Is There A Mental Health Reason For Showing No Emotions?

Updated January 10, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Talking to someone who appears to be displaying no emotion or feelings toward people or situations can sometimes feel frustrating or personal, especially if the lack of emotion is not understood. While everyone has different levels of social skills and interaction preferences, having a lack of presence or emotion in daily interactions can indicate emotional detachment, or the presence of mental health or personality disorder.

Understanding the range of conversation types and styles can help those at all levels of socialization feel validated. Below, we’re discussing what emotional attachment is, different types of disorders that can be classified by a lack of emotional responses and possible treatment options in these specific cases. 

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Understanding Emotional Detachment

Emotional detachment is designated by many as the avoidance of developing and showing emotional connections with people in your life. Being emotionally detached or showing no emotions, often referred to as having a flat effect, can involve the lack of positive or negative feelings or emotions within oneself and what may or may not be projected publicly.

Having no emotional response does not necessarily indicate an underlying disorder. For example: It may be a temporary state of being in response to an emotionally traumatic event, or the result of a chronic condition — such as depersonalization disorder. A lack of role models who exhibit healthy emotional responses, a history of failed relationships or fear of being emotionally hurt may also contribute to the development of emotional detachment in some.

When emotional detachment occurs, it can be difficult for some to imagine the happiness of any kind. Seeking support via an online therapist can help you navigate why you might get emotionally detached and can help you make progress on your personal health goals. 

Types Of Detachment-Based Personality Disorders

While feeling emotionally numb or feeling like you have no emotions can be a symptom of different medical conditions or medication side effects, a complete lack of attachment or engagement could indicate the presence of a personality disorder.

A personality disorder is generally designated as a type of mental health disorder that causes a person to have an unhealthy functioning, thinking, and behaving pattern. People with a personality disorder may have trouble perceiving and relating to other people and situations. They also may experience a lack of emotion or the inability to express emotions.

Below are a few common personality disorders that may be associated with detachment or disengagement.

Schizoid Personality Disorder

A schizoid personality disorder is a mental health condition that can be characterized by an avoidance of social activities and interpersonal relationships. People who have schizoid personality disorder may have a limited range of types of emotional expressions, if they express emotions at all.

People with schizoid personality disorder can be viewed as “loners,” or may be accused of being dismissive of others. They may lack the desire and/or skills to form close personal relationships with others. 

Symptoms of a schizoid personality disorder can manifest by early adulthood. However, some signs may be evident during childhood or teenage years. Features of the disorder may contribute to difficulty functioning in school or work and may cause disruptions in personal and professional areas of life. 

People with schizoid personality disorder may prefer to work jobs that can be done alone. Prominent features of schizoid personality disorder can include avoiding close relationships, having a lack of desire for sexual relationships, having no response to praise and/or critical remarks from others, and a general lack of motivation or long-term goals.

Schizotypal Personality Disorder

Individuals with schizotypal personality disorder may have few, if any, close relationships. They may be unable to understand how relationships are formed, or they may not appreciate the impact their behaviors may have on others. People with this disorder may misinterpret the motivations or behaviors of others and feel an overwhelming distrust of others. Despite their feelings, they may not show any amount of emotion.

A schizotypal personality disorder can be formally diagnosed with the presence of five or more listed symptoms:

  • Inability to interpret events correctly

  • Persistent and excessive social anxiety

  • Preferring to be alone rather than with a group

  • Having few or no, friends

  • Having frequent inappropriate emotional responses

  • Experiencing a lack of feelings, or a “flat effect”

  • Displaying vague or unusual patterns of speaking

A schizotypal personality disorder can be diagnosed in early adulthood, and symptoms may last across one’s lifespan. Treatment such as medication and some therapies may help improve some symptoms.

Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that can cause disruptions in the way a person interprets reality. It may cause delusions, hallucinations, disorganized behavior, or thinking that can impair one’s daily functioning. Although people with schizophrenia may appear to have erratic behavior at times, the affected person may likely show little to no emotion when symptoms are active.

