Why Do We Hold Back?

There are basically three reasons why we hold back . . .

We judge something about ourselves as unacceptable so we don’t want others to see it.
We believe another person will judge something about us as unacceptable.
We withhold as a way to punish the person we’re withholding from.


Think about it, either we withhold because we critically judge ourselves, we fear others will critically judge us, or because we want to punish the person we withhold from. Can you think of other reasons why you withhold?

Maybe an example will be helpful:

Many years ago I was a pretty anxious person—I judged myself harshly for this—and I held back from others, including my wife, Hannah, because I didn’t want her to see me as anxious. And then I would get angry with Hannah for not understanding how I was feeling. By holding back I made it impossible to get the support I needed.

Two simple, but profound strategies you can use

Withholding is the opposite of connecting. If you find yourself withholding, the starting point is to ask yourself, “Do I want to connect?” If your answer is “no,” then at least you can be honest and reveal that. You can say, “I’m not ready to connect right now.” In saying this you’ve broken the cycle of withholding. It’s a step in the right direction.

The next step would be to explain why. You might say, “I hesitate to connect because I’m seeing something about myself that I don’t like,” or, “I hesitate to connect because I’m concerned you’ll be critical of me.” Again, you’ve broken the pattern of withholding.

Why don’t people want to connect?

Different people comfort themselves with different levels of intimacy. And some people fear losing themselves through intimacy. Because intimacy can lead to dependency . . . and dependency results in blurring of boundaries . . .  before I know it I’ve put my nervous system in another person’s hands. How that other person looks at me, how they feel, what they say—these things determine how I feel.

All of that changes when we understand and practice Live Conscious because then we don’t give ourselves away—we don’t lose ourselves even when we’re in intimate relationships. And with Perception Language we become less judgmental of ourselves and less fearful about other people’s judgments, because we realize that other people are always telling us about them, not about us.

Stop withholding

You can stop withholding. Start by determining why you’re withholding. Is it your own judgment you fear or the other person’s judgment? Acknowledge this and you’ll be on your way.

The really tough part is if you are withholding as a way to punish someone else, and then the only solution is to go live alone in an igloo. If your choice is to stop punishing the people you love or go live alone in an igloo, either one is okay. Just do one or the other.

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5 Responses to Why Do We Hold Back?

  1. Ken July 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    It occurs to me that there is a fourth reason to withhold from your loved ones, to protect them from some perceived harm.

    • Jake Eagle July 14, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

      Yes, I appreciate this point. Holding back may have virtue.

      Also, today we held one of our Live Conscious gatherings and someone suggested that holding back may occur when we don’t think we deserve to ask for what we want.

  2. Traveling Woman July 15, 2012 at 5:57 am #

    thank you for yet another wonderful, refreshing, poignant and witty posting .
    This one resonates a lot within me , as I experienced my own double self-imposed pain by ‘punishing’ my partner for not feeling what I was feeling within me . With hindsight, how stupid to do so ! If I am already in an emotional rollercoaster, why would I add on top of it also blame + consequences of hurtful reaction of my partner ? I had to learn the hard way …
    All I needed in that moment was CONNECTION. But I could not ASK for it. I was fearing the other person’s judgement upon me. I see this now as a lack of TRUST in my partner. Not good. I do not like to repeat me that way any longer. Thank you for being out there and at our all service to become healthier beings .

  3. Jimmy September 22, 2015 at 10:44 am #

    Another would be fear to connect, out of fear that you would lose them and get hurt. Losing them could be in any form. The fear for me is investing my energy into something that could potentially fall apart. Do i guess self preservation is the focus and could be the cause. no matter how minute the risk, it still seems impossible for me to take that chance. The more I love the more I pull away. I recognize it, but haven’t figured out how to overcome completely. I have made progress though.

    • Jake September 22, 2015 at 11:09 am #

      Thanks for your comment, Jimmy. I think one effective strategy is going deeper one step at a time. Hopefully, with each step you are building more trust with the person you are trying to connect with.

      The other strategy is creating more security in yourself so that you know you will be okay even if someone else pulls away from you.

      Both of these strategies take time, but what I find exciting is to partner with someone who wants to do this with me, someone who wants to learn how to stay close and connected. And we do that by having certain agreements about how we treat each other. If you can make such agreements maybe this will not feel so risky for you.

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