Our early experiences shape us. We, as humans, are resilient and good learners. Sometimes we learn things that we’re not even aware of. Case in point; emotional avoidance. Emotional avoidance is a Superpower. We all have the ability, but some needed to hone it, in order to fit in or survive their early relationships. It developed one of two ways.
You (or the avoider you love) grew up in a household (most likely in the Mid-West) with parent(s) who rarely if ever displayed vulnerable emotions. This is the “my parents never fought” family. If you never saw your parents work through a difficult emotion you’d assume it just shouldn’t happen. And more than likely their response to you if you “lost it” emotionally reinforced, in a loving way, that “we don’t do that.” They met your fears, sadness, or peer rejection with a response that fit into the category of minimizing the emotion, “There, there, it’s not so bad. It’ll all be fine.” We figure out what is acceptable and how to maintain our connections by taking in these subtle, unspoken “rules” and applying them (essentially: Learning Theory). We’re kids when this all goes down and we need to rely on these relationships for all sorts of reasons, so we figure it out and go along without even thinking about it. The ability to dismiss and disconnect from our own emotions becomes automatic. It’s necessary in order to “belong” and “fit in” to the family. Those who came from this kind of family will typically respond to other’s emotional distress in their learned way; dismiss, minimize, or (God forbid) compare to something worse. Their partners tend to be frustrated and disappointed with this response… often.
The other way to develop the avoidant Superpower is in the extreme opposite early relationship experience. Yup, two opposite experiences will illicit the same human response- disconnect from your emotions. This time the goal is not to fit in, but to survive. You (or the avoider you love) come from a family where one or both parents expressed negative emotions and blamed everyone else for how they felt. This is the “nothing good ever comes from sharing emotion” family. In reality, no one can ever be fully responsible for another person’s emotions. It’s a team effort in close relationships. But in this family, someone MUST be fully responsible, and it’s not the one who’s upset. For the adult survivor of this family, feeling blamed will be a trigger, setting you into full-on defensive mode. And it all happens automatically. You don’t need to think about it. Your well-honed Superpower is there to protect you.
The problem is that what protected you in the past remains automatic and very active, even if you no longer need the protection. So in a romantic relationship, where closeness and emotional vulnerability are essential (if you want amazing sex, happiness, and a long relationship) your Superpower gets in the way.
The avoider is unlikely to consider avoiding as a problem. Because for them, they avoided insight into how they do (or don’t do) emotion. Ironic. Typically, their romantic partners are the ones complaining. So if your partner sent you this article, thank them. They want you to be happier, have amazing sex, and to be with you for a long time.