You may recall the song, “My Little Runaway,” by Del Shannon. Even though it’s a peppy song with a strong beat, it’s a bit sad. A guy whose girlfriend ran away without explaining is upset and wondering why. You can check out the song on YouTube. Another favorite that speaks to how it feels to be affected by people who run away is Laura Nyro’s “He’s a Runner,” a warning to other women to stay away if they don’t want to be hurt.
If you have ever cared for someone who takes off (for a while or forever) when emotions become intense, or when they started caring too much, you will be able to relate. You may even have become involved emotionally with someone who never planned to stay in the first place, but forgot to let you know! Ouch! This kind of behavior leaves us feeling confused, hurt, angry, and afraid. If you are a runner yourself, it may be time to take a look at what that tendency means.
Running away is how some people handle challenges in their lives. They physically leave situations and relationships that they are uncomfortable with. If there is violence or danger, this is, of course, a necessary action to take. Here, though, we are talking about people who run away because they can’t or won’t face what is going on. Even though they are physically safe, they may not feel emotionally safe. Perhaps any interpersonal conflict causes them to feel threatened. People who grew up with violence at home may fear a loss of control if they stay physically present when emotional temperatures rise. Some people run from certain feelings more than others. Situations that evoke fears they don’t know how to manage may cause them to run when they see no other way out.
Runaways come in all shapes and sizes and can be either gender. They often have the ability to be physically present, but emotionally absent. When they “run,” their gaze may suddenly go blank, and they come across as aloof or distant. When this happens, you may feel like they just aren’t “here.” Maybe they escaped into thinking of something else (what’s next on their agenda is a favorite!), or maybe they change the subject to get you both focused on something else. Once a runaway becomes unavailable, it may seem you can’t recapture their attention. What are they telling you by this behavior?
Why We Run
- Emotional Discomfort – The feeling we want to avoid could be anyone we are uncomfortable with, in ourselves or others: fear, jealousy, anger, shame, or sadness. If we are not adept at feeling and expressing our emotions well, we may feel best if we find refuge in our head and start thinking, or we leave the room.
- Dishonesty – Sometimes, people are trying to avoid or evade an uncomfortable topic (such as infidelity) and want to draw your attention away from it. Some may be hiding something, or simply unwilling to be straightforward with you.
- Fear of Intimacy – This is a big one! We may love the closeness of emotional, physical or sexual intimacy, yet be afraid of being vulnerable. We might fear that if people get too close, they will have the power to hurt us.
- Fear of Confrontation – Many of us do not have a lot of talent in the area of addressing our differences with others. We want to judge, blame, put down and dismiss those who hold different opinions. We may feel threatened by assertive people and assume they will overrule us, resulting in us not getting our needs met. We may be concerned that others will judge us, or not like us if we stand up for ourselves. The confrontation may be major or minor, yet our response is the same. Let’s Run!
The downside of running is that you will probably leave a trail of broken relationships and lost opportunities behind you. You will also miss out on the understanding and harmony that comes after conflicts have been worked out. You may not be able to get very far with achieving goals you set that require commitment and follow-through. You might not be available to hear people’s sharing of their anger or frustration about your behavior or to hear their positive feelings. You miss out on what happens when you stay the course which includes learning, growing, changing, deepening your connection to others, and developing your communication skills.
Over time you may even start feeling like you are letting yourself down because you are running from yourself as much as from others. This usually does not leave anyone feeling very good!
Put the Brakes On
Consider handling emotional and psychological discomforts in a different way. First, slow down and notice what is going on. Take note of when the urge to run is strong. A deep breath can help. Or, you may realize that the best choice is to leave the situation. That is okay too. Commit to coming back and talking things through when everyone is calm. If it is safe but doesn’t feel comfortable, try acknowledging the discomfort. If the person you are with is supportive, maybe you can share how you are feeling with them. Then, little by little, one circumstance at a time, practice staying put and seeing things through. Many benefit from mental health counseling, coaching, 12-step recovery groups, yoga, meditation, and other personal-growth-focused spiritual practices. These things will help you develop skills in self-awareness and managing your emotions more effectively. Over time you will probably feel less inclined to run and more inclined to see what may unfold if you stay. If you do go to counseling to address this issue, don’t be surprised if you feel like running from that, too! Stay the course, talk to your counselor about it and you will begin to change the avoidant pattern.
Always, when seeking to make behavior changes, plan for success by getting whatever support you need. Then leave the running for physical activity and leave it out of your personal relations. Your families, friends, partners, and co-workers will appreciate your efforts!