Psychology of blocking and unblocking


Humans are social species. Among the most profound human needs are the need to belong and feel included.

Blocking someone on your phone is a modern form of social exclusion. It’s a way of communicating to the blocked person (blockee):

“I don’t want you in my life. I don’t want anything to do with you.”

Getting blocked by someone you care about can be very hurtful and humiliating. It can make the one depressed and lose their self-worth. Social exclusion is painful.

Why would you want to block someone?

The answer is simple: They’re causing you pain.

They’re inflicting harm on you, so you want them out of your life. It’s a perfectly valid self-protective measure. Everyone should be able to choose the people they want in their lives.

Blocked and unblocked

All the people in your life can be categorized into two categories- blocked and unblocked.

People you’ve blocked, you’ve blocked for a reason. They’ve caused you inconvenience and pain.

The people you’ve not blocked, you’ve chosen to keep in your life. They add value to your life.

Like many things in life, things aren’t always black and white.

There’s a grey area between blocking and unblocking someone. You may keep blocking and unblocking someone when you get stuck in that grey area.

When you’re unsure whether or not to keep a person in your life, you may keep blocking and unblocking them. Your confused actions are a reflection of your confused mind.

Now, a variety of situations can lead to this type of indecision. Let’s go over some of them.

1. Blocking and unblocking an acquaintance/friend

You know someone you’ve added to your contacts list. You’ve talked a couple, or maybe a few, times. Maybe you’re friends, but not that close. But you’re still unsure whether or not to deepen your relationship with this person.

This situation may lead you to block and then unblock them.

2. Your crush

The same dynamics apply here as in the previous case, with some additional factors.

When you add your crush to your contacts list, you hope to get their attention and interact with them. You may have reached out to them, but they didn’t reciprocate.

You feel rejected (pain), so you block them. But then you’re like:

“What have I done? They’re my crush. I can’t afford to lose them.”

And so you unblock them.

Blocking and unblocking your crush can also stem from needing their attention.

Maybe you reached out to them, and they didn’t respond as you expected. So, you play this game of blocking and unblocking them so they take notice of you.

Since humans are sensitive to social inclusion and exclusion, we do notice it when someone blocks and unblocks us. This behavior is confusing and raises questions.

3. Your partner

Blocking in a romantic relationship is usually done by partners with an avoidant attachment style. When the relationship gets too close for them, they use blocking as a deactivating strategy to meet their space needs.

However, not all avoidants do that. Some understand that blocking is an extreme step.

A friend once complained that her boyfriend blocked her when he was at work. And then unblocked her when he had to talk to her.

I told her blocking is an extreme step and that her concern was warranted.

If he didn’t want to talk to her, he could’ve simply told her or kept his phone on silent. He wanted to communicate with her on his own terms, which signals a desire for control and power.

4. Your ex

If you find yourself blocking and unblocking an ex, it’s a sign you’re not completely over them. The hurt from the breakup makes you block them. But then, you hope they’ll take you back, so you unblock them.

You get curious about them and want to keep tabs on their life. Seeing their pictures and posts reminds you that you’re no longer with this person, causing you pain. Then you block them again. It’s a vicious cycle.

More reasons

1. Ego

Blocking someone makes you feel powerful and boosts your ego. You feel like a king who exiled a meek subject from his kingdom.

People obsessed with power and control may be more likely to block others.

When a relationship starts to go south, blocking someone before they block you is a way to get the upper hand on the other person.

“I’ll exclude them before they exclude me.”

2. Anger/guilt cycle

Some people are impulsive and don’t think about their actions. You may have, wittingly or otherwise, hurt them, and they got angry. They blocked you in the heat of anger. When the anger subsided, they felt guilty and unblocked you.

3. Threat/safety cycle

You may block someone you see as a threat. Then, in the future, if they no longer pose a threat to you, you may unblock them.

This has happened to me:

Long ago, I’d blocked some relatives because I felt they were too nosy and interfering.

I quickly realized that I couldn’t keep these people in my life. I was building my business then and didn’t want any interference.

Now that my business is built, they’re no longer a threat. Also, I’ve learned to become a private person since then. I’ve unblocked them now because I know I won’t be discussing my work or personal life with them.

Psychological blocking

Even though I’ve unblocked my relatives now, they don’t reach out to me. Why do you think that is?

Partly, it’s because not communicating with me has become a habit for them. Good for me.

And partly, it’s because of the phenomenon I call ‘psychological blocking’.

You may unblock someone on your phone and all social media platforms, but you may still be blocking them psychologically.

When you psychologically block someone, you keep them in your life but don’t reach out to them. You give them the option to reach out to you.

You keep them on the edge of your social circle. You maintain a distance from them without excluding them.

And believe me, people are sensitive to psychological blocking just as much as they are to actual blocking.

The good thing about psychological blocking is that you leave them guessing where they stand in your life. You barely talk to them, but you’re kind and respectful when you do. You maintain a respectful distance.

It’s the best way to deal with people you can’t completely exclude from your life. You can’t always think in extremes (blocking/unblocking). As with many other things in life, the middle path is usually the right path.