Some individuals tend to push away the people who try to step into their lives. Sometimes even those who are already a part of their circle.
To help us understand why this happens and how to stop it, we asked experts to shed some light on this matter. Here are their insights:
Anna Yam, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist in Private Practice, Bloom Psychology
In my work with women and mothers, in particular, I have found that at a time when we need help and support the most, we often distance ourselves from the people in our lives.
One reason women and new mothers push others away is a deep-seated desire to appear strong and capable
This desire is made stronger by a feeling of vulnerability that is naturally triggered by doing something new and scary, like parenting. The more vulnerable we feel, the more we desire to feel strong and independent, the more we push others way so that we can feel this way. We think, “if someone is helping me, then I’m not capable of doing this by myself.”
While pushing people away does accomplish the short-term goal of helping us feel independent, that independence often quickly turns into isolation, and greater feelings of vulnerability.
If you are feeling alone in your struggles, a good first step is to begin to wonder or notice whether the people in your life have been offering support.
If so, accepting their support (at your discretion) is an act of generosity and immense strength. Why? People offer support because it makes them feel purposeful and connected, your acceptance allows for these connections to flourish.
Since accepting support is difficult for you, taking that step shows that you possess the strength to act from a place of purpose and in the face of difficult emotions.
Psychologist | Counselor, Inside Out Transformation
I am an advocate of taking a personal time-out when I feel I need to. Rather than “push people away”, I simply retreat from engagement and/or interaction with people (in general or with specific individuals) for a while.
Taking a time-out can be a healthy and supportive thing to do for yourself and for your relationships with others
When I sense the time is right, I feel more capable of engaging and interacting with others in a more refreshed, renewed, and positive way. Taking personal time-outs actually helps all parties. It helps you by providing an opportunity for you to:
- Connect with yourself
- Assess relationships
- Discern the quality of energy you experience (both as a giver and receiver) within the relationship
Ask yourself questions like: “Is this how I want it to continue?,” “Ideally, what do I want to experience?” And so on…
Time-outs can help other people, too.
Consciously or subconsciously, they may be sensing stressed or strained energy from you and between the two of you. You never know, if absence makes the heart grow fonder, your time-out may be a re-set button on your relationship with the other person and exactly what the other person needs, too.
Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, LMFT, ATR
Licensed Psychotherapist | Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Create Your Life Studio
You may push people away from you consciously or subconsciously.
If you are engaging in problematic behaviors, you may be subconsciously pushing people away without meaning to do so
Some examples of behaviors that may push people away from you are being constantly envious of others, dwelling in loss or resentments, constantly comparing yourself to others, constantly competing with others, demonstrating a lack of empathy, behaving or being abusive narcissistically and only talking about yourself.
There may be instances of ghosting people or breadcrumbing them, only texting or calling when you want or need something from them, being judgmental and disapproving of others, having a sarcastic, critical, or mean sense of humor, gossiping or not being ginger with others’ personal stories and secrets, and/or not being a loyal friend or partner.
Some examples of intentionally pushing people away are not texting or calling back, not accepting invitations or plans to hang out, avoiding talking to people, cancelling plans last minute, not showing up for your friends, letting go of their hand, touch, or hug right away, staying on your phone or playing a video game rather than talking to them, texting rather than meeting up, and ghosting without explanation when things get serious, your feelings are hurt, or you hit a rough patch.
Some people are also avoidant of conflict that they simply disappear when an issue arises in the relationship
They simply do not have the emotional maturity nor the tools to stay with their feelings and communicate them clearly to others. If they grew up in an invalidating environment, such as with mentally ill or addicted parents, they may have developed learned helplessness towards stating their boundaries, wishes, and needs.
They may still be behaving like a child who is not being heard, even as an adult with other adults. They have learned a communication pattern of discarding the whole relationship rather than state how they actually feel.
“Fawning” is the use of people-pleasing to feel more secure in relationships and earn the approval of others. It’s a maladaptive way of creating safety in our connections with others by essentially trying to mirror what we imagine as the desires of other people. It is a biological trauma-response symptom.
You try to anticipate what the other person may want or need and you focus on becoming that imagined solution. It is a response to trauma that is designed to keep us safe.
Trauma-Survivors who “fawn” are susceptible to being the ghoster in ghosting relationships because they fear authenticity and they fear conflict. If they were to say “ouch” in the relationship, the other person might not like that. The fawner is afraid to rock the boat in any way, and prefers acting as if things are fine, but, then, just skating on out of the relationship.
This way, if they need something in the future from the other person, or run into the other person, they can act “as if” things are still just fine, without breaking the spell or risking anyone seeing their true feelings, such as rage, anger, jealousy, etc.
Fawners are often perfectionists who have unrealistic expectations for their relationships. If they can’t control the other person’s view of them, they tend to bail. They prefer to keep their real feelings, insecurities, and vulnerabilities hidden. However, in order to be truly close to another human being, vulnerability and radical genuineness are required.
