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13 traits that reveal a closed-off personality (and how to deal with them)

It can be painful and discouraging being in a relationship of any sort with someone who has a closed-off personality. You want to know them better, get a little closer, but there’s this invisible wall around them that you just can’t get past.

However, you’re wise enough to not get too affected because you do know that they’re not doing it because they don’t like you.

They just simply have a closed-off personality!

In this article, I will enumerate the most common traits that go hand-in-hand with having a closed-off personality and what we can do to create a fulfilling relationship with them.

1) They can be a bit passive

The world is spinning and life is happening around them but they’re just content to sit back and watch things from afar.

Before you release another heavy sigh, consider the possibility that they’re probably not doing it to spite you.

Most of them freeze when making a decision because they’ve learned that it just leads to trouble. They’ve lost their confidence in themselves to have the ability to make the right choices.

It could be because of their perfectionist parents who always judge their every decision or from their alpha ex-lovers who belittle them.

What you can do:

When dealing with someone who’s probably closed off because they don’t trust their own thoughts and actions, it helps that you make them feel respected.

No, you don’t have to praise them like they’re Ramesses the Great but do treat them as your equal.

Include them in your plans and try to include them in decisions so that they won’t feel like a powerless bystander. Give them the power to decide. If you feel they’re not too comfortable, start with little things like the restaurant you’ll go to or a TV show to binge-watch.

If you don’t agree with their decisions, try to look for a compromise but do this with respect.

Eventually, they might just be confident enough to make their own decisions thanks to you.

2) They give safe answers to avoid conflict

This is similar to the one above but instead of actions, it’s about how they express their thoughts, opinions, and feelings.

When you ask for their honest feedback on the movie you just watched, they might answer “It’s cool, I like it,” and nothing else. It sometimes feels like they’re saying things just to please you.

If you ask if you look better with long hair or short hair, they’d answer “You look good in both.” Even if you say that it doesn’t make sense to you because one has to be better, they will not give you a clear answer.

You know what this is?

Fear.

That’s right. Maybe from you, if you had a history of “attacking” them for their opinions and questioning their feelings. It could be from their childhood, which is most often the case.

They clam up when there’s a sign of dominance because they know better than to express their real thoughts, real opinions, and real feelings.

What to do:

What’s your communication style like?

Are you assertive and do you sometimes get brutally honest and angry?

Do you get too sensitive?

Do you respect their opinion or you roll your eyes because you think they’re dumb?

Try to be gentler so they won’t say anything that could upset you.

3) They shrug off any act of intimacy

You can be in-the-face with how you’re showering them with affection and maybe they would play along for a bit, but after a while -often before things could ‘get real’ or shortly after- they pull away.

You know they like you and even love you but they just can’t open themselves to real intimacy. There are many reasons for this and again, it springs from childhood.

Maybe they developed abandonment issues.

Maybe as a child, they were bullied by people who they thought were their friends and they developed trust issues.

What to do:

Try to understand why they might be acting that way.

Don’t ever attack them by saying “Why don’t you love me?!” and “Am I not enough?!”

Again, it’s not easy for them even if they love you. Making them feel guilty would only worsen things.

If it turns out that they don’t like what you’re doing because they’re just not comfortable, respect their boundaries but also try to look for a compromise so you’ll still be happy.

If they admit to having intimacy issues because something unpleasant happened to them in the past, it’s better to be patient and try to give without expecting much in return for a while. Let your warm, unconditional love melt away their fear and pain.

4) They are overly critical about things

This is somewhat the opposite of the traits above.

They seem like they’re always scrutinizing everything around them…that there’s always something that dissatisfies them.

Sometimes they can be almost straight up abrasive about it too, and so incredibly assured that they’re right.

Let’s not forget: Hurt people hurt people.

Being critical is normal but if someone is overly critical and closed-off, there’s a possibility that they have deeper issues and are covering their vulnerability with a tough outer shell.

It could be a defense mechanism that they developed when they’re treated like sh*t in the past, it could be their insecurities rising to the surface, it could be deep-seated anger about bigger things that they don’t want to express.

What to do:

This can get spicy especially when their criticisms are fouling the mood.

A thing you can do is ask them to refrain from voicing their complaints on the spot unless it’s urgent.

But also make sure NOT to make it seem like they cannot voice their complaints. They have a right to it after all!

5) They can be a bit of an assh*le!

Depending on why they are closed off, arrogance can be something that they’d have in spades.

Some people have incredibly low self-esteem and this keeps them tied up in their own world whether or not they want to think about other people.

They can be aware of this and try to think of others first in the beginning. But that little spotlight in their head always ends up pointing at their own shortcomings.

