Emotional Detachment: Symptoms, Treatments, And Ways To Cope

Medically reviewed by Dr. April Brewer, DBH, LPC
Updated March 12, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Symptoms of emotional detachment

While emotional detachment is not a clinically diagnosable disorder, mental health care providers may still look for the following symptoms as signs of detachment or “blunting,” which may suggest the presence of other mental health disorders.

Common symptoms for individuals who develop emotional detachment include:

  • Lack of emotions, also known as “flattened affect”
  • Unresponsiveness emotional experiences or situations that provoke emotional responses in others
  • A feeling of being emotionally disconnected from other people, places, or objects in one’s environment
  • Reduced interest in sex
  • Apathy

Which psychological conditions are often characterized by emotional detachment?

Note that the primary symptoms of emotional detachment overlap with symptoms associated with dissociation, which many people experience during or after a traumatic experience. If you’re experiencing dissociation, you may feel a lack of emotional connections between your thoughts, memory, and/or sense of identity, usually during or after a traumatic experience. Before exploring the treatments for emotional detachment, we’ll look at related psychological diagnoses of which emotional detachment may be a symptom. Relatedly, it may be helpful to know how mental health providers define and treat these conditions while improving patients’ sense of emotional attachment and connection to others.

Before exploring the treatments for emotional detachment, we’ll look at related psychological diagnoses of which emotional detachment may be a symptom. Relatedly, it may be helpful to know how mental health providers define and treat these conditions while improving patients’ sense of emotional attachment and connection to others.

Dissociation and derealization

As noted in the previous section, many people experience emotional detachment as a side effect of dissociation. Persistent derealization is a specific kind of dissociation and is often linked to worse psychological outcomes, although researchers are still studying the “why” behind this correlation. In some cases, the emotional detachment and other trauma symptoms may lead to a diagnosis of depersonalization/ derealization disorder, which tends to be characterized by:

  • Detachment from your thoughts, feelings, and body (depersonalization)
  • A sense of disconnection from your environment (derealization)

People with this condition do not usually lose their sense of reality: they tend to understand that their perceptions of detachment aren’t physically “real.” However, this doesn’t detract from the discomfort or realness of their condition.

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Some people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, report a feeling of emotional detachment from others or difficulty expressing emotions. However, other people experience heightened emotions, including changes in alertness, hypervigilance, agitation, anxiety, and/or a loss of emotional control.

Schizoid personality disorder (ScPD)

This personality disorder tends to be characterized by a persistent pattern of emotional detachment. 

People with schizoid personality disorder (ScPD) are often emotionally detached and indifferent to the world around them. They may express little desire for relationships or emotional ties, even with family and others who could become close friends, such as coworkers or neighbors.

Schizotypal personality disorder (STPD)

As with ScPD, people with schizotypal personality disorder (STPD) typically struggle to start and maintain relationships. However, unlike ScPD, STPD doesn’t necessarily cause a lack of interest in personal relationships. People with STPD may just experience intense discomfort in social relations. A few additional symptoms also tend to characterize STPD:

  • Odd beliefs about oneself or others
  • Paranoia or suspiciousness
  • Significant social phobia
  • Confused speaking, thinking, or behavioral patterns

Reactive attachment disorder

Reactive attachment disorder, or RAD, is often seen in children who have experienced emotional abuse, childhood abuse, or childhood trauma and have a hard time connecting with adults. Children experiencing RAD may seem anxious or nervous around caretakers, regardless of the caretaker’s demeanor. They also may struggle to seek comfort or to be comforting to others. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

There are other forms of personality and attachment disorders, but the ones highlighted above are most frequently associated with emotional detachment. According to the DSM-5, a person can be diagnosed with multiple personality disorders, as their symptoms often overlap. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing a consistent pattern of emotional detachment, it’s best to consult with your doctor or psychiatrist for individualized support and diagnosis.

Causes of emotional detachment

Emotional detachment depends on a variety of factors and can be a complex psychological phenomenon, the cause is not fully understood. One person’s experience of emotional detachment may differ greatly from someone else’s, which may ultimately result in two separate mental health diagnoses. 

