Why Do I Push People Away? How to Stop Pushing

For most of my life, I’ve thought of myself as a very independent human being. Although I make friends quickly, maintaining relationships with my loved ones for an extended period has been much more difficult.

I always chalked this up to the fact that I’m pretty comfortable in my own space and that my needs for people and their companionship are few and far between. I believed that relying on others was a weakness that I’d been wise enough to dispense with. I was moving along in a perpetual state of “fine” until the words of one of my few long-time friends hit home.

I Push People Away

You may push people away because you feel like you’re not worth their time. This feeling of low self-esteem and self-worth can come from other mental health issues like anxiety or depression. Pushing people away can be traced all the way back to your childhood, which could also have shaped your inner voice.

Stop Pushing People Away

We were talking about relationships and our respective dating histories. I was explaining that, although I like the idea of relationships, every time that I start dating, I get overwhelming anxiety by the thought of commitment. When she turned to me and casually said, “Why is it that you don’t think you are worthy of love?” It startled me.

Why is it that you don’t think you are worthy of love?

It sounded like the kind of comment that you read in some silly self-help book. I asked myself, “How could she be so wrong?” You never know. If anything, I was suffering from an excess of ego, not a lack of it. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that she was right. Whether it is a loved one or a colleague at work, I do have a tendency to push away people who care about me.

So Why Do I Do It?

I have been pushing people away my entire life, and I hadn’t realized why until that moment. It wasn’t because I didn’t need people or felt abandoned. I was afraid to open up to another person. Except for a few cases, like my insightful friend, the majority of my relationships never penetrated the surface layer.

One method that I often use to insulate myself from actually having to engage with someone is to become obsessive about ideas. My friend’s words left me with the desire to understand a complicated question: Why do we push people away?

A lonely woman sitting alone
A lonely woman sitting by the window

Pushing People Away As An Act Of Independence

When we were children, we may push people away, it isn’t so much a repudiation of the other as it is an affirmation of the self. By rejecting another person’s desires in the act of rebellion, we establish our own desires as a primary aspect of our identity. While this type of resistance is vital in the formation of a child’s sense of self, we understand that it isn’t true independence.

The Importance of Self-Actualization

In the words of Dr. Carl Pickhardt, “Although the young person thinks rebellion is an act of independence, it actually never is. It is really an act of dependency.” This is because kids are still defining themselves, in the negative, according to the desires of other people.

If the child were self-actualized, they would pursue their own desires irrespective of the demands of others. That means sometimes agreeing and sometimes disagreeing with the wishes of others. When our desires align with the hopes of others, rebellion is seen for what it is, as a self-destructive behavior that only proves our lack of confidence in our identity.

Grown-up Children

A problem develops when adults who never successfully developed that natal stage of identity affirmation begins to form couples. Every request made of them by a committed partner might feel like a burden or a mechanism of control that threatens their independence. I have to admit that this is something that I still deal with.

Two friends consoling each other
Two friends consoling each other

Pushing People Away Because We’re Afraid Of Intimacy

The fear of intimacy is a significant contributor to why many of us push people away, but what causes it? For many, this aversion towards intimacy is a thing rooted in a parasitic lack of self-worth that amounts to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The fear of intimacy is a significant contributor to why many of us push people away.

Many people deal with insecurities stemming from the internal narratives that play out in their minds. Because we’re scared of failure, we don’t take the chance of going after the things that we believe would bring us happiness. As a result of that, we convince ourselves that we are unworthy of happiness. It’s a vicious cycle that can leave us mired in self-doubt, unable to relate to others, which causes us to push them away.

The Intimacy Paradox

The situation is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, we lack self-confidence; on the other hand, our ego is part of the problem. After creating an idealized scenario in our minds, we hold ourselves accountable to that construct. Anything less than perfection leaves us feeling like a failure. We’re so great that a mistake is unforgivable!

Unfortunately, as long as we are mentally trapped inside of our ideal fantasy, it is impossible for us to fully engage with the reality that is in front of us. Our expectation has ruined our experience and has made intimacy at the moment impossible. As the pattern perpetuates itself, breaking the cycle can feel impossible, even if we understand it on an intellectual level.

Merely understanding the causes of our feelings won’t necessarily help us to overcome our fears of intimacy. At some point in our lives, we got off track, and it will take a significant correction to get where we want to go.

Person focused on the moment
Person focused on the moment

Fixing Our Attention In The Moment

When our thoughts are dominated by an internal narrative that strips us of our confidence, we’re stuck in a feedback loop that won’t ever end unless we end it. We have to find a way to redirect our thoughts away from the fantasy and plant them into reality at the moment.

But how can we do that?

The power that our internal narratives have over us is rooted in the power of habit. Sometimes people form a habit of responding to specific triggers that they encounter in relationships that propel them into internal dialogue.