Of course, then, this means they end up wanting to compensate. They try to act so self-assured that they brag and come off as incredibly cocky.

Poke their bubble of confidence and they often end up exploding in your face.

What to do:

Telling them straight that they are arrogant is not going to end well.

Try to consider that it might stem from them having incredibly low self-esteem and things that make that worse are going to hurt you both.

Sadly, there is very little you can do towards someone who has a bad self-image. The best you can do is to be there for them to offer your support when they need it while not indulging them when they’re clearly in the wrong.

I guess, if you really care, what you can do that will have a big impact is if you KILL THEM WITH KINDNESS. Do this without killing yourself.

6) They are emotionally fragile

One moment they’d be laughing and joking with you and your friends. The next moment, they might be incredibly sad or angry over something that had been said or done.

Sometimes an apology would calm them down, sometimes it won’t and they’ll just keep getting upset.

If you’re left feeling like you need to always be on your guard around this person in case you end up triggering them, it’s very likely that they have so many unresolved issues leaving them closed off emotionally.

What to do:

Dealing with someone who is emotionally unstable is like walking on glass, and it can be incredibly taxing on your mental health. This is another of those things that are best left to professional therapists.

However, there are still some things you can do if your friend or partner is like this.

For one, you can be tactful. If you know something hurts them deeply, avoid bringing it up around them and avoid using it as a weapon to make them do what you want them to do.

Another thing you can do is give them space when they’re melting down.

Just don’t try to blindly defend them, pick sides, or make it about you. Focus instead on simply offering emotional support. You want them to calm down sooner rather than later, and acknowledging their feelings helps, while prolonging the argument or rant makes it worse.

Just a warning, though. No matter how much you love them, you’ll end up feeling paranoid and afraid that you might end up closed-off and emotionally unavailable yourself.

7) They get awkward when you show affection

You say something sweet, they give an awkward smile.

You hug them out of the blue, they freeze.

This bothers you a little because you want them to give you a little sweet gesture in return. It could feel like you’re the one always giving.

What to do:

First, you have to know that not all people have the same love language. As long as you feel loved, do not require them to show the same level of affection towards you in exactly the same manner.

Since my parents got married, it’s only my mother who embraces my father because my father wasn’t shown this kind of affection when he was younger. It was only in their tenth year that my father showed the same gesture, but still in an awkward way.

My mother didn’t guilt-trip my father for it. In fact, she chose to find it endearing that he’s so awkward. That’s because my father showed love in other ways, too.

Just show affection without asking much in return. The moment you demand it, it becomes a chore.

8) They go hot and cold

These are the love bombers.

They have that charm that draws people to them like moths to a flame. Some people might end up not liking the energy, but a lot will end up so attracted to them despite their flaws. It might even be what made you notice them!

But the moment you try to know them better, it’s like they’ll wall you off.

They might suddenly seem much less energetic and instead go super quiet. Alternatively, they themselves would be the ones to back off which leaves you wanting to chase after them.

Expect the charm and chase to come with at least one other flaw, like the arrogance or the fragility described earlier.

They could be afraid of intimacy or they could just be hungry for an ego boost.

What to do:

This mix of traits, often stemming from deep-seated insecurities, can pull you into a very chaotic and often toxic relationship -whether platonic or romantic- if you get too invested.

Avoid getting too drawn in. If you see someone who fits this description, the wise thing to do is to keep a safe distance.

If they back away when you draw close, don’t chase them and instead wait for them to come to you. If they come back, tell them off and warn them that if they do it one more time, you will lose them for good.

You gotta apply some clear boundaries and tough love on this one.

9) Their favorite topic is themselves (the good parts only, of course)

Paradoxically enough, someone who has a closed-off personality can often end up talking about themselves but they close off when you ask them about something that doesn’t put them in a good light.

This can get incredibly tiring to you after a while. And it’s likely that eventually, the time will come when they will fall quiet, either because you are no longer giving them the reactions they want or because they have already shared with you everything they have to share.

That’s probably because they have insecurities and they’re so preoccupied with their problems (and trying to hide their flaws from you), so they’ll talk about themselves a lot.

What to do:

If you want to change them, there is very little you can actually do about someone who acts like this. But understanding them is a big step.

You are going to have to wait until they realize it for themselves and decide they want to do something about it.

But in the meantime, you can try to keep listening to them if you really want to. Just don’t stretch yourself thin trying to keep up with every new interest of theirs because you’re just going to fray your nerves, make you frustrated, and become bitter.

If you can’t stand it, you can also decide to just step away and maintain a healthy distance between you two.

10) Personal conversations make them sweat

While someone who is closed off would love to talk about the stuff they like, they will avoid any conversations revolving around feelings be it yours or theirs. Or again, those topics that would make them vulnerable.

