“Why do I push people away when I need them the most?”

The title of this post is a question that was sent to me a little while ago; it comes up often enough, and seems to be something that a lot of people can relate to.

When we’re at our loneliest and most vulnerable – precisely when we need support the most – often seems to be exactly the time when we work the hardest to push people away. It doesn’t seem to make any sense, and we often kick ourselves for acting this way.

There’s actually some important reasons why we tend to act this way.

One is reflex: when we feel hurt and vulnerable, our defenses go up. When that happens, it’s harder to trust and let people in.

Two is history, especially childhood: When we’ve been hurt, our antennas go up and we find it a lot harder to trust; so the more lonely we feel, the more vulnerable we feel. When we feel vulnerable, our instinct is to not trust because we’re afraid of being hurt again. It’s a vicious cycle – we feel alone, so we feel vulnerable, so we push people away,  which makes us feel alone, which makes us feel vulnerable, which makes us push people away…

Three is culture, especially if you’re from a military background: you’re used to being tough and doing your best to act even tougher. Trying to let your guard down to let someone else actually look after you makes you feel… Vulnerable. You don’t want anyone to see you when you’re hurting, so even though you really need them to be there for you, you push them away.

The trick to breaking the pattern is:

One, understand that your reflex is making you feel less trusting – it’s colouring your outlook, and making you more crusty and prickly than you normally would be. So, know that the reason you’re pushing people away is because you really need them.

Two, realize that you got hurt back then, and this is now. It’s important to remind yourself that not everyone is like the person/people who hurt you; it will take work to slowly allow yourself to let people in.

UPDATE: Since it was published, this post has been one of the most read on this blog, and many readers have asked me to write more on the topic. Here’s a link to part 2 on this topic; here is part 3.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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12 thoughts on ““Why do I push people away when I need them the most?”

    1. Hi Kym, and welcome.
      One of the best ways to be a support is to arm yourself with information. In that sense, I hope that this blog might be of some help to you. If you go to the top of the page, right under the banner photo – the second button from the left is “Start here”. It might be a good starting point to navigate around some of the archived posts.
      A while back, I wrote a series of posts that were answers to questions asked by spouses of veterans with PTSD. At the top of the page right under the buttons under the banner picture, on the right-hand side, you’ll see a box that says, “search”. If you type in “spouses”, that should pull up those articles, and they might address some of the common issues that spouses often ask about.
      I’m sure that won’t answer all of your questions, but I hope it gives you a bit of a start.

  1. @Kym, you may also wish to hear Dee’s comments on her radio interview on the American Heroes Network. Just go to http://www.AmericanHeroesNetwork.com and go to RADIO, scrolling down to the 24 December broadcast. She was great and the information shared was invaluable. As his significant other, it might help you to find support for you — in order to support him better. Best of success to you!

    1. Thank you, Linda!

      Yes – although the topic of that broadcast was about dealing with the holidays, we did discuss how family members and loved ones can be supportive. American Heroes Network has lots of other broadcasts and resources that might be helpful, so explore their website in addition to my interview.

  2. thank you, i suffer with severe ptsd and severe anxiety. i didn’t know until i had my daughter that almost kiled me, i was on a death bed. but apparently i had it for a very long time ad it sparked it up to severe. i’ve been hurt threw out my whole life, parents divorcing seeing domestic violence my whole life, seeing men break me everytime. my basic instinct for the longest time dont get close because they always break promises and they always hurt me or they leave me. so my whole life, i’m in fear of getting close to anyone. i have really bad trust issues. so i figure if i push people away who hurt me or didnt hurt me away. i figured it was the easiest way to go i want them to be there for me but its like putting my defenses down to get hurt again in life. i just don’t know what to do with my self breaks my heart.

  3. Dear Dr. Dee,

    What happened if we have a great difficulty to find people to support us? I found that nobody care enough to support me.

    Since I moved to a new place, I am still unable to have close friends. And I live far away from family and relatives.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Nick!

      I wish there was an easy, quick solution; your situation is far too common. Lots of people who are struggling find themselves isolated and lonely.

      Finding a support group might be one place to start. If you have a tough time getting out of the house, even an online support group might be something to consider. If your family is supportive, even if they live far away, do your best to maintain those relationships as well.

  4. i think ur right,the same thing happend to me.i drift away the moment my friends or people i know start to care about me.so what should i do?

    1. Hi x,

      First thing to do is to realize that this is your tendency; next, work on learning to let your loved ones know that it’s hard for you to let people get close, and that sometimes you might need to pull away for a bit. It’s not a quick or easy fix, but it’s a place to start moving things in a good direction, and I hope it helps you to feel more comfortable getting connected.

    1. Hi Lori!

      Recognizing this pattern is an important first step towards healing… So, congratulations on having taken this step.

  5. lots of people have told me i struggle with depression and have abandonment issues. whenever someone trys being there for me i tend to push them away. i hate having to be helped but i do realize that i need it. i have a wonderful boyfriend that loves me and i love him! but i cant escape the feeling of having to push him away because he will eventually get tired of me and leave me or i will end up making him unhappy. some days i simply just dont feel like being with him for some reason i dont even know! and its not that i dont love him because when im not with him the only thing i do is think of him and i want to give him everything in this world! what do i do about escaping all those bad thoughts and feelings?

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