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Are You an Available One Who Loves an Abusive Avoider?

Updated: Jul 4

Picture people sincerely and attentively communicating, asking, listening, and wanting to understand and work things out. How wonderful! Some feelings might show, and voices could get a little louder, but any discomfort in this effort is temporary. This is a caring process to connect. Even if full resolution takes several conversations, or you agree to disagree about the subject, the effort to put the issue, offense, or hurt feelings in perspective and interact with kindness is emotionally healthy, loving, and scriptural. Indeed, sharing and listening with another about uncomfortable topics and amid flaring feelings is not easy. It can be challenging and even scary – yet incredibly rewarding, and the way is paved for clarity, restoration, and, above all, peace.


If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18 NLT)


The Available One wants peace, likely has some genuine empathy and questions, and courageously accepts that the other person may have legitimate questions, input, and loving concerns, too. These qualities are not just desirable but essential for maintaining healthy relationships.


Conversely, there are some who are Avoiders in an emotionally abusive way. They are extreme Avoiders who are easily and profoundly offended by a “crime” they may have misinterpreted, the Available One may not be aware of committing or did unintentionally. The Available One may have had a moment of deep frustration or forgot to add a mannerly “please” when asking for help. Although they do not claim to be “perfect,” the Available Ones do not deserve the wrath Avoiders inflict for weeks, months, or longer. Some Avoiders announce, “I’m uncomfortable,” as though that excuses what they are about to do. Then, their avoidance of uncomfortable moments at any cost results in “run-away” behavior that destroys emotional intimacy and relationships and prevents bonding. They may pull into a shell, lash out with “porcupine spines,” or incorporate both behaviors. Either way, the abusive Avoider’s behavior is not a brief reaction in intense emotion, but it is cold and tortuous punishment inflicted for undue amounts of time. Avoiders withdraw from the ones who genuinely care for them, disappear, and refuse eye contact, talk, touch, or other forms of communication. While we are not judging Avoiders, those who have suffered the cruelty of their behavior know it is horrifically harmful, shatters hearts, devastates relationships, and prevents peaceful reconnection.


Trying to clarify what seems to have occurred and brainstorming potential solutions is challenging enough. However, when Avoiders interrupt and either shun or leave for long stretches of time, there can be no resolution or peaceful settlement. They prefer the avoidance of temporary discomfort over peace and emotional connection. I am not referring to the one who graciously says, “Let’s take a break, get centered, and have a caring, less-emotional discussion.” That person sounds like a wise peacemaker.


When one is regularly easily offended, pulls away, and closes opportunities for emotional reconnection, it can be a sign of “emotional intimacy avoidance,” which is excruciating for the ones who love them. Avoidance with contempt destroys emotional safety, tears the relationship connection to shreds, and causes the angst of rejection, abandonment, and profound loneliness. You never know when an Avoider will find a reason to push you away, but they will.


The late Mark Goulston, MD, a respected psychiatrist and author of numerous books, including Just Listen and his most recent, Trauma to Triumph, referred to people who avoid give-and-take communication as “toxic.” Their way of coping with differences and uncomfortable moments takes a toll on the other person and, of course, the relationship. Any of us can feel temporarily overwhelmed, want to withdraw from an uncomfortable or painful interaction and have a brief overreaction. And asking for a temporary break is okay. But, when withdrawal and silent treatment repeatedly goes on, and on and on for weeks or more, it is not a “momentary overreaction.” It is cold, deliberate cruelty and one of the most harmful of emotionally abusive behaviors. Dr. John Gottman of the famous relationship research instituteand author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail refers to such behavior as “stonewalling” and labels it the “silent destructor” of relationships.


Deliberate avoidance is extreme and far more punishing than the“perceived crime.” As human beings meant for relationships, we are not emotionally equipped to endure long-term avoidance, contempt, and rejection. Weeks or months of emotional abandonment without being touched, looked at or spoken to can be emotionally and physically harmful to the Available One. Some have died from the heartbreak of this repeated treatment. The Available One longs for reconnection. The Avoider seems not to care.  Avoiders choose their deliberate, long-term behavior. And, although it is not your fault, they will tell you it is. Know that, or you could become emotionally shattered and suffer more deeply and needlessly. You’re meant for MORE than that.


(Note: We will look at skills for coping with Abusive Avoiders in another blog.)


© 2024, McKenzie, Sandy

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