close relationships. The thought of being emotionally vulnerable and potentially getting hurt can make you hesitant to open up and let others in.

You give mixed signals or are inconsistent

When you’re emotionally unavailable, you might unknowingly send mixed signals or act inconsistently, and this can make your partner confused and frustrated. At times, you might show emotional closeness and affection, but then suddenly withdraw or become distant. This up-and-down behavior creates insecurity and makes the relationship feel unstable. Your partner may struggle to understand where they stand with you and find it hard to trust the connection between you.

You feel emotionally detached or numb

Sometimes, you may experience a sense of emotional detachment or not feel much at all, even in situations where strong emotions are expected. It’s challenging for you to connect with and show your feelings to others.

It’s difficult to trust others

Trusting people and opening up emotionally can be tough for you. Past experiences of betrayal or hurt might make it hard to believe that others won’t do the same, which can make it challenging to fully trust and share your emotions with others.

You are overly independent 

You prefer to handle things on your own and not depend too much on others for emotional support. You may find it difficult to ask for help or share your feelings and burdens with others.

You have superficial relationships, but lack close ones

Your relationships may feel surface-level, lacking depth and emotional intimacy. It can be hard for you to establish and maintain deep connections where you can openly discuss your emotions and thoughts.

RECOGNIZE ANY OF THESE SIGNS IN YOURSELF?

Take the next step towards becoming more emotionally available. 

Schedule a consultation with our vetted therapists who specialize in helping you connect with yourself and others on an emotional level.

Do you have an emotionally unavailable friend or partner? | 6 Emotionally Unavailable Signs In Someone

They are inconsistent in their actions and words

They may send mixed signals or act inconsistently, leaving you unsure about where you stand with them emotionally. They say they want a relationship, but they perpetually keep their options open in dating. They say they want to get to know you and be closer to you, but they consistently seem uninterested when you open up, and they don’t show genuine support when you are struggling. They say that they want to spend time with you, but more often than not, they cancel plans or reschedule at the last minute,

They avoid deep emotional conversations

They may shy away from discussing their feelings or personal experiences that require vulnerability. They may divert or deflect when the conversation becomes emotionally intense or uncomfortable. As a result, it feels like you don’t really know them even after spending a good amount of time together.

They don’t initiate plans or communication with you

You might notice signs of emotional unavailability in someone if they consistently don’t initiate plans or conversations with you. This could mean that they are not actively taking the initiative to engage with you or invest in the relationship. They may not prioritize spending time together or showing interest in your life. This lack of initiation could indicate a limited emotional investment or a reluctance to take the relationship to a deeper level.

They don’t follow-through on their word

They might make commitments or promises but fail to follow through on them consistently. They may frequently cancel plans or change their minds at the last minute, making it difficult to trust their words and rely on their actions.

They might express interest in your life, dreams, or goals, but consistently fail to take action or show genuine support. They may make empty promises or fail to provide the emotional support they initially promised.

Hot and cold behavior

They alternate between moments of affection and periods of withdrawal. They exhibit periods of intense closeness, showering you with attention and affection, on their timing. But when you want to connect, they emotionally withdraw or detach.

They don’t show an interest in getting to know you

They frequently forget pertinent things about you or your life. They don’t seem curious about you. For example, they don’t seem interested when you open up or they don’t ask questions about you.

They don’t try to understand your experiences, interests, or values, which are important elements of building an emotional connection. This behavior suggests a limited willingness to engage on an intimate level and may indicate that they are not fully present or invested in the relationship.

Do you repeatedly find yourself in emotionally unavailable relationships?

Schedule a consultation with our vetted therapists who can help you work through deep-rooted issues that keep you in stuck patterns.

Why am I emotionally unavailable?

Core beliefs that impact our ability to form deep connections with others

A person’s beliefs can significantly contribute to their emotional unavailability. Beliefs serve as a lens through which individuals interpret and make sense of the world, including their emotions and relationships. We all carry various beliefs regarding self-reliance, fear of rejection, or past experiences of emotional pain. These beliefs shape our mindset, behaviors, and expectations in relationships, ultimately impacting our capacity to form deep emotional connections and openly express our emotions. Continuously challenging and reframing these beliefs is one of the crucial steps in becoming more emotionally available.

Here are some examples of beliefs that can impact our ability to form deep connections with others: 

        1. “Relying on others for support or showing that I am hurt, sad, upset, and so on about something is a sign of weakness.”

      2. “Why open up when people will inevitably hurt me or let me down.”

