What Is Emotional Detachment Disorder?

By: Sarah Fader

Updated March 19, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Everyone is affected by feelings and emotions.  Emotions are a mental reaction that is experienced as a strong feeling.  They are usually directed toward a specific person or object and may cause physical or behavioral changes in the affected individual.

Changes in emotion occur naturally from time to time and those changes may be the result of a stressful event or a change in life circumstances.  For most people, the fluctuations in emotion and mood are temporary and do not cause any significant disruptions in relationships or daily life.  However, when an inability to fully engage with one’s personal feelings or the feelings of others occurs, this could be a sign of emotional attachment disorder (EDD).

What Is Emotional Detachment Disorder?

Emotional detachment disorder, also referred to simply as “dissociation,” is a psychological defense mechanism that is used to cope with overwhelming or distressing emotions.  It can present as a temporary response to an extremely stressful or traumatic event or may be an ongoing condition.  For many people, emotional detachment disorder begins with the avoidance of memories of past experiences or traumatic events. 

Emotional detachment may cause feelings of sadness or negativity.  However, in most cases, emotions are minimally felt.  When emotional detachment disorder occurs, even those people who may have experienced happiness or joy previously may find it difficult to imagine feeling that way again or to even recall what it felt like at all.  The length of time a person experiences symptoms and the severity of symptoms varies from person to person.  While there are ways to address emotional detachment and learn to form healthy emotional attachments, the process can take a great deal of time and requires consistent dedicated effort. 

What Are Attachment Disorders? Symptoms And Feelings

The American Academy of child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests two types of attachment disorders that children may experience. 

Reactive attachment disorder is believed to develop in response to negative experiences that a child has with an adult during their early years of development.  It is characterized by appearing afraid, unhappy or irritable, especially when engaged in activities that involve their primary caregiver.  Children with reactive attachment disorder often have trouble calming down if they are upset, do not seek comfort from primary caregivers, and show little or no emotion when interacting with others. 

Disinhibited social engagement disorder involves a child’s lack of caution even if he has been taught otherwise.  They may talk to strangers they have never met, allow strangers to pick them up or hold their hand, or not check with their caregiver when they are in an environment with strangers. 

What Are The Causes Of Emotional Detachment Disorder?

Emotional detachment disorder may be caused by life events or by other mental health disturbances, such as personality disorders.  For some people, the symptoms of emotional attachment are temporary, and they can learn to express emotions in a healthy way.  On the other hand, some people may experience issues with emotional detachment disorder for longer periods of time.

Children are believed to have a greater chance of developing emotional detachment, especially if they experience difficult circumstances early in life.  Some reasons children may develop emotional detachment may include experiencing abuse or neglect, a significant loss such as the death of a parent, growing up in an unstable family environment, or having parents who show little or no affection or emotional attachment to them.  Children who are chastised for being “overly emotional” or who are ridiculed for crying are often conditioned to detach from their emotions. 

Many of the behaviors we learn in childhood are carried into adulthood.  People who struggle to express emotions in a healthy manner or who feel unable to connect emotionally at a younger age may experience increased risk of developing emotional detachment disorder later in life.  An inability to connect with and express emotions may lead some people to experimenting with unhealthy behaviors as an outlet for their frustration. 

Abuse And Neglect

Many people who experience severe neglect or abuse learn to cope with the trauma by separating or detaching from their feelings.  Some abusers tell their victims that crying or showing emotion will not be tolerated.  Therefore, victims may learn to suppress showing outward emotions to prevent suffering harsh consequences.  Although this is a coping mechanism and may be helpful to get someone through a difficult or traumatic time, if emotions are ignored or if a person tries to detach from feelings rather than addressing them, there can be long-term consequences that impact mental wellbeing.  Once patterns of emotional detachment that were once helpful become adopted as a person’s “new normal,” it can continue for longer periods.  Seeking help to learn how to connect with and express emotions is an important step in fostering good mental health. 

Medications

While there are times when taking medications is necessary, all medications have the risk of side effects and adverse reactions.  Some medications used to treat depression or anxiety may have an adverse reaction and cause feelings of being emotionally detached or distant. 

Some medications are safe and have few side effects when taken alone.  However, when combined with other medications, especially those that affect mood or behavior, the combination may cause emotional disturbances and feelings of detachment. 

