Are Some People Incapable of Loving?

Childhood trauma is usually one of the main factors behind the difficulty (or inability) to love. However, there are more variables that are worth knowing about.
Are Some People Incapable of Loving?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 February, 2022

Are there people who are incapable of loving? Although we could say yes, this is a complex question and there are nuances. There are certainly those who have clear difficulties in loving and letting themselves be loved. Indeed, men and women abound who, as a result of a traumatic childhood, experience serious difficulties in building happy and fulfilling relationships.

On this basis, it seems that, instead of there being a clinical or neurological inability to love, what exists is a fear of love. In fact, it’s more a fear of being hurt. The worry of becoming attached toward someone who might later cause them pain or abandon them. However, when it comes to people with antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy, or narcissism, the issue becomes even more complex.

In these cases, they develop relationships based on a disorganized attachment.   These relationships are usually governed by specific interests. For example, satisfaction, desire, or complacency. For this reason, there’s a whole kaleidoscope of nuances within this subject that are well worth knowing about.

Avoidance or emotional withdrawal is one of the main characteristics of those people with clear difficulties in establishing emotional relationships.

sad man thinking of people unable to love

Why are some people incapable of loving?

What makes people unable to love? Is it a “fault” of nature? That might be the first conclusion you come to. However, before going any further, perhaps we should ask the question why do human beings love? Perhaps, in understanding why, as humans, we’re defined by this emotion, we’ll comprehend why some people lack it.

Well-known anthropologist, Helen Fisher, wrote a book entitled Why We Love. She claims that people basically operate by instinct. Neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, or vasopressin drive attraction, desire for one other, the need to care, and to share experiences. In fact, we’re the result of what our brain dictates.

On the other hand, Dr. Elaine A. Aron conducted research that explained something different. She claims that people love out of the need to expand their “I”. This means that, beyond the attraction, there’s the desire to share their life with someone, to grow as people alongside another undergoing the same process, while sharing their projects and vital goals.

We’re social beings and love allows us to create stable bonds with which to evolve and feel safe. If this is the case, then why are there some people who seem incapable of loving?

Emotional deprivation disorder

Emotional deprivation disorder is a psychological condition. It was defined by psychiatrists Conrad Baars and Anna Terruwe in the mid-20th century. However, this condition doesn’t appear in any diagnostic manual. Furthermore, there’s not a great deal of supporting scientific evidence in existence.

Nevertheless, it’s common for this term to be used whenever the subject of people who don’t know how or who are unable to love is addressed. Drs Baars and Terruwe found a characteristic pattern in this profile:

  • They’re people who don’t maintain eye contact.
  • They experience feelings of loneliness. However, at the same time, they don’t like to socialize.
  • They constantly feel judged by others. They’re also mistrustful.
  • They often claim that they were never and never will be loved. For this reason, they’re unable to offer affection themselves.
  • They experience feelings of guilt and show low self-esteem.

These types of characteristics tend to often appear in people with autism and also with hoarding disorder.

People unable to love and childhood traumas

As we mentioned earlier, behind a large number of people incapable of loving, in reality, there’s fear. It’s the fear of being hurt. It’s mistrust and anguish over the fear of repeating the same traumatic patterns as in their childhood. Indeed, often behind the cases of people who find difficulty in loving and being loved are childhood traumas. These might involve physical and psychological abuse, abandonment, sexual abuse, etc.

These people are emotionally fractured. Time doesn’t usually heal and solve anything if there’s been no therapy. This makes these people experience great difficulties when it comes to establishing emotional relationships. Because love always means connection. Hence, if all they received in their early life was a poisoned kind of love substitute that caused them immense pain, it’s hardly surprising they now avoid any kind of love.

Many of the people who suffered abuse or mistreatment in childhood are disconnected from love. They can’t conceive of it or understand it  because they never received it. In addition, they fear opening up emotionally to others because that makes them feel vulnerable. That  feeling puts them on alert and scares them.

Sad boy representing people unable to love

Not understanding what it feels like, alexithymia

Alexithymia defines a type of emotional learning disorder. Often, the origin is in a neurological problem that makes it difficult to understand the universe of emotions. In this case, the person is capable of falling in love but doesn’t know with any certainty what that feeling is and what to do about it.

They don’t empathize, they don’t react to the emotions of others, and they fail to understand what’s happening inside them. This brain disorder or alteration affects more people than you might think. Many of these people are suspended in some form of limbo from which they find it difficult to establish friendships and relationships.

It should be noted that this condition can appear in both men and women with autism and with a psychopathic personality.

To conclude, there are several reasons why some people are unable to love. The most decisive thing is to understand the cause behind it and to work on it. Because we all deserve to learn to love and to feel loved.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Aron, EN & Aron, A. (1996) “Love and Expansion of the Self: The State of the Model”, Personal Relationships 3, 1: 45–58
  • Baars, Suzanne and Bonnie Shayne. The Discovery of Deprivation Neurosis. Conrad Baars. Retrieved January 15, 2006.
  • Fisher, Helen (2004) ¿Por qué amamos?. Madrid: Taurus

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.