Symptoms of schizophrenia can include a reduced ability to function normally. For example: When symptoms are present, the person living with schizophrenia may not make eye contact, might speak in a monotone or may not change their facial expressions. Social withdrawal and lack of ability to experience pleasure can occur, as well.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Also referred to as sociopathic personality disorder, this disorder can involve pervasive lying and deception, physical aggression, disregard for the safety of others and an overwhelming lack of remorse for any actions. Emotions may or may not be shown on a regular basis, and may vary erratically during an episode in those living with this type of disorder.

Psychopathy

This condition can appear as a more intense form of sociopathy, and an affected person may exhibit a broader range of symptoms. Traits associated with episodes of psychopathy can include a lack of deep emotional attachments, superficial charm, reckless behavior, lack of empathy for others, lack of guilt or remorse, pleasure in inflicting pain and perceived manipulativeness.

Autism

Autism is the general term that can be used to describe a range of neurological conditions that may affect a person’s ability to communicate or interact socially and may present alongside other behaviors. Symptoms of autism may be mild or severe.

The first symptoms of autism may become apparent in infancy and can appear as babies acting abnormally withdrawn and unresponsive to emotional bonding effort. As some children and adults with autism grow, they may have trouble engaging in social situations similar to neurotypical children. 

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is generally classified as a form of dementia. It can affect memory, behavior, and mood, which can cause confusion and difficulty as people living with Alzheimer’s attempt to recognize or relate to others. 

People with Alzheimer’s disease may first exhibit mild personality changes and a lack of spontaneity. As the disease progresses, increased memory loss may occur. Decreased cognition and limited emotional responses can become more pronounced with time, and the disease may eventually cause the affected individual to revert to a child-like state that requires total care.

What Causes Personality Disorders?

Although the exact cause of personality disorders is not universal, certain factors are scientifically suggested to increase the risk of developing or triggering personality disorder traits. For example, A history of a childhood conduct disorder, changes in brain structure and chemistry, abusive or unstable family relationships, and a family history of personality disorders or other mental illnesses can all be possible contributing factors.

Personality disorders can cause significant disruptions in the lives of the affected person and in the lives of the people who care for them. They can have negative impacts on personal and professional relationships and school or work performance and may lead to social isolation and alcohol or drug abuse in some.

Although there is no single cure for most personality disorders, if the condition is detected early in life, some improvement in behaviors may be experienced. Because people with personality disorders do not process social experiences or emotions the same way unaffected people do, they may be unable to experience emotional responses such as bonding, empathy or care. 

Is There Treatment To Support Emotional Detachment?

Determining the underlying cause for detachment can be a critical step in determining the proper course of treatment. 

Some people, such as those living with a personality disorder, may not see a problem with their lack of emotion and may be unwilling to seek treatment. Although you cannot force someone else to get help, being in a relationship with someone who shows no emotional responses can have a profound effect on even the strongest person, and may require therapeutic intervention to address.

If you are concerned about someone who may shows signs of impaired cognition and emotion, or if you are personally experiencing symptoms that make you uncomfortable, you may choose to reach out to your primary care provider or mental health professional. 

Available mental health support strategies may include individual and family therapy, psychosocial support that focuses on developing communication and vocational skills and monitoring of any medications that may be prescribed. 

How Can Online Therapy Help Those Experiencing Disengagement? 

Some people may prefer to develop an in-person relationship with a therapist, psychiatrist or counselor. Others are more comfortable with an approach that allows them to experience counseling in a more relaxed personal setting, such as their home or a designated safe space. For those people, online counseling may be an effective option. Additionally, those in online therapy may be able to directly connect to a therapist via in-app messaging as needed, a perk which may not be available within in-person therapeutic settings. 

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Is Online Therapy Effective For Those With Disengagement Concerns?

A growing body of evidence points to online therapy as an effective means of helping individuals manage symptoms of emotional impairment. In one wide-ranging review published in Schizophrenia Research, the efficacy of online therapy for those living with psychosis (80% of which were living with schizophrenia-spectrum disorders) was examined. The report gathered the results of 12 studies, finding that 74-86% of participants successfully utilized online treatments, and 75-92% perceived them as helpful. 

Takeaway

If you’re experiencing a lack of social response, or are interacting with someone close to you who may be experiencing disengagement, it can feel overwhelming. However, many possible causes and subsequent supportive strategies can help either of you reach a higher quality of life. BetterHelp provides online therapy solutions for those looking for remote therapy support. 

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