If you feel like you are experiencing symptoms of emotional detachment and that medications you are taking may be the cause, make an appointment with your prescribing doctor right away.  It is important that prescribed medications, especially those that are used for mood disturbances or other mental health conditions, not be abruptly discontinued.  Some medications require the patient to taper off of them slowly to prevent unpleasant or adverse side effects.  Your doctor will be able to discuss your concerns and help to determine if medications you are taking are affecting your ability to experience healthy emotional attachments.  If they feel that a medicine should be changed or discontinued, your care can be monitored until you feel stable again.

Troubling Thoughts Or Ideas

People who are unable to express or cope with stressors effectively may experience symptoms of emotional detachment.  Exposure to negative behavior or violence, whether in person or by following current events, can have an emotional impact, especially if a person is already susceptible to having difficulty expressing or processing emotions.  While some people may react with anger or frustration regarding events or circumstances, a person with emotional detachment disorder may become even more desensitized and begin to show fewer signs of emotional response.

Unfortunately, society tends to follow negative news and often anticipates the next bad event.  Whether a school shooting, an attack on a group of people, gang violence, or war occurs, the negative thoughts that accompany one’s awareness of these events can become toxic.  People who have difficulty connecting with their emotions may experience even more interruptions in the way they process and respond if they are continually exposed to negative or troubling thoughts or events.

In some cases, an affected person may be able to combat the negative effect of troubling thoughts, ideas, or events by purposefully limiting their exposure to things that impact them emotionally.  Many people refer to this as positive psychology.  Basically, it means focus on positive things, things that feed your mind and try to stay away from anything that makes you feel negative or emotionally drained.

Lack Of Excitement In Life

While emotional detachment disorder can be caused by severe or traumatic experiences, some people experience symptoms of emotional numbness or detachment because nothing has changed in their life.  Think of children who have been home for a few weeks in the summer.  After they become bored with the days that aren’t filled with structured activities and interaction with others, they complain of being bored and having nothing to do.  Adults and children alike need stimulation to invoke emotional responses. 

Performing the same job or activity day after day can lead a person to feel that there is no need to have an emotional investment.  It may be necessary to try new activities, even if you don’t feel like it at first.  Engaging in new activities or hobbies can give one a sense of purpose and belonging, which can help promote emotional responses that are healthy.

A few ways to try to encourage emotional responses include:

  • Consider Getting A Pet. Pets are naturally affectionate, and thus can help promote emotional bonding. The purr of a cat can create a sense of calm and may help ease anxiety or stress that may have contributed to the need for detaching. 
  • Go For A Walk Or A Drive. Instead of isolating and ignoring thoughts and feelings, go outside in the fresh air and look for something that attracts you.  You may enjoy watching birds in the park or feeding gulls if you are near the water.  Anything you can do that promotes interaction with others or the environment can help associate feelings of pleasure with activity and may help reduce the symptoms associated with emotional detachment disorder. 
  • Learn A New Skill. Practice your speech and body strength. Find a new hobby. Cook some new dishes. Challenge yourself as a means of coping. It's never too late to try something new. Some formally emotionally detached people find success and improved emotional intelligence at an older age through trying and learning new skills and hobbies.
  • Connect With New Friends. Having old friends are great, but new friends, especially beyond your comfort zone, can help more than we might initially think.

If you are still experiencing an inability to connect on an emotional level, talking with a therapist is absolutely ok and valid!  Your lack of emotional sensations may be due to stress disorders, a traumatic event, and other situations that trigger a lack of emotional response. A licensed therapist can help uncover these things, and help you learn how to heal from them.

Other Mental Health Conditions Related To Emotional Detachment Disorder

Emotional detachment can be a symptom associated with other mental health conditions.  For example, people who have post-traumatic stress disorder often report feeling no emotion or feeling “disconnected” from their feelings.  Personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, often cause symptoms of a flat affect or no emotion.  Additionally, while some people with depression experience a general sadness or low mood, others may feel emotionally numb or devoid of any emotion at all. Some may alternate between these states.

Bipolar disorder is another mental health condition that is characterized by alternating moods from periods of mania to depression.  In the depressive state of bipolar disorder, some people show little to no emotional response.  If you suspect that you or someone you know is having symptoms of a mental health disorder, it’s important to seek the advice of mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and to establish a treatment plan.