The Key to Breaking a Habit

It is challenging just to break a habit, especially one which has dominated our mental lives for so long. Dr. Bernard Lushkin, a licensed therapist, explains that interrupting an old habit by developing a new one is a much more powerful practice. We need to find a new pattern, one that serves us instead of hinders us.

Before we can do that, we need to understand the reasons behind the triggering of our internal dialogue. For people who suffer from performance anxiety, it can be tied to a key event in an intimate relationship that snaps them out of the moment. As the physical experience begins, they might be stuck in an embarrassing memory from the past.

Habits are Everywhere

Your new habit has to be custom-designed to interrupt your destructive mental health pattern.

For example, I love food. In the past, I would often use it as a way to deal with falling into a slump. It was a short-term fix, and when the pleasure of eating was over, I would feel worse than before.

When the pleasure of eating was over, I would feel worse than before

I didn’t want to give up eating food that I liked, so I knew that I needed to exercise more if I wanted to stay healthy. Instead of trying to refrain from eating, I told myself that if I started to feel depressed, I would go for a run first, and then afterward, I would eat whatever I wanted to as a reward.

You can probably guess where this is going. I would go for a run, and afterward, I would feel great. Then I lost the desire to use food as a coping mechanism. I interrupted my old habit with a new one. It gave me more energy and helped me come out of depression and crisis. I’m not the only one. There are many similar stories. If it worked with food, why wouldn’t it work in other areas of my life, like pushing others away?

You Can Apply The Same Device To Your Thoughts

The truth is that replacing habits can work just as well with people. After all, interacting with others is a sort of habit. People sometimes catch themselves having the same, repeated interactions with various individuals, getting stuck in what feels like a perpetual loop of not being able to form a genuine relationship. What if I told you that the negative feelings you feel during interactions go hand in hand with the “thought habits” you have developed throughout your life?

Changing “Thought Habits”

Close your eyes and imagine being in a social situation that would normally create anxiety. Usually, it may cause you to begin to feel self-conscious.

Imagine feeling that stress, and instead of becoming self-conscious, you become curious. You wonder whether the person you are talking to is feeling anxious too. It genuinely interests you. You might feel like you’re a little uncomfortable, but your curiosity about someone has overwhelmed you, replacing the unpleasant feeling of anxiety. It might not work the first time, but slowly, you will create a new habit that will be capable of interrupting the old pattern. This way, instead of causing more trauma, social interactions will become something that will inspire you to ask questions and improve your communication with your loved ones and strangers alike.

Be Patient

This process will take time and patience, so be kind to yourself. Don’t create another unrealistic expectation that you can’t hope to measure up to. Most importantly, if you’re having trouble isolating these triggers or thinking of a new habit that you can use to interrupt the old one, reach out to somebody close to you or a trained mental health professional for help.

Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations
Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations

Repairing Our Confidence

A lack of confidence often stems from being scared of failure. Being confident doesn’t necessarily mean believing that you will always succeed. Sometimes, it means acceptance of failure as an opportunity, not an excuse to push others away.

Failure as a Lesson

Psychologist Jonathan Brown explains that we should learn from failure. A failure is a form of feedback. Imagine that you have a large sheet of paper in your mind. On the piece of paper, you want to draw a map that you’ll use to navigate your life. Every time you fail, if you’re paying attention, you can fill in a little bit more of the map. Eventually, you will get where you want to go.

A failure is a form of feedback

If you approach your relationships joyously with a child-like sense of exploration instead of trying to impose control over your experiences by forcing them to conform to an imaginary ideal, you might find that confidence becomes a bit irrelevant. You’ve shifted your focus from expectation to experience.

Final Thoughts

Every person is unique. Your insecurities are not my insecurities, and it’s possible that not all of these solutions will apply to you. However, isn’t that always a risk? Isn’t the chance to be happy worth losing some energy? Take a moment and imagine how your life could change if these solutions did work for you or your loved ones. It’s not the answer to push them away. Not only would you be able to put yourself into new situations that you would have been afraid to before, but you might actually enjoy it!

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the reason why you push the ones you love away. Of course, it can’t replace therapy or meaningful conversations, but they should come with time. In order to be able to establish a connection with anyone, you should first and foremost understand yourself, the standards you’ve set for other people, and all of the other things that no one else but you can reach.

Comments

  1. I met a lot of people who are afraid of intimacy… and in that way I kind of adapted the way they treat relationships… It’s hard and it’s horrible. But I met someone along the way who taught me how to communicate and be vulnerable and not push people away.

  2. This is all about me! The part about pushing people away because of fear of intimacy.
    By communicating with people I create an unreal personality and then finish the communication without saying goodbye, at a random moment of stress.
    And because of that, I can’t make reliable acquaintances, because when I get close to someone, I push people away.
    Thank you for your deep thoughts and for making me think about my life.

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