In the scientific community, psychologists recognize the validity of emotional detachment, but there is some debate as to whether the condition is a side effect of medication or an unresolved feature of major depressive disorder and/or personality disorders.

More research is needed, but for now, many psychologists can agree that emotional detachment frequently presents as a symptom of another mental health condition. With a diagnosis and a clear understanding of emotional blunting, it may be much easier to move forward and learn how to reconnect with your emotions.

Coping strategies for emotional detachment 

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For some people, emotional detachment may develop as one of the brain’s built-in coping strategies. In response to a traumatic event or a fear of getting hurt, a person may unconsciously detach from people, places, and/or objects that provoke fear or memories of trauma.

While this might be your brain’s default coping strategy, emotional detachment can have negative consequences in the big picture of your life. It can prevent you from fully engaging with other people, investing in relationships and hobbies, and building a rich, meaningful existence.

Reconnecting with your emotions is possible, but where do you start this journey, and how do you begin to fix emotional detachment? The following are some strategies that can assist you in working through emotional detachment: 

Reconnect with your social network

In some cases, emotional detachment can actually benefit your social health. When you set healthy boundaries between yourself and people or situations that cause stress, you give yourself space to manage intense emotions before returning to confront the stressor. 

However, we can’t always rely on emotional detachment to navigate tough situations. Life presents a variety of stressors, but there are also lots of opportunities to connect with other people and deepen our sense of purpose, which is difficult to do when we’re disconnected from the emotional side of life. 

If you’re experiencing emotional detachment, it may help to tap into your existing network of friends, family, and other supportive loved ones as a positive coping mechanism. While you may not feel interested in building new connections, your existing relationships can hold you accountable for your mental health goals, support you during challenging moments, and remind you to engage in acts of self-care.

Create a self-care plan that works for you

The following are some evidence-based forms of self-care that may help to treat emotional detachment:

  • Mindfulness and meditation: Broadly, mindfulness and meditation involve any exercises that train your attention to achieve a state of calmness, concentration, and positive emotions. These exercises don’t have to be time-consuming, and they’re proven to reduce stress by helping you learn to notice and accept feelings and sensations without judgment. 
  • Journaling: You can journal about anything, including your emotional state, your goals (whether they’re related to mental health or other areas of your life), or whatever else comes to mind. Over time, a journaling habit creates a judgment-free zone where you can explore your thoughts and feelings.
  • Physical activity: Exercise can involve a variety of activities, such as yoga, walking, dancing, or a recreational sport. If you find a form of movement that you truly enjoy, you may be more likely to stick with it and enjoy the long-term benefits, including improved physical health.

Seek professional support

As you create your self-care plan and invest in your social network, a licensed therapist can act as a valuable source of support in overcoming emotional detachment. Many mental healthcare professionals offer sessions online, which makes therapy simpler, convenient, and often more affordable when seeking treatment for emotional detachment.

Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp match individuals with experienced therapists based on their mental health history and goals. If you’re experiencing difficulty establishing an emotional connection with a therapist and other people in your life, BetterHelp takes the time to ensure that you feel safe, comfortable, and connected with your therapist. 

Online therapy can be an invaluable resource for people with concerns about their emotional health and other mental conditions. Many studies demonstrate the potential of internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT), which can treat a variety of conditions including:

  • Clinical depression
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • PTSD
  • Phobias
  • Other conditions that may cause emotional detachment as a primary symptom

A compilation of 373 studies showed that iCBT is a useful tool for treating individuals with mental health conditions as well as people with medical conditions with psychiatric comorbidities. The researchers also concluded that online therapy removes many of the barriers associated with in-person therapy, such as difficulty in scheduling or commuting to sessions, price, and stigmas associated with attending therapy. 

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Takeaway

In summary, emotional detachment can be an isolating and frightening experience, but you don’t have to face it alone. With self-care strategies and a therapist-approved treatment plan, you can begin reconnecting with your emotions as well as the people, places, and activities you love most. Take the first step and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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