Is pushing others away a common pattern in your relationships? There may be times when you are baffled by your own actions. Why are you actively distancing yourself from someone you like? Everyone else seems to respect and like this person, so what’s making you so eager to get away? It’s a jumble of emotions and thoughts inside, and it’s hard to make sense of it all.
When we are triggered by others, it’s natural that we become avoidant. However, if we can take a moment to get curious, we can gain some clarity about what’s happening inside of our own system.
This post is for those who are wondering why they push others away. I hope these points offer some insight about why your system is caught in this pattern.
#1 It’s too exhausting
If you’re struggling with mental health, everything feels exhausting. While you may be aware that being social is a “good thing”, talking to others depletes all of your limited energy. It takes effort to keep a conversation going and maintain concentration. You don’t have the patience or tolerance for inane chitchat.
You don’t feel confident that others are genuinely interested in getting to know you. Can they really accept you and all of your anxieties and sadness?
Social pressures feels insurmountable when you’re already managing anxiety, depression, trauma, and other mental health concerns. Pushing others away feels not only like self-preservation, but also an act of compassionate for our loved ones.
#2 Is there a genuine concern for safety?
If we are triggered by others, we want to stop and consider: Is my safety or well-being feeling threatened by this person? Sometimes the answer doesn’t have to be complicated. Your alarm bells are fired up because there is a real concern for your health and safety. When this happens, listen to these fears.
There may be parts of you that question whether your worries are legitimate. Perhaps you’ve seen this person be gentle with others. Perhaps this individual has been kind to you during many occasions. You might question whether it was a fluke or a one-time incident of feeling unsafe. You may be struggling with the decision to leave.
It’s hard to find clarity when there is a tug of war happening in our minds. A part of you is eager to call quits to this relationship, and another part of you says you’re being too impulsive. For many of us, it will feel impossible to reach a consensus.
When it comes to safety, we don’t want to take a chance. If you’re worried whether this person is a genuine threat, talk to someone. This could be a friend, a confidante or a therapist. I encourage you to connect with someone who is impartial. If this impartial person agrees that you’re unsafe, trust that answer. When you are safe, take the time and explore what’s happening inside of you. Get to know the parts of you that have normalized how this harmful person treats you.
#3 What parts of myself have I pushed away?
We tend to push away and exile the parts of ourselves that get us in trouble. We push down the parts of our personality that were shamed or met with negative responses from others.
For example, you may have been spontaneous, loud, and playful as a kid. But, whenever you showed up in this way, your parents would become upset. They would tell you to stop it, be quiet, or find something else to do. Your system adapted. You learned it was better to not be loud, spontaneous or playful. Instead, you stifled these aspects of your personality.
What does this have to do with pushing others away? When we notice others presenting as loud, spontaneous or playful, our system reacts. It’s not a conscious decision, but it is an immediate one. We feel annoyed with them. There may be an urge to react in the ways that our parents presented: we want to tell this person to stop it or be quiet. In order to stop feeling triggered, it feels safer to just avoid this person. By pushing this person away, we can continue to avoid reminders of our own exiled parts.
#4 Childhood trauma and the fear of responsibility
Childhood trauma teaches our system that we cannot be trusted to protect ourselves. No matter what you said, did, intended, or hoped, you couldn’t stop bad things from happening.
As traumatic events continue to occur, your system starts to lose faith in your ability to make things better. It ends up blaming you for being weak, incompetent, or making the wrong choices. It runs through numerous “what if’s” and “if only’s” scenarios because it genuinely believes you could have altered the outcome.
I’m not saying this line of reasoning is logical or valid. You were a child when this happened, and as a child, you had very little control or power in the world. But, this doesn’t stop your mind from wanting to have influence over these circumstances.
When we meet folks who remind us of these vulnerable states, it can trigger many fears inside of us. We become avoidant because we are overwhelmed at the idea of feeling responsible for a vulnerable person.
Your system doesn’t trust you to be capable of protecting yourself, so how could it trust you to take care of a young person? Rather than embrace this relationship, our minds protect by pushing the relationship away.
#5 Fear of trusting others
You’ve lived and survived all this time, and somewhere along the way you’ve gotten hurt. You may have discovered your partner was having an affair. Perhaps you heard your parents complain about you when they thought you were asleep. Maybe friends have turned cruel and violent. Whatever the scenario, your system started to feel cautious about trust. In order to not get hurt again, you learned the best way to stay safe is to avoid closeness.
Pushing others away allows you to stay safe. You feel leery about needing someone else for help or support. Self-reliance means you never have to be vulnerable again.
The above argument may feel very justifiable for some of you, and I do not question its ability to keep you safe. However, keeping yourself this closed off comes with some consequences.
Being human means we need social connection. From an evolutionary perspective, we could not survive in isolation. Loneliness creates further stressors to our physical and mental health.
# 6 You’re being pushed into something you’re not ready to face
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, our loved ones push us. They push us to face our fears, address our flaws, accept our limits, confront a hardship, or take a chance.
Your spouse knows you avoided applying for that promotion. Your colleague heard you swearing at a client. Your friend tells you to stop wasting all your money at the casino. Your sibling keeps pestering you to attend AA meetings. Seeing your mother reminds you of how much abuse you experienced as a child.
Some of us are able to address our emotional scars. This takes time, patience, safety, support and a variety of emotional tools (e.g. validation, trauma processing). Eventually, by understanding and working through our emotions, our internal discomfort disappears. The other person is no longer seen as an enemy.
However, not everyone is ready to face these challenges. Sometimes, the other person does not have to say anything. Their presence alone reminds you of the parts of yourself that you are not ready to address. These reminders are incredibly painful. The safest option is to push others away rather than turn inwards.
If you’re interested in learning more about these protective mechanisms in your own system, reach out!
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