What Is Emotional Detachment Disorder?

By Rachel Lustbader

Updated April 15, 2019

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Emotions are part of the very thing that makes us human. We feel so much that when that feeling is missing it can be very hard to connect with others. Being able to feel the same things is an important part of empathizing and communicating with each other. Emotional detachment disorder has two meanings. The first is when someone avoids situations which may cause anxiety or overwhelming feelings as a way of coping. The second, it's simply a way that some people maintain personal boundaries by setting themselves apart psychically when dealing with an emotionally demanding situation.

There are multiple different types of detachment, but emotional detachment is a purely mental disorder. A common misconception is that those 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 it instead. Essentially, by not feeling, a person removes themselves from the situation, a protective measure that is usually learned from a traumatic experience.

What Causes Emotional Detachment Disorder?

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

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When we are children, adults are seen as "all powerful" because they are in charge. If there is an abusive situation or one where the parent themselves cannot healthily express emotions they may also be a distant or disciplinary figure. 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.

In severe cases, patients can develop personality issues such as multiple personality disorder in an attempt to cope with their emotions by assigning them to "someone else."

People with EDD usually have a strict upbringing with parents who are very restrictive and controlling. They will have dealt with extremes from their parent figures - alternatively being loved and then punished with extremes. There may have also been threats of abandonment, and some minor infractions that would have been ignored by peer parents could have elicited either severe punishment or abuse leading to a feeling that they were at fault specifically.

This would cause a child to start believing that their feelings were dangerous since the feelings of their parent are so unpredictable and so likely to mean punishment. This would lead to a gradual withdrawal from emotions since their emotional needs were likely not being met. The child would choose to break the emotional cycle by using the only power they had over the situation - withdrawing their emotions in an attempt to prevent future abuse.

Another cause of emotional detachment is high anxiety situations. Because anxiety is often linked to feelings of overwhelming situations that give similar feelings within the body create the same "shut off" response in an attempt for the psyche to save itself. Many people deal with crippling anxiety, but not everyone experiences emotional detachment disorder.

Emotional Detachment And Control

Much of what it means to be emotionally detached is about being in control of your emotions and the way the world reacts to those emotions. The wall that has been built to contain emotions inside helps protect the person from a perceived vulnerability and by building that wall up the person can prevent further damage to their psyche should it happen again. While the abusive situation that has likely led to this happening may have passed, the lack of trust in other humans has likely not changed, fostering that fear that if they are vulnerable again, they will be hurt.

For many children, the power of an adult is so strong that they often exercise the only power they have with internalization. This happens for any number of disorders, but it's especially important for EDD because it's subconscious. The control that the child has in the situation is only over their own emotions, so they stop any further emotions at the superficial level so that their deeper subconscious is protected.

As adults, people who feel emotional detachment are often drawn into relationships that have sadist and masochistic elements to them. Many BDSM relationships thrive because of control, and though there can be a healthy relationship within these, for the emotionally detached they are often a way of using physical pain and control to compensate for the lack of emotional response.

What Are The 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, who might just not be having a good day.

The first sign that someone is suffering from EDD is an inability to be able to express their emotions and an inability to show empathy with the emotions of others. If you find yourself feeling emotionally numb or are struggling to identify your own emotions you may also be suffering from EDD. Some people can still suffer from emotional detachment disorder even if they are showing emotions by not showing enough emotion or being overly rational about a situation. Many sufferers have unsuccessful personal relationships because they struggle to connect.

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What Traits Do Emotionally Detached People Have?

Most people who experience emotional detachment disorder have very specific neurotic personality traits. Thanks to the foundations built in a turbulent childhood they are likely to be philosophic, someone who does not see emotions as valuable but who has a strong independent streak. They will find others emotions distasteful in public while within they will secretly envy or admire others their ability to feel deeply. They may have relationships, but they will always hold themselves slightly apart from their partners.

Emotionally detached people often find themselves drawn to art and nature in an attempt to feel more than they do. While this will solve the inner conflict of feeling emotions, they cannot process it does not create a solution that allows the person to feel a full life. Instead, life exists in shades of gray and a perpetual level of loneliness caused by the disconnect. Because of this, many people with EDD feel simply ambivalent at life and may appear aloof or uncaring.

Why Emotional Detachment Is A Problem

It's normal to feel a temporary disconnect with your emotions sometimes, especially when a situation creates a complex array of emotions which you'll need time to sort through. Your brain simply shuts off as a way of protecting itself from strong emotions so that they're easier to handle and process in its own time. When this happens temporarily, it's nothing to worry about, but when a lack of emotions seems constant, it needs addressing as fast as possible. The reason for getting quick help is that the longer the process takes, the harder it will be to regain that feeling. Either way, the process of getting your emotions back will take time.

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Another reason that emotional detachment is the problem is that your struggle to connect emotionally with other people can lead to failure in relationships or an inability to form relationships at all.

How To Treat Emotional Detachment Disorder

Emotional detachment is a serious mental disorder that needs professional help. However, you can start without counseling by deciding to change how you relate to others around you simply. By consciously moving towards them emotionally, and allowing your control over your emotions to relax in a situation that is emotionally overwhelming you can often feel "swept away," and the feelings will come on their own.

The first step in treating EDD is to attend counseling. Counseling will help you to identify emotions and help teach you the ways of expressing them properly. Learning how to understand and feel emotions can be very scary, but it can also give people a rush much like a roller-coaster when they fully experience the highs and lows instead of going through the motions of simply existing. Since emotional detachment is a choice and a way of adapting, to survive it is simply a case of learning to replace these unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones instead.

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If you've decided to tackle your detachment, then you'll need to talk with a counselor and a therapist like those at BetterHelp. If you've dealt with child abuse, there may be other issues which exist from such a traumatic upbringing.

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