Why Do You Push People Away?
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Experience has taught you that vulnerability, more often than not, is rewarded with pain.
So, you keep your guard up. You don’t let people get too close.
Pushing people away has become your default. And you tell yourself it’s better this way.
When they eventually reject or abandon you, there’ll be less of an attachment. It won’t hurt as much. You’ll move on more easily.
Because you expected them to leave, anyway. Most people do.
Really, you’re doing yourselves both a favor by keeping the walls up. So, why do you still feel as though you’re missing out on something important?
Why Do I Push People Away?
When you think of the reasons behind your pushing people away defense mechanism, the following reasons might come to mind:
- Desire to be independent
- Expectation of abandonment or rejection (insecurity)
- Fear of intimacy
Each one deserves some unpacking.
Desire for Independence
When you’re growing up, you might push people away out of a desire to stand on your own two feet.
You want to be independent. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The downside of this struggle is when you rebel for the sake of doing the opposite of what your parents or other authority figures are telling you to do. That’s not independence.
As you grow, you’ll learn to do what’s in your best interests, whether it means complying with someone else’s directive or thanking them for their ideas and then doing what you know you have to do.
When you expect others to eventually reject or abandon you, you might say or do things to sabotage the relationship and speed things up.
After all, if they’re going to leave you, anyway, the sooner the better.
But in choosing to push people away, you treat all people the same — including those who truly want to stand by you no matter what.
Fear of Intimacy
And if you fear intimacy, you’ll put up barriers to creating an emotional bond with someone. You don’t want them to see what’s underneath the armor you wear.
Because if they touch your raw and defenseless interior, their eventual betrayal will hurt more than if they rejected the person they thought you were.
You expect people to make assumptions about you and write you off. It doesn’t hurt as much as when you let them get close enough to see you as you are.
Because then, when they do reject you, you know they’re not just rejecting an idea they made up or that you allowed them to see.
They’re rejecting the real you. And deep down, you don’t expect anyone to love that person. You don’t expect to be enough for them.
Because long ago, someone you trusted to love and accept you unconditionally didn’t.
From Justification to Hope
You can probably think of moments from your past that seem to justify your tendency to push people away.
Maybe someone pushed you away when you wanted them to comfort or reassure you.
You couldn’t hold back the tears, and they sent you away, accusing you of trying to manipulate them.
Or maybe you counted on someone to be there and to have your back, but they left you to stand alone.
Some experiences stay with you for decades. Some linger in your memory and influence your behavior toward others until someone challenges you to dig deeper, to forgive, and to grow.
Ultimately, though, it’s up to you to decide what you want out of this life — and what you’re willing to lose by going after it.
In order to stop pushing people away, though, you need to know what you’re doing now to push them away. Then you can consciously change your behavior for the better.
6 Ways You're Pushing People Away and How to Stop
Recognizing your own defense mechanisms is essential to learning how to stop pushing people away.
Which of the following self-protective habits feel most familiar to you?
1. Avoiding Social Gatherings
The fewer new connections you make, the less you have to experience rejection, criticism, or abandonment.
And the less time you spend around the connections you do have, the less likely they are to get a glimpse of the real you.
If you don’t expect anyone to stick around for the real you or if you expect people to criticize that person (find more to dislike than to love), it makes sense to avoid people as much as possible.
The problem? If you keep yourself closed off and avoid people, you’re far less likely to meet someone who will see the good in you and love you as you are.
2. Neglecting Self-Care
Because “why bother” trying to look well-cared-for when you’re invisible?
Why put time and effort into looking more appealing if you expect people to only see in you what they dislike?
It only makes sense to groom yourself if it enhances what’s already there.
And you don’t see the point in “making the most of” your assets when you expect people to focus on your deficits — if they see you at all.
On the other hand, taking the time out for self-care communicates that you consider yourself worth the time and energy, even if no one else does.
And consistent self-care is a daily reminder of that.
3. Going Into Robot Mode
When it’s safer not to feel anything, you can easily get into the habit of going into robot mode when you’re around people — or at least certain people.
Most people don’t mind your robot self, as long as you’re polite and professional.
They get what they want from the transaction, and you risk nothing.
At some point, though, you have to decide that the real love of one person is worth risking the pain of rejection by everyone else.
Robots can’t feel pain, but they can’t experience love, either.
4. Going Into Your Own Head
When you go into your own head, you’re unreachable in another way.
What others say to you has to compete with what you’re saying to yourself.
This is especially true if you sense their reason for trying to draw you out is more about their own ego than your benefit. Their victory would be a loss for you.
Because having breached the outer gate, they’re more likely to find ways to hurt you.
The flipside of this is that a true meeting of minds is impossible if your mind is closed off.
Think of the last time you put yourself at risk to get acquainted with someone you considered worth getting to know.
You saw something in them, even when they were hard to reach.
You’re worth getting to know, too.
5. Ghosting Others
You don’t do spur-of-the-moment socialization. This is why you love text messaging.
You know some people expect near-instant responses, and you’re at peace with the fact that those people will be disappointed.
If some deserve a more thoughtful response, that doesn’t negate the fact that thoughtful responses take longer. And you’re still afraid that if you don’t phrase the response in just the right way, the other person is likely to mistake your meaning.
Or they’ll be dissatisfied with your reply. And you’ll lose them.
Sometimes, all people need, though, is a quick response that tells them you’re unable to respond at length but will get back to them when you can.
Real friends don’t expect eloquence. They just want to know they matter to you.
6. Losing Yourself in an Obsession
All-consuming obsessions are your jam.
Something piques your interest, and pretty soon, you’re soaking up new information and sharing it with anyone who will listen.
It’s a quirk that pays off sometimes. Other times, the isolation catches up with you.
It’s so much easier to share what you’ve learned about a new topic of interest than it is to examine the kind of thinking that keeps people at arm’s length.
But with obsessions, the relationship is all one-sided. Your newest obsession would be fine if you walked away and transferred your affections to something else.
And they won’t be there for you during your dark night of the soul. Only a true friend would be. So, make room for one.
What to Do When Someone Pushes You Away
If you’re the one being pushed away, the following suggestions can help you both save and strengthen the relationship.
- Let them know what you love about them to build up their confidence.
- Remind them you’re not going anywhere. There’s nowhere else you’d rather be.
- Offer your no-strings help when they have a big project (moving, painting, etc.)
- Check in on them to see how they’re doing and if they’d like some company.
- Be the friend you both need, and make time for real conversations.
Sometimes, you’ll need to ask challenging questions to help the people you care about to confront the thinking that has held them back.
Think about what you’d want someone to do for you if you isolated yourself and kept people at arm’s length. If you still want this person in your life a year from now (and beyond), you may have to fight for them.
Maybe they just need to be reminded of what that feels like.
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Are you pushing people away?
If you now know how you’re pushing people away, you can change things.
If, for example, you tend to feel anxious when you’re on the phone with someone, you can choose to feel curious about the other person instead.
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Get out of your own head and ask what you can do to help them.
It takes conscious and consistent effort, but you can become the kind of friend you want to have. You’ll build habits that make you feel stronger and more connected.
And in exercising them, you’ll want to do more. You’ll also inspire others to do the same.
May your courage and compassion keep you moving in the right direction.