Loving someone who shuts down, stonewalls you, or simply will not communicate, causes a quandary, particularly if you can tell by their lack of engagement that something is going on deep below the surface.
Alternatively, if you have shut down emotionally yourself, you might review some of the following reasons why people close themselves off and ask yourself if one or more of them ring true for you.
#1 Fear of Rejection
If you or someone you love has experienced trauma, voicing your needs or feelings is a significant risk. Often, people managing life after trauma feel vulnerable and expressing their feelings opens them up emotionally to additional pain or rejection.
Sharing feelings in the wake of grief also poses communication challenges since individuals processing complex emotions feel fear of opening the floodgates.
If you have ever lost someone due to estrangement, death, or divorce, you know that talking about your feelings (or admitting you have them) can trigger tears, anger, or other expressions that potentially put others off.
After all, when someone has a strong emotional reaction, you might fear saying the wrong thing.
#2 Avoidant Attachment Adaptation
Individuals with Attachment injury that lean toward Avoidant reflect their childhood trauma of, “You’re on your own.”
When we learn at an early age that our needs will not be met, or only sometimes be met (Ambivalent/Anxious), responding with shutdown is not just habitual, but also familiar (“safe”). When lost in the woods, we often go back to what we know as a default, though it may result in perpetual patterns that have never truly worked for us.
#3 They Feel Guilty or Judged
Both people with Ambivalent and Avoidant Attachment adaptations have difficulty with admitting they have needs or expressing them because they might not be met. Internally, this can manifest as a fear of judgement and even express itself in the guilt of having needs at all.
For Ambivalently attached individuals, they might tell you their feelings and then sabotage your response when it is not enough or “just right.”
What to Do When Someone You Love Shuts Down
It’s important to remember that helping loved ones, friends, or even co-workers express themselves effectively takes time – and a come knowledge about how our early Attachment wounds impact our adult relationships.
Here are a few tips:
- Be present and remember that their Avoidance likely has little to do with you.
- Provide a safe space and remind them that you are available.
- Keep your promise; be available.
- Put your judgment in the backseat.
- Actively listen.
- Provide abundant reassurance.
While no universal recipe exists, seeking advice and counsel from someone with Attachment experience can help.
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