This belief may stem from past experiences of betrayal or abandonment that can cause someone to guard their emotions and avoid deep emotional connections.

  1. “I don’t deserve love or connection.”
  2. “If I show people my fears, insecurities, or vulnerabilities, they might leave because it’ll be too much for them.”
  3. If I start caring about them, they might depend too much on me.”
  4. “What’s the point in being vulnerable and caring for others if they don’t actually care about me?” emotionally detached as a way to protect themselves from potential disappointment or further hurt.
How to be emotionally available: Emotionally unavailable meaning, Emotionally unavailable signs , and Emotional walls

Past traumas & emotional walls

Traumatic experiences, such as abuse, neglect, or loss, can deeply affect a person’s emotional well-being and ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. These traumas can include sexual trauma, racial trauma, immigration trauma, intergenerational trauma, and inner child wounds as well. Individuals who have experienced trauma may develop emotional defense mechanisms as a way to protect themselves from further pain and vulnerability. These defense mechanisms can manifest as emotional unavailability, where they may avoid intimacy, struggle to trust others, or have difficulty expressing their own emotions. The fear of being hurt again or the belief that emotional closeness is unsafe can lead to emotional detachment or a reluctance to engage in deep emotional connections. Healing from past traumas through therapy, support, and self-reflection is often necessary to address emotional unavailability and foster healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

Pain & grief from past relationships

It’s hard to open up your heart to connections if you still have feelings for past partners or if you haven’t fully processed and let go of past relationships that have been toxic or harmful. The Karpman Drama Triangle is an example of unhealthy relationship dynamics. It can be hard to invest emotionally in a new relationship when your thoughts and emotions are preoccupied with your past partner.

Pain from past relationships can also impact a person’s emotional availability. When someone has experienced hurt, betrayal, infidelity, or toxicity in previous relationships, they may develop a fear of being hurt again. This fear can create emotional barriers and defense mechanisms as a way to protect themselves from further pain. They may become emotionally unavailable as a means of self-preservation, guarding their emotions and keeping others at a distance. The lingering pain and grief can make it difficult for them to trust and open up emotionally in new relationships. They may struggle to fully engage or invest themselves emotionally, fearing that history may repeat itself. Healing from past relationship pain and grief involves acknowledging and processing those emotions, seeking support, and gradually rebuilding trust and emotional vulnerability over time.

Temporary circumstances that affect your emotional availability

Personal challenges such as illness, loss, or major life transitions can also impact emotional availability. During these times, you may need to focus on self-care and coping with the specific circumstances you’re facing. It’s important to understand that temporary emotional unavailability doesn’t necessarily reflect a lack of interest or willingness to engage emotionally, but rather a response to the specific circumstances you’re navigating.

If you are trying to become more emotionally available but feeling stuck..

Schedule a consultation with our vetted therapists who can help you work through this to improve your relationships.

5 Steps on How to become emotionally available

Summary on How to Become Emotionally Available:

  1. Be emotionally available to yourself: Practice self-awareness through mindfulness and reflection. Allow yourself to feel and process emotions healthily.
  2. Identify the root of your unavailability: Reflect on past traumas, core beliefs, or current situations that might be affecting you.
  3. Recognize your patterns: Identify how you shut down emotionally in relationships (e.g., avoiding closeness, withdrawing during conflict).
  4. Break down your walls: Take steps to be more vulnerable and open in your connections. This is a gradual process.
  5. Practice emotional connection daily: Surround yourself with supportive people and make vulnerability a habit.

Emotional availability takes time and effort, but it leads to more fulfilling relationships.

1. Be emotionally available to yourself

Establish a regular routine where you can take time for yourself. It’s hard to be emotionally available to others if we don’t’ know what or who we are making available to begin with. The process of getting to know ourselves and connecting with others is not mutually exclusive. We don’t need the former in order to have the latter. However, it’s still helpful to begin establishing a routine or process to get to know ourselves.

 

Ways we can be emotionally available to ourselves:

Take time at the end of each day to reflect on how your day went. What was your mood like? What were some parts of the day that nourished you? What were some parts of the day that were stressful or upsetting? If you’re in the mood for it, you can make art representing your emotional state. There are so many ways to express our emotional selves.

Mindfulness and Self-Awareness: Practice mindfulness techniques to cultivate self-awareness. Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in the present moment. This self-awareness can help you identify emotional blocks or avoidances that may impact your availability.