Emotionally Detaching

For some people, the best way to protect themselves is to remove themselves from a situation that creates emotional turmoil.  While this can be a great way to avoid someone who creates problems or to keep yourself from having to engage with people who upset or offend you, it’s important to be able to recognize the difference between when this avoidant behavior is a necessary defense mechanism and when it may be a sign of emotional detachment disorder. 

Choosing to emotionally detach from a person or situation is okay if you use that time to prepare for handling the situation and moving forward.  If you are unable to cope with the situation on your own, however, it may be helpful to seek the help of a counselor or therapist to help you work through your thoughts and feelings. 

emotional detachment disorder

Source: pxhere.com

Don't Be Afraid to Get Help - Start Your Mental Health Journal

If you are experiencing symptoms of emotional detachment disorder and feel like getting help may be a good step for you, don’t allow the fear of what emotional connectedness could mean for you to keep you from learning to develop healthy attachments.  

Find A Support Group For Emotional Support

What is a support group?  A support group is any gathering of people who have similar interests or issues.  They may be professionally supervised, as with a counselor or therapist, or may be independently organized by a church or a community group.  Support groups offer an opportunity to meet with and talk to others who are experiencing or have experienced the things similar to or the same as what you are going through.  This can help you realize that you are not alone and that there is hope for improving your emotional health and well-being.

Seek A Counselor Or Therapist To Help You Cope 

Mental health professionals, such as licensed professional counselors (LPC) or therapists, are trained to help clients with mental health concerns, such as emotional detachment disorder, understand the disorder and learn ways to cope effectively.  Your primary care physician can usually recommend a counselor or therapist.  Also, most communities have local mental health clinics that offer mental and emotional health support.  If you need help and have a counselor or therapist in mind, call today for an appointment for a consultation.  If you don’t know where to turn and would like to see a local therapist, ask your primary care provider for a list of resources and to help connect you with someone.  If the idea of adding another appointment or errand to your life makes you feel more stressed, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options. 

Find A Treatment Center

Some people who are experiencing extreme emotional detachment issues and are experiencing significant impacts related to mental health may find help by visiting an outpatient or inpatient treatment center.  While this option is not always necessary, extreme emotional detachments can cause a significant void that requires more intense help from a mental health professional.  Mental health treatment centers offer professional mental health care in a safe, supportive environment. 

How Can Online Therapy Support Your Mental Health?

The internet has created a whole new avenue for people to seek mental health treatment.  Online therapy offers individuals access to information regarding mental health and wellness and to treatment by professionals who are trained in these types of issues. One of the benefits of online therapy is that individuals often feel more at ease discussing issues with a mental health professional online than they would in some face-to-face encounters. For example, you can access BetterHelp from the comfort and privacy of your own home.

BetterHelp Supports Healthy Attachments

The experienced team of mental health professionals at BetterHelp want you to help you learn to develop health attachments with friends and loved ones.  You can expect compassion for your feelings and dedication to your care.  When you reach out to BetterHelp, you can expect the counselor who is matched with you to work with you to learn how to identify the source of emotional detachment disorder and to help you develop the skills necessary to help you connect with your emotions so you can begin to develop healthy attachments with others. 

Online therapy has been found to be just as effective as in-person therapy. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy is a common and effective approach to treating EDD. Internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) has been found to actually be more effective in the medium and long term, even post-therapy, in treating behavioral and mood conditions like depression, detachment, PTSD, and many others. A compilation of 373 studies found that in addition to the above, online therapy is also more affordable and removes many of the barriers that can be found with in-person therapy, such as difficulty in scheduling or getting to sessions, price, and stigmas associated with therapy.

BetterHelp is highly accessible and convenient, available to you anytime, anywhere – including the comfort of your own home. You’ll be matched with a therapist after completing a brief questionnaire, but can switch at any time if you don’t feel they’re a good fit for you. Additionally, sessions are customizable and can be conducted often outside of standard business hours via video chat, phone call, instant messaging/texting, or live voice recording.

Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.   

Counselor Reviews - More Information on How Therapy Helps

"Christina is a wonderful therapist. She listens, is honest and extremely supportive. She creates a safe space and truly makes you feel heard. I have grown so much and feel so much more connected with feelings after working with her.”

There Is Hope - Click Here To Get Started

"Dr. Fadil has helped me enjoy my life in ways I never thought possible by helping me recognize harmful coping mechanisms, understanding my emotions and connecting with my true self in a positive way.”

Coping with EDD 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 cope with 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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