What Is Emotional Detachment Disorder?


15 min read

As human beings, we experience different degrees of sentimentality. Most of us can think of someone who we consider overly emotional; As well as of someone who just isn’t so. The variety of feelings and emotions is all part of human behavior. Participating in someone else’s life and understanding their journey is at the core of how we connect with one another and how we function as a society. However, some of us may not feel the emotional connection as strongly as the others, leading to a condition known as emotional detachment disorder, but there is nothing to worry about.  We are here to help. 

What is emotional detachment disorder?

As the name itself suggests, ‘emotional detachment’ points towards the lack of ‘emotional attachment.’ An emotionally detached person is resigned from emotions, someone who seems to distance themselves from the human connection. Emotional Detachment disorder stems from a lack of empathy– that is, the lack of one’s ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and share their emotional state.  Our ability to empathize with other people defines our ability to forge strong bonds and long-lasting relationships.

Causes of Emotional Detachment Disorder

While there are many studies looking into the causes, it is not quite clear what causes an emotional detachment disorder. That’s mostly because lack of empathy is difficult to measure on two counts- it’s existence and the reaction it causes. As a human being you may or may not associate with another person’s feelings, but this is hard to tell because

a)     You don’t empathize with your surroundings at all.
b)   You empathize but do not express your emotions or react to the same.

Nobody voluntarily chooses to be emotionally detached from their surroundings, it’s a condition one develops over time. Here are the plausible causes for the same.

1. Trauma

While most of us live in civilized societies governed by the rule of law, a lot of human interactions may be outside the purview of the same. People who witness a violent crime, trauma, and/or war and war-like conditions tend to grow a thicker skin. People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder grow emotionally detached with the passage of time. Instances, like witnessing a crime like murder or being caught in the middle of a wartime rampage, can change the overall perception of emotions.

2. Conditioning

Our personas are largely shaped by our upbringing and our experiences. Some children who grow up in strict households develop a layer of toughness or lack of general empathy because of repetitive suppression of their own emotions. Parents in certain cultures ingrain the mindset of detachment and may even punish the expression of emotion, thereby inculcating emotional detachment in their children’s hearts and minds.

3. Abuse

Facing physical and mental abuse at the hands of parents, relatives, and caregivers can turn a child into an emotional reclusive. In a lot of households where physical punishment is meted out for acting out or bad behavior. As a result, children often withdraw emotionally and grow up to be emotionally distant adults. 

4. Medication 

A host of medications that treat mental health conditions like stress and depression may contain substances that alter the mental makeup and hormonal inflow in an individual’s bloodstream. Certain supplements that are supposed to make us feel better in turn stunt our emotions and cause numbness.

5. Exposure to current events

Due to the constant barrage of information on social media, one can’t help but feel emotionally disoriented from time to time. News of terrorism, pandemics, poverty, and war can induce feelings of delusion and helplessness over the human condition. Over the long run, this can desensitize us and cause a general lack of empathy and feelings in general.

Signs/ symptoms that you are emotionally detached

Like many other mental health problems, emotional detachment builds up on you slowly, one day at a time, depending on unique circumstances. Here are some signs you should watch out for:

  • Feeling of emptiness or lack of emotion – An emotionally detached person struggles to empathize with people around them. They feel numb and disconnected from emotions that move people involved and elicit reactions in response. 
  • Being harsh or lacking in general kindness – We often come across people who don’t mince words while delivering sensitive or potentially painful news to people. While there is nothing wrong with being straightforward, those who don’t attempt to be kind to those in need can be disconnected from their emotions.
  • Shutting out emotions – Not everyone discusses their emotional hardship openly. Emotionally distant people regularly shut out their feelings and sweep burning issues under the carpet. This practice can intensify emotional detachment creating long term repercussions. Confrontation of difficult situations is necessary for a fulfilling life.
  • Loss of interest in fun activities – As the emotional distance in a relationship increases, there are marked differences in behavior. An emotionally detached person may lose the ability to fully cherish life experiences, even those they actively enjoyed being part of in the past. This listlessness and apathy are a cause of concern.
  • Neglecting relationships – Emotional detachment can be traced back to a shift in priorities. You may pick work or social commitments over your personal responsibilities once or twice, but when a pattern of neglect emerges, there has been a break in the relationship.