 

How to be emotionally available with journaling: Emotionally unavailable meaning, Emotionally unavailable signs , and Emotional walls

Emotional Processing: Allow yourself to feel and process your emotions during alone time. Give yourself permission to experience a range of emotions without judgment. Identify and work through any unresolved emotions from past experiences or relationships. If you aren’t sure how you feel at times, a tool I recommend to many clients is the feelings wheel. When you use this, remember that it’s normal to struggle at first or even feel overwhelmed by the range of emotions humans can feel! Over time after getting used to looking at the wheel, you will get better at identifying your feelings and begin to notice that you can feel more than one feeling at once, even when they may not seem like they go together.

2. Reflect on what’s at the root of your emotional unavailability so you can address it in an individualized way.

How to be emotionally available: Emotionally unavailable meaning, Emotionally unavailable signs , and Emotional walls

Do you have core beliefs that impact your ability to form deep connections with others? What are they? Where did you learn them? If you intentionally and mindfully consider them, do they still reflect the kind of person you want to be and the values you hold? If not, how would you like to reframe them?

What are the past traumas that you could unconsciously be trying to protect yourself from reexperiencing in a human-to-human emotional connection? What steps can you take to begin healing? Can you get professional help?

Are there relationships that you haven’t fully let go of? Are there hurts from past relationships that you’re weary of going through again? What steps can you take to begin grieving or working through these past pains or heartbreaks?

Are there any life circumstances right now that are making you emotionally available? Maybe it’s ok to take the time and space to address those life situations first.

3. Pay attention to and identify how and when you are emotionally unavailable

Identify how you are emotionally unavailable so that you can be conscious of when you are at those crossroads and intentionally choose how you want to approach the situation instead of just reacting.

Here are some examples that I’ve come across with my clients: 

“I feel myself shutting down when someone reciprocates feelings for me.”

“I know I have feelings for this person, but I find myself hesitant to spend more time with them and intentionally deepen our connection.”

“I sabotage the connection by subconsciously finding excuses for why this won’t work and magnifying those things.”

“I go MIA for long periods of time when I’m stressed and leave people hanging in the dark.”

“When someone opens up to me, I go into problem-solving mode instead of  being there with them in that emotional space.”

4. Identify specific steps for how you can let down those emotional walls in relationships

Identify specific steps for how you can be more vulnerable and emotionally available in existing and new connections and take those steps. Depending on where you are and what’s contributing to the emotional walls, this can look different for everyone.  

For example, steps can range from being a little more open about your feeling state or recent struggles instead of giving surface-level answers in response to a “How are you,” to following up with someone who said they were worried about an upcoming situation to see how that situation went.

Or, it can be more open and vulnerable by letting someone know that you shut down sometimes when it comes to talking about your past, that you want to open up to them eventually, but you also want them to know that it’s something you’re trying to work on.

On a deeper level, you can even share that you have feelings for someone but it’s really hard for you to express it to them because you’ve been taken advantage of when you express your feelings in the past. These are just a few examples.

The steps you take to let down those emotional walls will depend on what’s at the root of your emotional unavailability.

5. Practice connecting with yourself and others intentionally on a day-to-day basis

Embracing the journey of emotional availability requires practice and commitment. Take time to explore your emotions and thoughts, making it a habit in your daily life. Allow yourself to be vulnerable without judgment and recognize that it’s okay to take it one step at a time. Moments of hesitation or resistance are natural, but don’t let them discourage you. Instead, view them as opportunities for growth. Surround yourself with emotionally available people who understand your process and are willing to be patient as you navigate this path.

Every effort, no matter how small, contributes to your emotional growth. With ongoing practice and support, you’ll naturally become more emotionally available to yourself and others. We all have the ability to create more meaningful and fulfilling relationships.

What next?

It’s not easy to let down your emotional walls, especially if this is a protective mechanism you’ve held onto for a while. It’s common to encounter struggles in this process, but I want to encourage you on your journey. Remember that emotional availability is a process that takes time and self-reflection. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to experience and process your emotions at your own pace. It’s okay to have moments of vulnerability and moments where you may feel resistant or guarded.

Each step you take towards opening up emotionally is a step towards deeper connections and emotional wellness. Surround yourself with supportive and understanding people who can provide a safe space for you to express yourself. Celebrate the small victories along the way and acknowledge the progress you make, no matter how small. You are capable of developing greater emotional availability, and by embracing your journey, you are taking important steps towards more fulfilling and meaningful relationships.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Priscilla is a therapist, psychoanalyst, and the practice owner of Imagine Emotional Wellness, a culturally responsive online therapy practice in New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC. 

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