Eventually, all relationships will come to a crossroads and an issue will arise. Even in healthy relationships, issues will arise. This is part of the human experience. This is normal. If you are a fawner, you may have an extremely difficult time tolerating your imperfections from being seen, especially if your imperfections were historically risky to have seen, such as in the case of childhood abuse.
When fawners reach the point in their relationships, marriages, friendships, and coworkers where they are seen as imperfect, where their mask of perfection has slipped, they may run away. This leaves fawners in the predicament again of pushing people away while still feeling lonely.
If you are a person who fawns and keeps pushing people away in relationships, there is help for you.
Talk to a therapist about this relational pattern and learn skills you can practice in your imperfect relationships. You can learn to become radically genuine.
You deserve to have healthy, authentic, & close relationships. It is possible to have healthy relationships, where you can say what you really feel, even after trauma.
Natalie Burtenshaw, LCSW, LCDC
Women’s Embodiment Therapist | Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Own Your Colors Counseling
Sometimes, people push everyone away in hopes to get more love and attention
Pushing people away can come from an avoidant attachment style, which is developed at a very young age as a result of how caregivers responded to the young child.
Imagine a child who only gets attention when something is wrong. The child cries, and her father picks her up. The child settles down, and the father puts her down and goes back to doing whatever he was doing, ignoring from the child.
Perhaps the parents like to be “fixers” whenever a negative emotion comes up, or maybe they’re just busy and don’t prioritize the child. As long as she is quiet, no one spends much time with her at all.
This creates a situation where a child will cry and be very difficult to console because she knows that as soon as she settles down, she’s not going to receive any more love. The child learns very quickly, “If I push you away, then you will keep loving me. I can actually get more of you by making myself less available to you.”
In adult relationships, this can turn into a push-and-pull game where the more emotionally unavailable partner is pursued, and thus holds more power.
It becomes hard for people with this life experience to accept good into their lives because they have repeatedly learned that being happy and content leads quickly to abandonment.
If this describes you, then you might even attract partners who also like to be “fixers” — as long as you have a problem, then your partner can feel needed and secure. You might be subconsciously aware that if you were to be really satisfied with your life, your partner could get insecure and wonder why you would need them.
How to stop pushing people away
- I am enough.
- I am worthy of accepting good into my life.
- It is safe for me to love and be loved.
- I can take good care of myself.
- I am stronger when I am happy and well-cared-for.
Inner child work
Imagine telling your younger self, “I am the woman you will become, and I will take care of you. A lot of terrible things happened to you, and that is not okay. I will keep you safe and do whatever I can to make sure that never happens again.. You can rely on me.”
Some people find it helpful to get a picture of them when they were a child and literally speak this out loud to the child in the photo.
Accepting good into your life
Imagine all of the blessings life is waiting to shower you with — whatever might feel good to you: Loving relationships with family, friends, and coworkers; delicious, nutritious food; opportunities for surprise and adventure; unexpected gifts of time and money; beautiful surroundings and connectedness with nature; boundless creative ideas for art and writing…
Feel your reaction to the idea that all of this is just waiting for you to say, “yes!” Notice how difficult it is for you to accept 100% of the blessings offered to you. See if you can imagine accepting just 5% of the blessings that are available to you today.
Over time, explore increasing that percentage more and more — to fully take in and feel deserving of more and more of the goodness that life would love to see you enjoy.
Giving up the benefits
Pushing people away comes with many benefits such as:
- You don’t have to be vulnerable, which can be uncomfortable.
- Some people will give you a lot of attention and respect if you’re “high maintenance” or “hard to please.”
- You don’t need to commit fully to anyone, which lets you keep a lot of options open — and this can feel like freedom.
- You get to keep your stories of being broken and unworthy. It’s easier to accept a mediocre life than go through the risk and possible disappointment of believing you could have more and really trying to get it.
- You can keep a partner who is a “rescuer” or “fixer” interested in you.
In order to really get close to people, you’ve got to be willing to miss out on these benefits.
The idea is that pushing people away keeps you safe. You get to stay in control, and you’re less likely to be disappointed. That’s the belief, anyway. The reality is that it’s just not a very happy way to live — never really connecting with people authentically by giving it all you’ve got.
Feeling true love and belonging is intimately tied with the risk of emotional exposure — the risk of feeling disappointed, hurt, or ashamed if the other person doesn’t reciprocate. That risk is always there, but the rewards of really connecting are so great.
So you’ve got to decide if do you prefer your illusion of control, or are you ready to feel a bit out of control in the process of taking a gamble on love?
If you are interested in changing this pattern, just bringing some conscious awareness to your habits of relating can work wonders. If you start to notice how uncomfortable it is for you to keep people at a distance, then you will start to get more motivated to let people in, a little at a time.
