In the sixth of this 7-part series, we discuss our hidden sense of feeling unloved and unlovable, and what do to about it with Lisa Dinhofer, M.A., CT., expert on grief, loss/trauma and difficult conversations.
Being in a close relationship where you are on the receiving end of emotional unavailability is very real, you are not imagining it, and extremely painful – to the very core. Emotional unavailability is not a rare occurrence. If you are living with a narcissist, you are living with someone who is going to be emotionally unavailable, and that’s a personality thing. If you are living with someone who is autistic, you are living with someone who may be emotionally unavailable, but it’s a different kind of source or genesis.
Even if you have an intellectual understanding of the lack of connection, it doesn’t eliminate the emotional pain. It’s not about logic. One is intellectual and one is emotional. When we don’t receive back the love and demonstrative expression of our feelings of love in a reciprocal fashion, it is very painful and it leads to a feeling of rejection, personal deficit, and the sense that we are unlovable. Even though you intellectually know that the person is this way because of an issue they don’t have control over, it doesn’t mean that we don’t automatically on an emotional level equate the lack to “well, if I were loveable, somehow they would get over it and show me love.”
Human beings need love, and need to be in meaningful, reciprocal relationships. We know this from loads of research from Dr. Martin Seligman, who is the grandfather of positive psychology. He states that people that are happy and content have a collection of meaningful, reciprocal relationships. Human beings need physical touch, they need expressions of love and care. Even animals in the forest do this with each other. Adults are no different in respect to both their spouses or their children.
In a marriage, part of the social contract is that “I am going to look to you for my emotional needs. I am not going to look elsewhere. I am trusting the fact that you are going to fulfill those needs.” When those needs aren’t fulfilled, it feels like a betrayal. So, you get in between a rock and a hard place with yourself, wondering “…do I extinguish the life force in me to maintain this contract, or do I go outside that contract because I am emotionally starving to death?” It’s a no-win situation.
The same is true for parents and their children. We need that emotional connection, that social capital with our child. We need that positive response or feedback to us from that child. We can’t be the only ones driving the relationship. We need to feel on some level that we know they love us. Feeling the deficit from emotional unavailability doesn’t make you a bad person, or a needy person, or a whiny person, it makes you a human person. So, if you are in a meaningful valuable relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable, you need to figure out where you are going to get what you are not getting there. Do not tell yourself that you are going to make do without it. It is a myth that we can live well without it. We can become hollow and dead inside, but that is not living. It can compel us to do other behaviors to try to fill in that hole, like shopping too much, eating too much, gambling, drinking or drugging. So, we need to ask ourselves, where can I, in a healthy way, get what I am not getting here? You are a human being that is like everyone else, and you need this.
Just the knowledge that “I know my child loves me” is not enough. Recognizing that hole in our heart and finding another way to fill that which is sustainable and healthy for you is important. If you shut down, you are becoming emotionally unavailable yourself. This piece of us as parents often gets overlooked and ignored because we are so focused on our children. This is a very deep secret that people are unaware of.
About Lisa Dinhofer: Ms. Dinhofer, MA, CT, is a certified Thanatologist and communication expert with 18+ years teaching, consulting and coaching experience for effective messaging and situational management following: traumatic death and loss, abrupt change and chronic conflict within high intensity front-line occupations and business environments. She is a seasoned educator within: healthcare, social work, mental health, law enforcement, attorneys, child welfare agencies, emergency response preparedness, forensic and mortuary, clergy, Call Centers, non-profit and corporate environments.
Ms. Dinhofer provides emergency workplace debriefings and training on work-related stress, burnout, compassion fatigue and trauma and the unique issues associated with excessive exposure to graphic material within child-crime and at-risk environments. Ms. Dinhofer also facilitates education on loss issues specific to pediatric and adult foster care. Ms. Dinhofer has been a featured presenter at over 100 scientific and professional conferences in the U.S., UK, Middle East, and the Czech Republic and has facilitated over 250 workshops. She is the owner of Koden Consulting Services and Ingeni, LLC Consulting and has been an adjunct instructor in the Graduate Thanatology program at Hood College in Frederick, MD