The Compulsion To Withdraw


The person is physically present but emotionally withdrawn from involvement with people and life. Life has ceased to be meaningful as a result of this. Childhood deprivation causes the person to fear that his very need for love is too much and is destructive to relationships. This fear of loving leads her to withdraw deep inside herself.

The picture of the shut in person

The person is present in his body but is absent emotionally. The person complains of being cut off, out of touch, or of the point having gone out of life.

Psychoanalytic Theory calls the withdrawn person a schizoid personality. The withdrawn person may call it depression, but their mood lacks the heavy, black, inner sense of brooding, of anger and of guilt, which are present in depression. Depression is more related to a person. The withdrawn person has renounced her connection to people, even though she needs them.

A withdrawn person describes depression. “I’m very depressed. I’ve been just sitting and couldn’t get out of the chair. There seemed no purpose anywhere, the future is bland. I’m very bored and want a big change. I feel hopeless, resigned, no way out, stuck. I just want to manage somehow to get around and put up with it.” The withdrawn person can not get out of the chair, because there is nothing meaningful to go to. He has emptied his life of involvement in anything meaningful.

Childhood origins of the compulsion to withdraw

The person who is compelled to withdraw suffered severe deprivation in childhood. The person’s response to this deprivation was to get more and more hungry. There develops a longing to get total possession of the beloved so that you cannot be left to starve. This is love made hungry and this is the problem of the withdrawn person. It rouses a terrible fear that one’s love has become so devouring that the love itself is destructive. Withdrawn aloofness is a fear of loving lest ones need of love should destroy. The withdrawn person sees the beloved as a desirable deserter, an exciting needed experience whom they must go after, but then draws back for fear of destroying the beloved.

The individual reacts with an enormously exaggerated sense of need. Desire becomes hunger, and hunger becomes greed, which is hunger grown frightened of losing what it wants. “I’m afraid I couldn’t make moderate demands on people, so I don’t make any demands at all.” The withdrawn state, unlike depression, is a cancellation of a relationship. Retreat into indifference is the opposite of love which is felt too dangerous to express. The withdrawn person becomes busy with internal experiences, fantasy people, to whom they feel the same devouring attitude.

The withdrawn person’s retreat from people

The in and out program

When separated she feels utterly insecure and lost, but when reunited, she feels swallowed, absorbed and loses her separate individuality. He alternates between a return to the womb in the struggle to be born again and differentiating himself from the beloved to desperately defend his independence. She is frightened to separate from the beloved because she feels too insubstantial to survive. The inability to depend on anyone has left him weakened and he feels too insubstantial to survive on his own.

A young man engaged to be married says: “When I’m with Dorothy I’m quiet. I think I can’t afford to let myself go and let her see that I want her. I must let her see that I can get on without her. So I keep away from her and appear indifferent.” He experienced the same conflict about jobs. He fantasized getting a job in South America or China, but in fact turned down every job that would take him away from home. A girl in her twenties says: “When I’m at home I want to get away and when I’m away I want to get back home.” A nurse residing in a hostel says: “The other night I decided I wanted to stay and not go home, then I felt the hostel was a prison and I went home. As soon as I got there I wanted to go out again. Yesterday I rang my mother to say I was coming home, and then I called her again to say I was too tired to come.”

So, people find their lives slipping away changing houses, clothes, jobs, hobbies, friends, engagements and marriages, and unable to commit themselves to any one relationship in a stable and permanent way- always needing love yet always dreading being tied. The same conflict accounts for the tendency of engaged or married couples to fantasy about or feel attracted to someone else- as if they must preserve freedom from attachment, at least in imagination. One person remarked: “I want to be loved but I mustn’t be possessed.”

Third solution: Withdrawal into the self:

Giving up emotional relationships to people

A third solution to the in and out program is to withdraw deeply into oneself. The oscillation of in and out is profoundly disruptive to the continuity of living and cannot be sustained. It is then that a complete retreat from people is embarked on. The withdrawn person becomes emotionally inaccessible; cut off.

This state of emotional apathy where one does not suffer any feeling, excitement or enthusiasm and does not experience either affection or anger can be very successfully masked. If feeling is repressed, it is often possible to build up a kind of mechanized, robot personality. The person operates consciously more as a system than a person. She operates as a trained and disciplined instrument for doing the right and necessary thing without any real feeling entering in. He helps people without feeling or loving. Duty rather than affection becomes the key word.

Therapy with the withdrawn person

The withdrawn person resists taking help. Addressing the reasons for this is part of the process of helping them become less withdrawn.

An inadequate environment, and particularly an inadequate mother, exposes the infant to steadily increasing awareness of their smallness, weakness, and helplessness. Because of this, the person is unable to grow a secure sense of their wholeness and instead feels acute states of fear. The specific feeling of being little, helpless and frightened can emerge with great definiteness in deep therapy. Gradually the child must grow to feel, if he/she could put it into words, that it is too frightening to be weak in an unfriendly and menacing world, and also that one cannot afford to have needs that one cannot get satisfied. As he/she grows steadily out of earliest infancy and becomes more acquainted with the world, he/she must realize that such needs make one dependent. If you cannot change your world, you can try to change yourself. Thus, she comes to fear and hate her own weakness and neediness.

One person described how his crying as a child caused him to be treated with such contempt, that he managed suddenly to repress crying. He then found the crying fits replaced by temper attacks. Another person described how his attitude to his small son changed during the course of his therapy. At first when the boy cried, the father would feel an absolute fury of intolerance and shout at the boy to stop it at once. This only made him worse. Then later on, he managed to moderate this and would say: “Come on now, stop this crying. You’re a big boy now.” The person was later to say that as a boy he was often very frightened of his father but never dared to cry, though he often felt like it. But the son was not a big boy now and the father was trying to force him to a premature assumption of an attitude older than his years. This was what had happened in his own case. Finally, he worked through to a third position, and said, “Now when the child cries I don’t feel that old fury. I can accept his childishness better and I say, “I’m sorry you’re so upset. I know how you feel, but never mind. You have your cry and you’ll feel a lot better soon. He says this works far better. In a short time, the tears are dried and the boy has forgotten it all. The child is educated into the same intolerance of his childishness that the parent felt towards his/her own childishness all too often. A self frustrating situation of deep internal self hate arises, along with a concentrated attempt to drive and force oneself to behave in a way that is regarded as adult. The person acts in a pseudo mature way.

The hostility to dependence on anyone for help and he hating to admit needs is the most stubborn source of resistance to psychotherapy. The withdrawn person hates the needy child inside and hates the therapist to whom they desire to turn for help. The withdrawn person keeps the basic self weak by active persecution and by denying it any relationship in which it could grow strong.

The more the withdrawn person understands that his/her rejecting attitude toward allowing herself to have anything good arose from her identification with her parents of childhood, the less she will need to be withdrawn and the more will she will be able to allow herself to love and have a life.

The Doors

The song by the Doors conveys the sense of alienation and fear that the withdrawn person feels.

People are strange when you’re a stranger People are strange when you’re a stranger Faces look ugly when you’re alone Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted Streets are uneven when you’re down

When you’re strange faces come out of the rain When you’re strange no one remembers your name When you’re strange, when you’re strange When you’re strange

People are strange when you’re a stranger Faces look ugly when you’re alone Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted Streets are uneven when you’re down

When you’re strange faces come out of the rain When you’re strange no one remembers your name When you’re strange, when you’re strange When you’re strange, allright, yeah

When you’re strange faces come out of the rain When you’re strange no one remembers your name When you’re strange, when you’re strange When you’re strange

Click on the link below to hear the song: