As someone who has had to work my ass off to earn my emotional security through the years, I understand my clients when they constantly text me asking if the latest date is really interested in them. Or when they ask for “techniques” to get someone to fall for them. Or when someone simply plays hot and cold. I remember those days when I would sit with my girlfriends and do the same thing. I’ve learned from all of these experiences that if you need to host a play by play viewing party, your anxiety has been activated.
While it may be easiest to blame an avoidant partner (as conventional dating advice often encourages us to do), the real lesson that needs to be learned is to face your anxiety and earn your self-confidence back. That’s right, the annoying avoidant partner is really your best opportunity to overcome your anxiety.
Carl Jung says, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” If we are getting annoyed at someone’s perceived unavailability, what does that really say about our own availability?
Breaking the Rules to Clear my Relationship Karma
I recently was introduced to someone through a mutual friend that I quite liked. He, however, had all the classic signs of someone emotionally avoidant right from the start. As a refresher (or in case you didn’t know that you can assess this stuff early on, here were some of the red flags):
- Pining after an ex and discussing why he should have married her
- Acting like a boyfriend but still talking about dating other women
- Withholding sex without discussing why
- Constant pushing and pulling
In the past, all of these behaviors would have put me on the defensive and broken me down emotionally. Yet, at this point in my life — having had to work on my own abandonment and anxiety issues — I was able to see the behavior from a more mindful and less personal perspective. This guy was scared like hell about relationships EVEN THOUGH HE DESPERATELY WANTED TO BE IN ONE.
It made me sad and yet I knew that we were drawn to each other in order to help clear each other’s karma related to past relationships. I needed to stand firm in my boundaries and speak my truth about what it is that I really want and he needed to learn that not all woman are crazy people out to steal money from him. I showed up for him as an example of what love and acceptance really is and he showed up to remind me of how much relational trauma can royally mess up someone’s view of romance.
During our time together, he mentioned on a number of occasions that men often act like jackasses because they have been hurt by a woman. This is consistent with what I have seen in my practice. He went on to tell about how he had his heart broken when he was in his early twenties and how much this has affected his ability to trust women and be in a real relationship. The real issue was not having this experience. The real issue is that he was still angry about it — he was much further behind in his healing journey or perhaps didn’t even bothered to start one. It was at that point I realized that this was indeed a karmic relationship and I needed to pay attention to what was transpiring — not get upset about him actually like a jerk. He the messenger of a very important lesson I needed to learn in a very short amount of time.
Conventional Dating Advice Gone Bad
In these circumstances, conventional dating advice often tells people to run away from the other person. We promote a lot of fear of other people and we teach people to succumb to the anxiety that they feel when they are unsure of how someone feels about them. Instead of promoting a positive view of a difficult situation, we take our emotions and our anxiety at face value and do a lot of damage to each other.
It’s no longer necessary. We all have a choice to make.
New Rules for Dealing with Avoidant Attachment Styles: Why Mindfulness is Necessary in Dating
In the United States, we have a fantasy that meeting the right person will fill an empty place in our heart. We believe that someone else can give us what we are missing. We spend countless hours searching and auditioning prospective partners in an endless quest of finding “the one.” Yet, we do not spend nearly as much time working on ourselves to earn the emotional security necessary to actually be in a real relationship. Someone else’s behavior should not make or break your day but provide you enough data to determine how you should move forward.
In other words, their perceived emotional unavailability should be a sign that you are too available and a warning that you are abandoning yourself and setting up a co-dependent relationship.
How did I break the rules in my situation? I spent too much time with him early on (including playing house — which has never happened before). It was never planned and it kind of just happened due to me traveling and not necessarily being in a normal routine but I needed to own the fact that I was avoiding my writing and my work life. I really liked this guy but my intuition kept saying that my role was to be more helpful than what I could expect to receive in return.
This realization pissed me off at first. And then it hit me one day like a ton of bricks. I was meditating in a beautiful park when visions of why my relationships with exes did not work. I’ve had this pattern of abandoning my own interests (something that definitely comes from my mother) and my higher self in the past. I would stop dancing. I would stop working on creative projects. I would sit and wait until he came home to make plans etc… This was THE opportunity to break that cycle and ascend to a higher levels of self-care. So when he, for a second time, called me “too sensitive,” I cut him off and stated that he sent mixed signals. I told him that that was not my issue and he could call me when he was ready to acknowledge his own fear of being in a real relationship AND that I would always be supportive if he needed anything. He went silent. I don’t think he said anything because I don’t think he was aware of how much fear and anxiety he was living in. We stopped the conversation before it got too stressful (something most people struggle with) and went out for ice cream. We laughed. We enjoyed our time together. The next day, I got busy planning my tango schedule, planning a weekend away, and catching up on much needed work.
We eventually went our separate ways without a lot of drama — for which I am grateful for. Karmic relationships really are like that. We both continue to have work to do and we came together to learn valuable lessons. We honor and respect each other but most of all, my perception of emotional avoidance has changed significantly and allows for the compassion needed to more securely step away from someone else’s troubles and find my own center. Learning to deal with my anxiety and self-soothe is the lesson that being in contact with emotionally avoidant people teaches. Projecting blame on others without working on ourselves is simply a waste of time and energy. They are perfect situations to practice becoming still within oneself and listening to our intuition.
Meditation and Avoidant Attachment Style
If you have been on a spiritual path as an effort to explore your own anxiety and heal relational trauma, the avoidants will show up. They show up because they are trying to provide you an opportunity to heal and because they are attracted to your anxiety. The best thing you can do is maintain your daily practice, be a good role model as it pertains to boundaries, and trust your intuition. Meditation will be the secret to keeping yourself balanced enough to see the avoidant’s behavior for what it really is (their fear projected) and not take it personally. It will also give you the space you need to decide if you have to walk away. The truth is that the more relational trauma someone has had the more of a journey they need. Sometimes they are willing to walk that journey and sometimes they are avoiding facing themselves. You do not need to continue to sacrifice your higher good to accommodate their broken hearts. You simply need to follow your higher good and keep moving forward with grace.
The biggest point to take away is that just because you understand where they are coming from does not mean you are the person to help them. Sometimes you meet because you are simply supposed to give them your therapist’s phone number! If you can maintain your compassion with appropriate boundaries, you can help change the world one intimate connection at a time without sacrificing your higher self.
Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes is a licensed psychologist, relationship expert and the forthcoming author of Toxic Insecurity: Our Search for Authentic Love. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @jenniferbrhodes.