How to reverse Emotional Detachment?

None of us are born emotionally detached; it’s a condition that develops over time. If you think back, as children we laugh when we’re happy, we cry when we’re sad, we grimace when we’re angry and kick our feet in rebellion when we don’t get what we want. Adults don’t have the same luxury of expressing themselves, although some of us shut out an expression of sentiments entirely. In order to reverse emotional detachment, it’s important to single out what caused the emotional subversion in the first place. Getting in touch with one’s feelings and expressing how we feel are important steps for self-discovery and re-alignment with emotions. Here are some ways we can do that:

  1. Re-wiring the thought process
    An emotionally detached person has subconsciously created invisible barriers to human connection. A licensed therapist can use tested strategies to help you relieve painful instances in life to fully experience the bottled emotions and accept reality. 
  2. Cognitive-behavioral therapy
    CBT refers to cognitive behavioral therapy that can help with various aspects of emotional regulation. Treatment focused on realigning mental conditioning to open up responses to external environments and react better to emotional cues in daily interactions with those around.
  3. Building a support system
    Coming to terms with the emotional disconnect and letting your family and friends know of your condition is an important step towards acknowledging you have a problem. Talking things through with them is most likely to help incite an emotional response since they know you better than others.
  4. Minimize stress
    Excessive stress can also numb the senses. Stress hormones can make unprecedented changes to your nervous system and cause some long-term damage. Try to make a note of your stressors and take active measures to rein them under control.
  5. Talk to a therapist
    From time to time, all of us need a safe space to express ourselves and speak our minds freely. Emotional numbness can also stem from not feeling secure in the surrounding environment due to fear of rejection and judgment. Initiating a conversation with a therapist can help in these circumstances. Remember, Wysa offers online therapist services or you can always just talk to Wysa which will always be free.

Emotional detachment in relationships

It’s not easy being in a relationship with a non-responsive person. Being involved with an emotionally detached person is challenging because they may be present physically, but appear miles away emotionally. The degree of emotional distance depends on the nature of a relationship in the first place. In the case of romantic relationships, a person may seem distant due to a negative experience in the past. If you’ve gotten your heart broken once, you’re more likely to take time before risking heartache again. Platonic relationships are also prone to a lack of trust issues due to emotional baggage carried forward from broken friendships. Age is also a factor for emotional detachment in friendships; when we’re younger we open up and make friends a lot more effortlessly than we do later in life.

Other relationships may experience emotional detachment due to certain events. For example, if a mother dies in a family, the father and children may have a strained relationship which leads to emotional detachment due to suppressed grief. Children grieve the loss of a parent very differently from the way adults mourn the loss of a spouse. This mismatch can balloon the emotional distance in a family as a whole.

What Is Emotional Detachment Disorder?

Here are some tell-tale signs that you are in an emotionally detached relationship:

  1. Your partner does not open up to you. Whether the good is good or bad, your partner does not share open elation or deep sadness with you. There is a superficiality of emotions in their behavior.
  2. They don’t participate in your life. When you are experiencing strong emotions, they don’t seem too moved by it- they act indifferent.
  3. An emotionally disconnected spouse is uninterested in physical intimacy as well. Lack of interest in sex is also a sign of emotional distance.
  4. Your partner avoids spending time with you and looks for excuses to be away. 
  5. Every relationship is given and take. Sometimes your needs will have to be prioritized over your partner’s and in other cases, the opposite should be true. If this barter is missing from your relationship, your partner may be emotionally uninvested.
  6. Expression of affection is missing from your relationship. If the frequency of “I love you” has gone from less to nil, your partner may be disinterested.
  7. They are curt and non-responsive in conversation. When you try to engage them in dialogue they stay silent and/or answer back in one-word responses.
1.  What does it mean to be emotionally detached?