In doing so, they will often belittle or mock-serious topics when they come up or, if not, just straight up disappear.

If you talk about finances and they have no savings, they will close off. If you talk about lovers and they never had a relationship, they will go very quiet.

If you feel like you can’t be open to someone about your feelings, or try to ask them about theirs without feeling afraid or wary for some reason, they have issues they need to resolve.

What to do:

It is going to be incredibly tough if someone straight up isn’t willing to talk about feelings and certain topics. Honesty and transparency with feelings are incredibly important to maintaining a healthy relationship.

The first step is by acknowledging them by something like this:

“Hey, I notice that you get uncomfortable when we talk about X and Y, I’d like to discuss these things in a relationship but do tell me if it makes you uncomfortable for now and I can just bring them up later.”

If they deny it and say “WTF are you talking about?”, then you have the task to rock the boat a little and make them see clearly what you mean.

Acknowledging something is the first step to healing and they should face that.

Be patient, be gentle, and know that there’s a possibility that you might also be asking too much too soon. But negotiate and tell them what you want in a relationship– that is, very open communication.

11) They keep on talking about people from their past

It’s fishy when someone keeps on bringing up people from their past, especially when they do it in a clearly negative light.

A well-known example is a person who keeps on bringing up their ex on their first date with someone new.

It could mean that their heart and their thoughts are still bound to the past and they’re just not ready. They might even simply be treating you as a sounding board or a wall to vent to!

There’s relatively little room in this person’s heart and mind for you until they let go of the past. A person who isn’t invested would simply not share anything important or meaningful to you.

What to do:

During first dates, them bringing up their exes is a red flag telling you that you shouldn’t schedule a second date.

If you care about someone who does this, one of the best things you can do is to call them out on it gently.

12) They don’t want to be tied down

It should not be shocking that someone who is closed-off and emotionally unavailable would be… well, unavailable.

They tend to dislike being forced into plans or commitments, and most especially do not like it when they are dragged into something without you having given them sufficient time in advance to prepare.

They will only be available to do things with or for you when it’s convenient for them while disregarding your own wants and needs.

This sort of behavior signals that, at least for the moment, they’re focused on their own wants and needs and are not ready to balance their wants with yours or that of others.

They don’t want to compromise yet or ever.

What to do:

If you’ve been friends or a couple for some time now, it would only be fair to talk with them about what they think of plans and commitments and try to come to a compromise.

As a rule of thumb, it’s not a good idea to force people into things, and most especially if they were not involved in the discussion.

Instead, offer them an invitation and make it clear that while they’re not obligated to do something, their presence would be appreciated.

They might not accept, and it might even be disheartening if they keep on declining your invitations. But they might just decide to go “Hmmmm… maybe I’ll go this time” or “Hmmm yeah, I think marriage is cool” one day.

And as strange as it may seem, it can hurt people if you stop inviting them into things. You gotta load up on patience but I’m sure they’re worth it.

13) They’re closeted control freaks

Maybe they don’t want to open up because they want the conditions to be perfect– that they can trust you fully and that what they say or do would actually be awe-inspiring.

Opening up means you’ll be vulnerable.

They know they should share more but they’re afraid things would get crazy when you learn something about them.

Someone who is afraid of losing control -or not having one in the first place- is going to want to control every single aspect of their lives that they can and resist anything that takes that control away.

What to do:

Be a good influence by showing your own imperfections and laughing at them.

Laugh at yourself and try to make them laugh at themselves.

Also, don’t make it seem like you’d take it against them if they won’t open up.

If you’re still new friends, they don’t owe you anything, especially not their deepest darkest secrets. Those are precious gifts that should be given freely, not forced out of someone.

Conclusion

People don’t easily fit into a binary yes/no category. Instead, people lie on a spectrum on how open or closed they are as a  person, with the reasons why they are there being different from person to person.

Not everyone is going to have all the signs listed above, so don’t think someone has to have all of them to be a ‘closed’ person.

With that said, It’s common for people to close themselves up because of insecurities, anxiety, and bad experiences in the past.

Therefore when dealing with someone who is closed off, it’s best to be careful and understanding or you run the risk of making their problem worse.

Be careful about equating a closed personality with emotional unavailability— these two can look very similar and are often confused with one another but they are nonetheless different.

Someone who looks closed might simply be guarded about who they’re letting into their life, but have room for you in their hearts once you prove yourself worth their trust. On the other hand, someone can seem open at a glance, but turn out to be emotionally unavailable when you get to know them better.

How do you know for sure?

The only way is to try and you should do it from a loving place–with a lot of patience and understanding.

One day, they will open up like sunflowers in summer.

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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