Attracted to the Unavailable: Why and and How to Overcome This Self-Sabotaging Pattern

Why are we attracted to the emotionally unavailable? What can we do about it? This problem is presented to me so much in my practice that I wanted to write about ways to end this self-sabotaging pattern.

If we fall for someone who initially seems available and open to love, and then they run hot and cold on us, this can leave us feeling anxious, confused and like we are repeating this pattern in our relationships over and over.

Most people think they are specially equipped with radar to detect the right person – if not at first sight, at least by the second date. But a common bind for many is that they are only attracted to unavailable partners.  Their radar hones in on those who are destined to leave them in the end.  They are caught up in cycles of abandonment.

If this describes your love life, it may be that while you believe you are looking for a relationship, you are in fact seeking infatuation. When someone comes along who wants to be with you, he or she is too easy-to-get to arouse that “required level of insecurity.”  If you can’t feel those yearning, craving sensations, you think you aren’t “in love.” So you keep pursuing partners who trigger your insecurity and offer an “emotional challenge” in order to arouse the biochemistry of infatuation.
What is this chase all about?

Many people are afraid of commitment — they fear both abandonment and engulfment. Engulfment is when someone starts to want you back and the walls close in on you. You become overwhelmed by their expectations and fear you’ll have to abandon yourself completely! So to stay out of either thicket – abandonment or engulfment – you pursue unavailable partners as a way of avoiding the risk being either devastated by abandonment or strangulated by engulfment.

Another cause lies buried in your early relationship with your parents.  Maybe you felt rejected or dismissed, or struggled to win their approval or recognition.  Now as an adult you’re easily “hooked” when someone pushes these old insecurity buttons.  Another cause is low self-esteem:  You wouldn’t want anyone who would want you.  You can only value them if you are in the one-down position, which makes you more easily dismissed by them, hence abandoned (again). You may stay in the vicious cycle of pursuing hard-to-get lovers in order to keep replaying the old drama – to distract yourself from your old abandonment wounds.

The good news it that with work we can break this cycle and move forward with a relationship that meets our core needs and gives us the stability and security we need.

To break the cycle:

1. The first step is to recognize whether you have this problem. Work with a therapist to identify your “relationship pattern”.

2. Question your motives: Are you looking for the emotional high of infatuation or seeking a trusting, loving, mutual relationship? In other words are you seeking romance instead of relationship?

3. Work with a therapist to break your “relationship pattern”. This may involve:

  • forming a stronger sense of self
  • re-examining your values about what kind of partner you choose
  • opening yourself to new truths, experiences, values and new people
  • learn to bypass your gut and distinguish being “attracted” from being “interested” in a truly emotionally reliable partner
  • ask your prospective lovers how they ended their past relationships
  • learn to tolerate being loved and to build intimacy by being your authentic self
  • redefine what love is and expectations about an everlasting love
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