Emotional detachment is a mental disorder that limits a person’s ability to feel and express feelings and sentiments consistently. It mars their connection with the outside world and makes their interactions suppressed and less meaningful.

2.  What does lack of empathy mean?

Empathy is what connects us to the human race at large. Lack of empathy refers to a person’s inability to relate to another human being’s emotions and circumstances. 

3.  Can humans turn off their emotions?

 As humans, we are born with emotions. We laugh and cry, frown, and grimace to express the way we feel. However, some people can condition the mind to not feel emotions to shelter themselves from hurt or pain. Shutting down emotions in a relationship can hamper communication between two people.

4.  Is a lack of empathy a disorder?

Yes, lack of empathy is a serious psychological disorder that can lead to other more serious psychiatric problems.

5.  How do you know if you are emotionally unavailable?

Clues to emotional unavailability are present in our interpersonal relationships. If you suspect that you’re emotionally unavailable, it’s because of one or more of the following reasons:
-You draw boundaries early on in a relationship
-You deliberately keep people at arm’s length and refrain from getting close and revealing too many details about your persona to anyone.
-You’re quick to get out of relationships
Moving on from relationships does not seem as hard to you as it is for other people. You can cut bonds and remove people from your life without much consideration since they weren’t that close to you in the first place.
-You’re disinterested in working through bad phases
-Good times and bad times are part and parcel of all relationships. But as an emotionally unavailable person, you can be reluctant to put in the work to overcome difficult situations that build character in a relationship.

6.  How to fix emotional detachment?

Emotional detachment is a mental condition that interferes with a person’s ability to process and identify with someone else’s state of mind and emotions. In order to fix this dissociation, the patient experiencing detachment has to:
-Make an active effort to pay attention to those around him/her, to try to understand what they’re going through even if they don’t empathize with their condition.
-Talk through difficult and trying situations they may find themselves in, instead of walking away.
-Read books of satire and fiction or watch movies that can drive emotion to awaken feelings.
-Attend group counseling sessions where people open up in detail about their situations and try to relate to their core values.
-Practice empathy in small gestures before building up to more complex emotions.
-Seek help.

7.  How to treat emotional detachment disorder?

Emotional detachment can be treated by counseling and therapy through the application of behavioral techniques directed at developing mindfulness and emotional cognizance of the surroundings in the person’s mind. These techniques aim at developing mindfulness and affective empathy while reversing months or years of negative conditioning. Some popular techniques for treating emotional detachment disorder are:
-Cognitive-behavioral therapy (You can use Wysa for CBT as well)
-Group Counselling

8.  How to help someone with emotional detachment disorder?

 If you want to help someone with an emotional detachment disorder here’s what you can do:
-Maintain steady communication.
Discuss their day to day interactions with people without judgment. Let them share the inner workings of their mind and help them get to the core of their detachment.
-Find shared ground
People empathize with other people who are like them. Help the person suffering from this disorder see others in a positive light. Highlight what they have in common and their most likable traits to incite an initial association.
-Share your life experiences
Tell them instances of empathy and connection from your personal experiences. Or how you felt about someone else’s predicament or personal struggle. Give them reasons to practice empathy.
-Don’t give up on them
Working through emotions with someone who has built a wall around themselves is not an easy task; you have to climb a little higher every day. However, don’t give up on them easily and be with them through their struggles. The effort will not go unnoticed and they will thank you for it later.

9.  What is emotional detachment in marriage?

Marriage is a relationship with the highest emotional intimacy.  So when it’s missing in a marriage it can affect both spouses negatively. Emotional detachment in marriage is characterized by the lack of emotional involvement and connection between two people who share their lives together.

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