Living with someone emotionally unavailable often feels like living with a person infected with a highly contagious disease. Unless we protect ourselves, chances are we are going to catch whatever the other person got their mind infected with.

 

How do I know that?

 

I know that because I used to be an emotionally unavailable parent. To help you understand what ‘emotionally unavailable’ means to me, here are ten traits I used to exhibit quite consistently with everyone, including my three children. Traits are listed in no particular order.

 

#1. Failure to listen deeply.

There are four levels of listening. In the past, I excelled at Level #1 and Level #2 and failed miserably at Level #3 and #4.

 

  • Level #1: Cosmetic listening. It looks like we are listening, but we are not, not really. Our mind is actually somewhere else. Ex: While son/daughter is sharing what happened at school, parent is peeling potatoes thinking about dinner, emails to return, or phone calls to make…

  • Level #2: Conversational listening. It looks like we are engaged in the conversation, listening, talking, listening, talking, but our mind is looking for ways to rebut or judge, which means we are only listening to prove ourselves ‘right.’ Ex: Parent is listening to son/daughter sharing why they really want a pet, but parent’s mind keeps looking for excuses to shut their child’s idea down.

  • Level #3: Active listening. We are very focused on what the other person is saying. We are recording facts. We are also paying attention to body language wanting to make sure words, feelings, and body language all match. Ex: Son/daughter is angry with parent and turns to face the wall. Parent hears their child’s voice breaking, the tears being swallowed… and acknowledges openly their child’s feelings and emotions without judgment.

  • Level #4: Deep listening. We are more focused on the other person than us. We really want to hear what the other person needs to say. We are listening with an ‘empty’ mind, meaning we listen without the need to rebut or judge. We are openly accepting where the other person is at. We do our best to never make ourselves or them wrong. We just want to get a sense of who the other person is. Ex: Parent is noticing son/daughter remaining silent at the dinner table. When asked about school, child says ‘fine’ abruptly. Parent notices child is twitching at the mention of their school project. Instead of lecturing on procrastination, parent compassionately asks ‘What do you need right now?’ and assists their child in empowering themselves.

 

 

#2. Failure to openly share feelings and emotions.

An emotionally unavailable parent is usually non-vulnerable. They are reluctant to share what they are feeling and where their emotions come from. They tend to downplay their feelings and emotions mostly out of habit. Ex: Son/daughter asks parent if they have been crying. They can see their parent’s eyes are red and swollen. Parent looks away and tells child it’s ‘nothing.’

 

#3. Failure to really know what is needed and really wanted.

An emotionally unavailable parent tends to be unsure as to what they need and really want to experience in their life. They are usually extremely vague in their answers. Ex: ‘What do want for your birthday, mom?’ asks son/daughter. Parent answers ‘Gee, I don’t know, whatever you want.’

 

#4. Failure to stand up for themselves.

An emotionally unavailable parent usually stands up for themselves after the fact and mostly in their head. They often think to themselves ‘I should have said this’ or ‘I should have done that’, but when the time comes to really stand up and say this and do that, they usually remain silent out of fear. Ex: Son/daughter keeps looking out of the car window and answers only in monosyllabic words to parent’s questions. Parent feels mortified and asks themselves what is ‘wrong’ with them instead of verbally expressing from the heart how their child’s behaviour is currently hurting them. 

 

#5. Failure to let go of the victim within them.

An emotionally unavailable parent often behaves like a victim who blames others for their own shortcomings. They fail to realize emotionally unavailable attracts/creates emotionally unavailable. Ex: Parent wants to get closer to son/daughter, but they have never truly invested time knowing what their child needed and really wanted growing up. As a result, child is non-interested and often behaves jaded… like parent. 

 

#6. Failure to take 100% responsibility for their thoughts, words, feelings, and actions.

An emotionally unavailable parent usually makes their current mood or circumstances their excuse for not showing up in their life. Their ‘best’ weapons are blame, guilt, and shame. They can make a whole person feel wrong instead of just pointing out a negative behaviour. Ex: Son/daughter struggles in school. Parent says to them ‘Why can’t you be more like your other sibling(s)?’ or ‘What is wrong with you?’ or ‘How can you do this to me after everything I’ve done for you.’

 

#7. Failure to remain present in the moment.

An emotionally unavailable parent often has their eyes cast on the past (suffering from excessive worry) or they focus massively on the future (suffering from excessive anxiety.) They tend to find it difficult to relate to their feelings, thoughts, and emotions and the feelings, thoughts, and emotions of others. An emotionally unavailable parent is often referred to as ‘emotionally disconnected.’ Ex: Son/daughter explains what they need for the school play. Parent nods here and there while continuing typing on their phone. Child asks them to repeat back exactly what they have just said. Parent can’t because they were focused elsewhere than the present moment.

 

#8. Failure to take the middle path. 

An emotionally unavailable parent tends to live on extremes. Everything gets either ‘trivialized’ or becomes a ‘big deal.’ Ex: Son/daughter enters a goth phase and dresses in black clothes and wears black lipstick. Parent says their child is ‘finding’ themselves or ‘rebelling’ against society. What about searching for the real cause for their child’s behaviours?

 

#9. Failure to let go of wanting to be right.

An emotionally unavailable parent ‘loves’ to be right. They derive satisfaction at seeing others ‘wrong’ and seeing themselves ‘right.’ Never mind they fail to see that everything is a perception and a perception is anything but reality. Because of their attachment to wanting to be right, an emotionally unavailable parent has a hard time mustering compassion for themselves and others and see situations for what they truly are: opportunities to heal and grow. Ex: Parent spending a lot of time ruminating over past events, situations, people, and things to either prove their crap or other people’s crap.

 

#10. Failure to fill their emotional void with their own self.

An emotionally unavailable parent tends to look at others to make them ‘happy.’They tend to say that their kid (or significant others) is their ‘everything.’ Ex:Parent constantly tells son/daughter, ‘I feel lonely. Why don’t you spend more time with me?’ 

 

Let’s recap.

 

What are 10 traits often found in an emotionally unavailable parent?

#1. Failure to listen deeply.

#2. Failure to openly share feelings and emotions.

#3. Failure to really know what is needed and really wanted.

#4. Failure to stand up for themselves.

#5. Failure to let go of the victim within them.

#6. Failure to take 100% responsibility for their thoughts, words, feelings, and actions.

#7. Failure to remain present in the moment.

#8. Failure to take the middle path.

#9. Failure to let go of wanting to be right.

#10. Failure to fill their emotional void with their own self.

 

 

If you are the child of an emotionally unavailable parent, here is what you can do to heal yourself:

 

#1. Listen deeply.

#2. Openly share your feelings and emotions.

#3. Really know what is needed and really wanted.

#4. Stand up for yourself.

#5. Let go of the victim within you.

#6. Take 100% responsibility for your thoughts, words, feelings, and actions.

#7. Remain present in the moment.

#8. Take the middle path. 

#9. Let go of wanting to be right.

#10. Fill your emotional void with your own self.

… or become like what you saw growing up.

 

WE ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE TO DO DIFFERENT. 

 

Your Emotional Intelligence coach,

Anne

www.walkinginside.com

P.S. I get the content of this article might be difficult for some people, but I wrote it this way for a good reason: I care deeply. I never want anyone else to treat their children the way I treated my kids in the past. As a result of taking 100% responsibility for my life, my family now has a better chance to heal and grow emotionally.