Beware Emotional Cut-off

Dating Wisely Concept #10: Beware of Emotional Cut-off follows directly from Dating Wisely Concept #9: Study Your Family Projection Process. When parents unwittingly project their unresolved intra- and inter-personal issues onto their children–and all families do to varying degrees–the children will automatically react with physical, emotional and social symptoms. When they become adults and make choices of their own, they may decide to escape from that emotional pressure by cutting off from the family and/or various parts of it.

Cut-off can be emotional, physical or both. Emotional cut-off refers to avoiding sensitive issues in one-to-one relationships; physical cut-off refers to avoiding physical contact, by either moving away or avoiding visits. These strategies may give the appearance of peace, but beneath the surface the issues remain, rumbling like a volcano.

What Cut-off Looks Like In the Dating Game

Adult children who don’t resolve early attachment conflicts and who cut off from those relationships either 1) put pressure on their adult intimate relationships to fill up emotional voids left by the emotional processes in their families of origin, or 2) overly accommodate to the expectations of the adult relationships they form for fear of compromising those relationships.

What might that look like in the dating world? Asking questions about the dating process that reveal an undeveloped sense of self, a result of unresolved attachments in family of origin relationships, is one manifestation of this reality. For example, in a discussion group that Brad and I lead, we hear the following questions over and over:

  • Who should pay on the first date?
  • Should women ask men out?
  • How can I spot a player? (male or female)
  • What does a good on-line profile look/sound like?

Who Am I?

These questions won’t help someone find a good match. They attempt to guess what’s in the mind of a potential date so as perform in such a way that will attract the attention and approval of that person. They do not address the person’s own sense of values or virtues, or allow the individual to be attractive just as s/he is to someone for whom s/he won’t have to perform.

The only real question that a single person needs to ask and answer is, “Who am I?”, and the answer to that question is best resolved by the time a person is four years old. Solid families create an environment in which a child builds a secure attachment in his or her toddler years, and by the time the child reaches school age, s/he has a solid sense of self that recognizes that others are different, and that differences can actually enhance relationships.

Footprints of Insecurity

The family emotional process allows for this development when two solid parents who are secure in themselves respond to the child’s real needs, not the needs they imagine the child has based on the parents’ own unresolved attachment issues.

Parents who aren’t secure, solid individuals unwittingly leave their insecure footprints on the child’s psyche, and the child eventually ends up in adulthood with approximately the same level of differentiation as the parents. Fortunately, adult children can earn a secure attachment style by re-engaging those early relationships that have been cut off and by learning to define oneself within them.

We’ll talk more about that work tomorrow and over the next few posts.

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