Emotionally Unavailable … ?!?

Investing in someone who is emotionally unavailable is extremely frustrating. You may blame yourself, think that all you need to do is try harder – or try a different approach. But in the end, the other person is emotionally unavailable and you need to accept that and move on.

by Pete Ferguson

I recall a Dr. Laura Schlessinger show many years ago where a woman was expressing all of the different ways she had tried to change her approach to connect with her mother – who by her daughter’s account was not mutually interested in creating a healthy and continual relationship.

Dr. Laura’s advice was simple – she told her caller she was sorry for her that she did not have a good relationship with her mother – but that her mother wasn’t likely to change so it was time to move on.

Having grown up on the advice that we must forgive someone seven times seventy, this sounded very wrong to me – at first.

But I’m learning that forgiveness and agreeing to be a doormat for someone else’s emotional abuse are two different things.

Knowing when to move on applies not only for family members or loved ones. At work and in our social lives there are people we continually invest in who do not reciprocate the favor.


When you run into someone who is emotionally unavailable, you will drive yourself mad if you think you can change your relationship through compassion, service, or action on your end. You simply can’t – they have to make the decision and the more you press, the more likely they are to build a higher and thicker emotional wall to keep you out.

When it comes to wanting happiness for yourself it’s vital that you surround yourself with positive people who exude happiness themselves … These people are with you during good times and bad. They build you up and share in your accomplishments and significant life experiences. Take care of these relationships as they bring meaning and clarity to your life. Nurture those people who matter to you most. ~ Ambition In the City

Dr Laura’s advice continued to the caller to still love her mom, write her an occasional note for holidays, but to give herself permission to let go and come to grips with the fact that her mom was not able to accept her love the way she would like.

Having addressed the past, Dr. Laura then focused on the caller’s future. With several small children at home, the advice was to take all the energy that had been going to an emotionally unavailable mother and investing it into a new generation. Teach them how to love and be loved.

It took years for this to sink into my own life. As a recovering people pleaser, I somehow thought if I only tried hard enough, I could get others to change. But I can’t.

At work there are those you may be continually bending over backwards for who don’t respond. You still need to be cordial and kind, but you also need to turn your attention towards more healthy relationships.

I also grew up on the advice of: “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” This is problematic when it comes to people pleasing because the other person isn’t you.

Might I suggest “do unto others as they would have you do unto them” as a more sensible interpretation? It has worked a lot better for me. I believe this still sticks with the spirit of the commandment while helping people pleasers like me make a very subtle and important distinction.

If you are pouring a lot of emotional energy into someone and they are consistently unresponsive, STOP.


Move on, invest in people who feed back your positive energy and uplift you. This may mean severing ties with childhood friends, family members, and other with whom you may feel duty-bound.

People in affluent society have lots of possessions, much more than they ever need or more than they can ever consume. Still in their conscious of unconscious mind they develop attachment and thus fear for loss of the possessions.  Fear for loss of … people or surroundings leads to suffering. ~ bhardwazbhardwaz

This doesn’t mean to stop loving these people. It just means that they are not going to occupy a front-row seat of your intention and actions on a daily basis. You are going to reinvest your time and direct it towards other people who will delight in your gift of your time and attention.

Do I spend more time loving the people who love me rather than dwelling on the people who don’t? … If you do not like the way that you are currently feeling, you may need to do something different, no matter how difficult, to get you snowballing in a different direction. ~ Kristin Barton Cuthriell

Who in your life is emotionally unavailable? It’s time to move on …

[Before parting, fellow writer Don Dunay reminds me that now is also a good time for self-reflection. Are there people who are heavily investing in you that you are not giving due justice to as well?]


4 thoughts on “Emotionally Unavailable … ?!?

  1. Truth. I love this–it’s rings true with my life experiences. My mom used to call your version of the golden rule the platinum rule “Do unto others as they would have done unto them.” It’s like giving brownies to a person who loves apple pie and doesn’t like chocolate.

  2. Hi Pete. Great Post on emotional unavailability. This stood out to me the most- “Move on, invest in people who feed back your positive energy and uplift you. This may mean severing ties with childhood friends, family members, and other with whom you may feel duty-bound.”
    I love how you mention the INVESTING aspect of being in relationships. From personal experience I have learned that when dealing with emotionally unavailable people we make Poor Relationship Investments based on unhealthy ideas about what love really is. I am glad you are shedding light on the topic of Emotional Unavailability. Often when we have unavailable parents as poor models of love (like the mother you mentioned above) we have the task of putting together the broken pieces and redefining what healthy love really is. I experienced this dynamic with my mother for most of my life and have the challenging but rewarding (in the long-tern) task of changing my beliefs about relationships and love. The goal has been to cultivate healthier mutual relationships and put an end to the cycle of pain and dysfunction. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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