Within the relationship
Reassure your partner that you do not want them around simply to fix you. Give a lot of affirmations about the personality traits that you enjoy in your partner. Show in your actions that when you are happy with yourself, you are still interested in them.
Practice being vulnerable and talking about what that’s like for you. It’s always uncomfortable, and that’s okay. That’s normal. Create an agreement within the house that you are going to get uncomfortable together so that you can grow closer together over time.
Mike Ensley, MA, LPCC
Nationally Board-Certified Professional Counselor, Ensley Counseling
Intimacy becomes difficult if we’re not being at peace with the story we tell about ourselves
Intimacy requires us to be vulnerable and authentic. There are painful, perhaps shameful things we believe about who we are and things that have happened in our lives.
We’re terrified to let others see into this story because we believe that it makes us unloveable, worthy of judgment or rejection.
So when people get close we get scared, our defenses come up, and we find ways to push others away. Even though the result is painful and we don’t want it, it’s better than the alternative: being seen. This can happen with very little awareness on our part. We might only be cognizant of sudden anger, resentment, or boredom in the relationship.
It’s important that you know your story and that you carry it with intentionality
You’ve got to have a reasoned sense of what you own and what you don’t, how you’ve been hurt and how that impacts you. Counseling is a safe environment in which to practice risking vulnerability, to explore and define these things for yourself.
Journal about the relationships in your life
Begin to pay attention to how different types of people have made you feel. Activity groups (exercise, hobbies, etc.) are a great way to discover and interact with different personalities and find what you mesh with and what triggers you.
Engage in counseling
Counseling can also help you learn to be aware when your fear and anxiety are being triggered and the best way for you to counteract that and keep moving forward into authenticity.
As you grow you can start trusting the people in your life and even ask for feedback about what they’ve observed in your relationship patterns. Remember that the goal is to accept yourself: be honest but not judgmental, have self-compassion and a direction to grow.
Couple and Family Therapist, Carole Consults Inc.
We push people away when we feel threatened
It is a false form of protection that provides individuals with the safety they need to feel secure and in control. One of the pitfalls of this type of behavior is that it’s mostly developed by unhelpful stories that we have about ourselves that we place on others when we become consumed by what others think of us. Therefore, this behavior becomes our scapegoat leaving us trapped in an undeveloped sense of self.
In an attempt to not feel the shame or disappoint the person that we are in a relationship with, we push them away. When we recognize that we are participating in this type of cycle, it is important that we sit with the feeling and ask ourselves some challenging questions such as:
- What is it that I might be trying to escape from? Name it and be specific.
- What does it remind you of?
- When else do you notice this feeling?
- What if I told you that the protection that you desire is really another form of neglect that is keeping you in a state of fear?
If you could take one step towards accepting all parts of your personality and trying something different what might that be.
Can I suggest that accepting this relationship and the outcomes that are naturally part of all relationships is necessary in order to accept the parts of yourself that you are not ready to befriend?
Acknowledging that there will be positives and negatives in life and that you cannot expect situations to go the way you envision them takes courage, life is about changing old patterns and recognizing that we are complex human beings.
Accepting who we are can be overwhelming but it is usually the first step towards building relationships that are meaningful and authentic.
In other words, when we continue to wrestle with the parts of our personality that we struggle and learn to accept our true selves, we create the building blocks needed to avoid pushing people away. However, this process begins from a place of acceptance, respect, and curiosity rather than fear, rejection, and conflict.
Psychology Professor |
Author, Emotional Detox: 7 Steps to Releasing Toxicity & Energizing Joy
Pushing people away may be an attempt to cope with feelings of rejection, unworthiness or sorrow
Pushing people away is a “reactivity” style. Be careful not to blame yourself or treat yourself like you are the cause of rejection. These feelings are looking to be healed not used against you.
If you are pushing people away, I would suggest being more compassionate and loving toward self and of course, taking time to process some of those tough emotions.
Certified Mental Health Consultant, Enlightened Reality | Relationship Expert, Maple Holistics
Fear of vulnerability
Vulnerability is the basis of real connections because it allows others to see who you really are, both the good and the bad. Pushing people away suggests that you’re afraid that if people saw the ‘real’ you, they would no longer want that connection.
Ironically, research shows that believing that you’re worthy of connection is what allows you to become more vulnerable. This becomes a vicious cycle that can only be overcome by letting go of your fear of vulnerability and being true to your authentic self.
Need for individuality
we often push others away because we feel that they’re stepping on our independence or individuality. If you believe that your self-actualization can only occur while you’re alone, you’re likely to push people away for fear of crushing your autonomy.
The truth is that there is beauty in being able to create connections without losing yourself. In fact, real connections with others shouldn’t take away from your independence or individuality but enhance it.