Face it. We all long for love yet push it away at times. This is the human condition. So how can you learn about this part of you?
- Be curious. Don’t judge yourself. Instead, notice when you create distance from others. By observing yourself non-judgmentally, you give yourself the room to be fully you. Ask yourself what purpose distancing serves and the reason for it.
- Take a look at your intimacy patterns, and identify relationships when you avoid love. This may require the help of a therapist as you track relationships or experiences when you avoided intimacy consciously or unconsciously. Hint: Begin with your family of origin as a clue to where these patterns developed.
- Get to know your intimacy template. How was love and intimacy expressed among family members? For instance, I can’t remember the ‘L’ word ever being spoken in my childhood home. My family norm was withholding and avoidant. How was love and intimacy expressed between your parents (if they were together when you were a child)? Because I have very little recollection of my parents showing love to one another, I had little or no role modeling of intimacy and affection.
- Identify any extended family, friends, teachers or pets who were sources of love. If love wasn’t readily expressed or available in your childhood, where were your sources or role models for intimacy? For instance, I am forever grateful for my grandmother and my Siberian husky, Nikki who were effusive with love that provided me with a deep experience of intimacy.
- List any boundary crossings or intrusions. Boundaries are a vital component of love based in mutual trust and mutual respect. How were boundaries respected or not in your family? Did a parent use you as a confidant because they were unhappy in their marriage?
- Listen to your nervous system. Feeling over-activated by too much closeness indicates intimacy overload and can be alleviated by regulating the emotional distance. Because my mom’s needs felt overpowering to me as a young child, I felt smothered and disconnected from its true impact. Today I know that I have the choice to say “yes, no or maybe” to avoid intrusive relationships. Now I only experience echoes of helplessness and feel more regulated to choose what feels right to me. Notice if you tend to shut down, disconnect or possibly get highly anxious or even rageful.
If you have love-avoidant tendencies, and most of us do, there is nothing wrong with you. Remember that it’s not a disease, and it’s not pathological. You are not broken, but you may have some leftover brokenheartedness from childhood. Stay curious about it, and ask for help from a professional or a trusted confidant. It takes courage and vulnerability to take the risk to be fully yourself—love-avoidance and all.