What Is Emotional Detachment Disorder?

By Rachel Lustbader

Updated August 01, 2019

Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Are You Feeling Disconnected from Your Emotions?

We all have feelings. It's alarming when we can't seem to get in touch with these emotions. If you're experiencing distance from your feelings, you may be suffering from Emotional Detachment Disorder (EDD) but don't worry--there is help.

There are multiple different types of detachment, but emotional detachment is a purely mental disorder. A common misconception is that people with emotional detachment disorder are incapable of expressing and interpreting feelings, when the truth is that they simply struggle to, so they choose the easier path of avoiding feelings instead. Essentially, by not feeling, a person removes themselves from the situation, taking a protective measure that is usually learned from a traumatic experience. Being emotionally detached is not your fault, and there are ways to move forward and enjoy fulfilling relationships. This article will cover symptoms and causes of emotional detachment, as well as coping tools.

Emotional Detachment Disorder is A Severe Problem That Hurts Relationships
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Symptoms of Emotional Detachment Disorder

There are times when we all feel like we're a little apart from the world around us, but sometimes we just can't help being full of emotions. The ability to turn those emotions off, or not feel them at all is a sign that something might not be right. The symptoms of emotional detachment disorder are easier to spot in yourself than in another person:

  • An inability to express emotions
  • Emotional numbness
  • Treating others in a disrespectful manner and being oblivious of the behavior
  • Avoiding emotions when a situation warrants emotional expression
  • A lack of empathy toward the emotions of others
  • The inability to identify your own emotions

Causes of Emotional Detachment Disorder

Many things can cause us to withdraw emotionally, and many of these are learned in childhood. Being forced or taught to suppress your emotions as a child will lead you to behaviors that are emotionally unhealthy. People that struggle to express emotions in a healthy manner often choose other outlets to do so, usually destructive ones like drugs and alcohol in an attempt to escape from emotions that they haven't been taught to understand.

When we are children, adults are seen as "all powerful" because they are in charge. Sometimes, parents themselves are unable to healthily express emotion, so they act as distant or disciplinary figures. People with EDD usually have a strict upbringing with parents who are very restrictive and controlling. A common example of this is in boys who cry. They are often censured and told that such expressions of emotion are unsightly and unacceptable, causing the boy to learn that he should not behave this way even if it is a healthy and normal expression of emotion.

People with EDD will have dealt with extremes from their parent figures - alternatively being loved and then punished with extremes. The important thing to understand here, is that traumatic past experiences are not your fault. The first step is recognizing them, and then you can begin your path to healing.

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How Do You Cope with Emotional Detachment?

Emotional detachment is a severe mental disorder that needs professional help. However, you can start without counseling by deciding to change how you relate to others around you. By consciously moving towards them emotionally, and allowing your control over emotions to relax, you will begin the process of feeling emotions again. You can also try journaling: write down descriptive, physical sentences about a situation or topic, and then allow yourself to move onto describing more emotional aspects of the situation.

People who struggle with emotional detachment may be afraid of their feelings. If you're emotionally detached, your emotions may overwhelm you to the point where you believe you can't handle them. Understandably, you would want to check out and stop feeling. Detaching from your feelings makes sense if it hurts to feel them. When you start to have a strong emotion such as anger or sadness, one technique you can use is to sit with your feeling, let it be there. Don't try to change it, repress it, or make it go away. Mindfulness is a technique used in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) that helps people better tolerate their feelings and increase emotional distress tolerance. You don't have to fix your feelings. They will be there, and all you need to do is let yourself feel. And you don't need to stop your life because you have feelings. You can keep working or socializing with friends. Just explore those feelings.

Don't underestimate the power of friendships. You may be fearful of expressing your feelings to others, but some people care about you and want you to be well. Another thing you can try is telling a trusted friend or loved one how you feel, even if that feeling is numbness or emptiness. Accept the fact that you can't see to identify your emotions, and tell your friend about it. It's okay not to know how you feel, and it's also within your rights to ask for help. Your friend can listen as you express that you're having trouble feeling. And if you're having trouble forming meaningful connections with others, there is help out there in the form of therapy and counseling.

It can be concerning when you're unable to connect with other people, especially when you have a desire to develop and maintain intimate relationships. You can't grow close to another person if you're continually disassociating from them. What can you do if you suspect that you have Emotional Detachment Disorder? One of the best actions you can take is to seek mental health counseling.

People who have attachment disorders have benefited from therapy. One study from U.C Berkeley noted that having a secure sense of attachment made it possible for people to care for others in an altruistic way. Attachment plays a massive role in our lives and makes us able to both give and receive love. If you're struggling with developing and maintaining secure attachments, working with a therapist, whether that's one in your local area or an online counselor, can help.

BetterHelp Supports Healthy Attachments

The counselors at BetterHelp want you to have secure healthy attachments to loved ones. When you see an online counselor, they can help you learn what challenges you're facing when it comes to attaching to others. They will support you in mending broken attachments and creating healthy relationships. If you're struggling with Emotional Detachment Disorder, your online counselor can help you learn the source of your disassociation, whether that's trauma or otherwise, and start learning to cope. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

Counselor Reviews

"Kelcey has been wonderful. I love the interface that lets me communicate with her at almost any time during the day, and I almost feel like I have this 'invisible support' during my days. Even when days have been their darkest, I've known I've had some light."

Work On Your Interpersonal Problems in Online Therapy Today

"Dr. Broz is excellent. I have been in and out of therapy throughout my life. I've struggled with depression, anxiety, self-medicating and feeling like I can't even. Recently I was in a very dark place and knew I needed to talk to someone right, away. There is something really liberating about having access to someone so experienced and helpful whenever I need it by phone and text. I'm able to be completely honest...I mean completely honest. There is no judgment, she is an excellent listener and provides useful feedback, suggestions, and tools to help me manage and cope. I was hopeless before I started talking to her and I'm on my way to getting back on track thanks to her help."

Coping with Emotional Detachment Disorder is possible with the help of an online counselor. First, you need to learn what your triggers are. Why are you detaching from your feelings? Once you understand what's making you disassociate from your emotions, you and your therapist can work on figuring out how to tolerate your feelings better. You can work on emotional distress tolerance by using the following:

  • Journaling - writing down your feelings in a private space where you can process them
  • Mindfulness meditation - when you start to have big emotions, breathe through them, and don't try to fix them. Sit with your feelings and let them pass.
  • Talking about your feelings with people you trust - Share your feelings with a friend or loved one that you trust. Learning to talk about your feelings will make you feel more comfortable expressing feelings regularly.

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