Have you ever been in a situation where a friend or partner suddenly and unexplainably withdraws from communication, withholds their love and caring and you are left wondering what has happened? Lets take a closer look at what is going on for both people in this often very painful and unhealthy relational dynamic.
On a deeper level if you are the person who is choosing to emotionally withdraw and withhold, you are clearly in pain but unable to articulate that pain. Whenever you close off communication like this, you are actually expressing remnants of past trauma. In my coaching and personal development model called The Lucidity Process, I refer to this as operating from your emotional child self or emotional teen self. Somewhere in your past as a child or teen, you experienced significant relational trauma with your source figures and yet didn’t have a loving emotionally healthy adult to remedy your pain. You didn’t feel safe or able to change the experience and as a result, you experienced the pain of personal powerlessness. So by way of adapting to that perception of powerlessness, you learnt to emotionally withdraw and withhold as a coping mechanism. Using withdrawal and withholding is done as a means of control and as a form of punishment.
American psychotherapist Margaret Paul PhD explains: “When you withdraw, your intent is to control the other person by punishing them. The underlying message of withdrawal is, ‘You are doing something wrong and I will punish you by withdrawing my love. Then maybe you will stop what you are doing and be how I want you to be.’
I refer to withdrawal as being on your I-Land. You swim away out through the ocean of emotion onto your I-Land. Your brain is literally hard wired from previous trauma to behave like this as a default response. It’s a maladaptive response, meaning it’s not a productive or healthy response to what you perceive to be a threatening situation. Threatening, only because you don’t know what else to do. When we are aware of the choices we do have, we are in our true resilience, and the situation is no longer perceived as threatening. We can then choose to stay and experience the power of effective and objective relating. Yet within the emotional child or teen state, instead of effectively and objectively communicating your feelings, you don’t have those skills and tools in your inner emotional toolbox. So you close off communication often without explanation, and disappear onto your I-Land.
You experience your I-Land as a perceived place of power or position of safety or even authority. You will even collect evidence that validates your choice to withdraw as the best option. The minds ability to make up a story about the other person or to rationalise an unhealthy decision is often breathtaking. Ironically however, your I-Land is actually a place of powerlessness, a place where your deepest needs for healthy connection can never be met. So by continuing to withdraw and withhold, you are actually missing an opportunity to cultivate those essential relational skills, that will give you experience of healthy connection. Ultimately you will simply repeat the pattern all over again unless you choose to change.
If you are the person or partner who is experiencing being withdrawn from, the withdrawing and withholding behaviour becomes a relational trigger. Understandably, you may feel confused, sad, distressed or powerless. Feelings of shame can be triggered because you perceive your friend or partner no longer values you. You perceive through the lens of past pain that you are being abandoned and are no longer cared about. Yet the hidden truth is your friend or partner actually feels powerless within the relationship with you. They are afraid that they don't have the capacity to change that experience of themselves, so they choose instead to simply withdraw from you. You are unexpectedly hurtled back into the original hurtful relational experiences from your past. You fall down the rabbit hole of constant rumination about the situation, mind loops that never offer advice but bring further and greater ongoing suffering. Underneath that unhealthy state of mind, is your powerless emotional child or teen with the unmet need to be safe, to be valued and to experience healthy loving connection. The way out, is through.
The first empowering step is mindstillness practise. By sending ‘mind’ out to the day spa through entering the greater stillness of mind, you have a potent mechanism to begin to gain traction up and out of that rabbit hole. The next healing step is to make space for your feelings to arise in an inner space that is non-judgmental and compassionate, rather than avoiding and ignoring your feelings or criticising yourself for what has occurred. Empowerment comes from operating from within your emotional adult, rather than the unhealed wounds of the emotional child or teen.
Once we heal and integrate that early relational trauma, we have the ability and agility to climb up and out of that rabbit hole as a stronger wiser emotionally adult person. The best pathway forward is to empower yourself through inner growth work, to focus on gaining that essential wisdom and insight.
I offer powerful navigation to bring illumination of this kind in my coaching process and self-development sessions. Clients find new strength, clarity and skills to transcend barriers and to move towards empowered relational skills and healthy friendships and consciously loving relationships.
Essentially all relationships have the potential to become grounds for transformation and change if both people are open to navigating through the situation from a place of awareness, witness and willingness. I have seen much growth gained through such situations but it takes courage, and sometimes the old wounds are potent and bind us to our past. Sometimes we choose not to grow or change. And if that is the case with your partner or friend, then you may be facing the choice to let go, to detach non-judgmentally and simply move on.
It is from a wiser and more healed and integrated place we are then set up to find a new and healthy relationship where both parties are capable of an evolutionary version of partnership.
Ultimately we are here to cultivate loving compassion, healthy connection and to evolve. Lets choose to make more love while we are here. The first place to begin is to love Self compassionately and tenderly and sometimes the most loving compassionate action is to simply let go and move on.
Much love everyone …