Are you good at keeping people at arms length?

Keep people at arms length - child of an alcoholic

If you think about it, are you good at keeping people at arms length? Why is that?

Living with an alcoholic can have a profound impact on the family, if you’ve been the child of an alcoholic then you’ve probably learnt not to trust people. 

Have the parent(s) you’ve grown up with repeatedly done or said things to hurt you? Then it’s not surprising you may find it hard to get close to others, to trust them. 

When we feel unsafe then we do whatever we can to protect ourselves, in whatever way that may be. To others some of your efforts may seem odd, but they haven’t been through what you have.  Sometimes our behaviour can be unhealthy, but that’s because we’re usually acting out things learnt as a child. 

Keeping people at arms length
Reach out and let others support you


How does it feel to keep people at arms length?

For me it’s like a push and pull situation, I wanted to connect but I was too scared to reach out, to take that leap. Lots of overthinking took place, what if I let them in, they’ll hurt me. I just wasn’t a risk taker, the reason for that was when I did take a leap of faith as a child I got hurt. Unsurprisingly I learnt that taking risks was dangerous. 

You may know you’re keeping people at a distance and for some you may want to keep it that way, I wanted to feel closer but I was so suspicious of people and their intentions I didn’t. 

Sometimes you may not want people to see the real you, may be you feel they’ll reject you like someone else may have in your life. You might think people are better off not getting close because you’ll hurt them.  You can’t know if you’re actions will hurt or upset someone, and to be honest that’s really not for you to assume. 

Give people the chance to get to know you, to be there for you and support you. You may feel you’ve got it covered and you don’t need help but I suspect you will. We all need love and support but some of us have just got very use to doing everything for ourselves. 

What are you missing out on?

When you don’t let yourself get close to people, you lose out on connection and can feel lonely (I wrote about loneliness is a blog post – click here to read more). It keeps you isolated. In your head you may tell yourself it’s the best way to be, it’s not safe to let others in and be close to them. You don’t want to get hurt after all do you? You’d never cope or survive the hurt? This is understandable, however, not everyone is going to hurt you. 

How can you start to let people in?

I’d personally start to change how you interact with people you know and feel some connection and closeness with, however limited. Here are some suggestions:

  • Pick someone you feel safe with
  • Choose something to tell them, express, share that you wouldn’t normally (but doesn’t make you feel totally frozen at the thought of sharing)
  • You could say “I’m trying something new and I wanted you to be the person I try it out with, I know I’m scared of letting people in and I’d just like to start by sharing something with you that maybe I wouldn’t normally, is that ok?” (believe me a lot of people will be honoured you’ve chosen them!). Then share what you need to. This is just an example of course, choose what feels right for you

Alternatively, you may find it more comfortable to reach out to someone you don’t know at all. For example, The Samaritans is a helpline providing a safe place to chat. 

Take a moment to visualise yourself letting someone in!

This is a fantastic technique that works so well and I learnt it on my Neuro Linguistic Programming course. You can use it with all sorts of things, so try it out!

This will only be useful if you want to connect and let people in, if you don’t want to let people close then you probably won’t be experiencing unpleasant feelings about it. 

  • Make yourself comfortable sitting down with your feet flat on the ground (you can stand up if you prefer)
  • Close your eyes
  • Visualise how it feels, looks, smells, sounds when you keep people at arms length (you might not have smells and sounds.. just pay attention to what is there)
  • Tune into the feeling of disconnection, loneliness, isolation – whatever feelings you get 
  • Rate it on a 0-10 (10 being the worst)
  • Is the image you get near you, what size is it, are you seeing yourself or through your own eyes? Pay attention to the detail
  • If the image is near to you, move it away, if it’s large then reduce it in size, if it’s full of colour and you feel draining the colour will lessen the feeling you have then do that. There is no right and wrong way. The intention is to lessen the unpleasant feelings
  • Continue to play about with the image, check in with your unpleasant feelings and see where they’re at
  • Rate it again from 0-10 – where is it at?
  • Repeat if you need to, now you know how it works

If the feelings are still there, maybe you’re holding onto it for some reason, I’d be happy to work with you on this if you need further support. 

I’d love to know how you get on and if this blog post has helped or if you have any questions you’d like to ask. Drop me a line at or you can click here to use my online form

Take Care!

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