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Heart of ice: why some people find it difficult to express affection

Heart of ice: why some people find it difficult to express affection

May 6, 2024

For a long time we have known to what extent our physical and psychological well-being can be eroded by the effect of loneliness, and that the expression of affection is the main way to create connections that link us to others beyond formal relationships.

But nevertheless, Many people have problems expressing affection , and they adopt a distant attitude automatically and involuntarily despite the fact that a part of them asks for the opposite.

Why does this happen? As practically all psychological phenomena, there is no single explanation, since there are several ways that lead to the same result, depending on the path that each person has traveled throughout his life. But nevertheless, there are very common causes to this phenomenon that affects both the couple relationships , and then we will see one of them.


  • Related article: "The power struggle in couple relationships"

The problems when expressing affection

The human mind is a cluster of contradictions, and that is why we are able to prefer one option to another in a theoretical way while at the same time we practice the opposite. This happens, for example, by postponing visits to the dentist or by skipping the gym sessions we are paying, and it also happens in the emotional aspect of our lives.

We know that connecting emotionally with someone is something pleasant , and despite this there are many people who in their day to day prefer to avoid it, refusing invitations to leave, fleeing from intense hugs, giving up on meeting people who show interest, or even showing a distant attitude with the family that can not be explained. for important conflicts.


This curious phenomenon has been addressed by a team of American researchers led by Anna Luerssen. They started from an initial hypothesis: that, When managing relationships, each individual is moved by one of two objectives Priorities that are mutually exclusive.

These objectives are, on the one hand, to develop a satisfactory relationship and, on the other, minimize the risk to the feeling of rejection . In general, expressing affection generates well-being, but if it is interpreted that this affection is not reciprocated, a feeling of vulnerability and of having little value that damages self-esteem can appear.

Luerssen and his family understood that someone with low self-esteem will tend to stay more defensive in their love relationships, and that is why, anticipating the high risk of rejection, it will be easier for them to renounce the idea of ​​having a very intimate relationship and satisfactory.


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The experiment

For this research, the Luerssen team counted with the participation of 60 couples who were taken care of in a psychology laboratory. There, the members of each couple were separated and a role was offered to each of them: one person would be "the speaker" and the other, "the one who listens".

To the participants who should speak they were asked to choose three compliments or compliments what to say to your partners The people who received them, in addition to asking them to listen without offering any response, were told that their partner had chosen to talk about "things that I really like about my partner" from a list of possible topics. In this way, they would believe that compliments were spontaneous.

After this phase, both members of the couple filled out questionnaires about how the activity had made them feel, they underwent a test to collect data about their hormone levels at that time, and the "speakers" filled in A questionnaire designed to measure your self-esteem.

The harmful power of vulnerability in the couple

According to the results obtained, people with less self-esteem tended to offer less affectionate compliments and to manifest greater discomfort produced by the experiment.

Progesterone levels , a hormone segregated in greater quantities before affective behaviors and linked with attachment, did not rise significantly in these people, as it usually happens with most people. In fact, both the "hearing" people of couples with low self-esteem and those linked to couples with good self-esteem did experience that sudden rise in progesterone levels. On the other hand, "speakers" with less self-esteem tended to believe to a lesser degree that their partner benefited from their compliments

How is this interpreted? Everything seems to indicate that people with less self-esteem are much more aimed at the goal of avoiding the feeling of rejection , and that the actions that expose them to this type of danger cause an upset that is not compensated by the good that is believed to be being done; hence the biased idea that the other person benefits little from compliments despite hormonal evidence to the contrary.

A good part of the solution to this type of affective and relational problems, then, is to work on self-esteem and build an idea of ​​oneself (a self-concept) that is realistic and unconcealed. Thus, everyone will win.

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Bibliographic references:

  • Luerssen, A., Jhita, G. J., & Ayduk, O. (2017). Putting yourself on the line: Self-esteem and expressing affection in romantic relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43 (7), 940-956.

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