Is There A Mental Health Reason For Showing No Emotion?

Updated August 27, 2020

Talking to someone who appears to have no emotional responses toward people or situations can feel frustrating at times, primarily if the reason for the lack of emotion is not understood.   Lack of strong emotions can indicate emotional detachment or the presence of mental health or personality disorder.

Understanding Emotional Detachment

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Emotional detachment is the avoidance of emotional connections.  Being emotionally detached, often referred to as having a flat affect, involves the lack of positive or negative feelings or emotions.

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.  The lack of role models who exhibit healthy emotional responses, a history of failed relationships, fear of being emotionally hurt may also contribute to the development of emotional detachment.

When emotional detachment occurs, it can be difficult to imagine the happiness of any kind.  Although the person may be clinically depressed, the absence of any emotion may make it difficult to diagnose depression.

Types of Personality Disorders

While feeling emotionally numb or having a general lack of emotions can be the symptom of different medical conditions or medication side effects, a complete lack of passion could indicate the presence of a personality disorder.

A personality disorder is a type of mental health disorder that causes a person to have an unhealthy pattern of functioning, thinking, and behaving.  People with a personality disorder generally have trouble perceiving and relating to other people and situations.  One of the most significant symptoms of a personality disorder a person’s lack of emotion or inability to express emotions.

Schizoid Personality Disorder

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

People with schizoid personality disorder are often viewed as a loner or may be accused of being dismissive of others.  They typically lack the desire and/or skills to form close personal relationships with others.  Due to their lack of emotional responses, they can appear to be unconcerned or uncaring.

Symptoms of a schizoid personality disorder usually 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 usually prefer to work jobs that can be done alone.

Prominent features of schizoid personality disorder include avoiding close relationships, no desire for sexual relationships, no response to praise and/or critical remarks from others, and lack of motivation or goals.

Schizotypal Personality Disorder

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Individuals with a schizotypal personality disorder may be described as eccentric or odd.  They usually have few, if any, close relationship.  They are unable to understand how relationships are formed or to 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 rarely show emotion.

A schizotypal personality disorder is usually diagnosed with the presence of five or more of these symptoms:

  • Inability to interpret events correctly
  • Persistent and excessive social anxiety
  • Being a loner
  • Having few, if any friends
  • Inappropriate emotional response
  • Flat affect
  • Vague or unusual patterns of speaking

A schizotypal personality disorder is usually diagnosed in early adulthood, and symptoms typically last across the lifespan.  Treatment such as medication and some therapies may improve symptoms.

Schizophrenia

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

Negative symptoms of schizophrenia refer to a reduced or lack of ability to function normally.  When negative symptoms are present, the person may not make eye contact, speak in a monotone, and not change facial expressions.  Social withdrawal and lack of ability to experience pleasure often occur, as well.

Sociopathic Personality Disorder and Psychopathic Personality Disorder

Also referred to as antisocial personality disorder, a sociopathic personality disorder is a personality disorder that involves pervasive lying and deception, physical aggression, disregard for the safety and well-being of others, and lack of remorse for any actions.

Psychopathic Personality Disorder is thought of as a more severe form of sociopathy, and an affected person usually exhibits more symptoms.  Psychopathic traits include lack of deep emotional attachments, superficial charm, reckless behavior, and lack of empathy for others, lack of guilt or remorse, and manipulativeness.

What Causes Personality Disorders?

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Although the exact cause of personality disorders is not quite clear, certain factors are believed to increase the risk of developing or triggering personality disorder traits.  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 illness are all 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, school or work performance and may lead to social isolation, alcohol, or drug abuse.

Although there is no 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 very unaffected people do, they are generally unable to experience emotional responses such as bonding, empathy, or caring.  Further, their emotional behavior, or lack of, rarely changes.

Autism and Lack of Emotional Responses

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

The first symptoms of autism may become apparent in infancy when babies appear abnormally withdrawn and unresponsive to emotional bonding.  As some children with autism grow, they often avoid making eye contact and May unable to engage in social situations.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia.  It affects memory, behavior, and mood, which can cause confusion and difficulty recognizing or relating 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 occurs.  Decreased cognition and emotional responses become more pronounced with time, and the disease eventually causes the affected individual to revert to a child-like state requiring total care.

Is There a Treatment to Help People Express Emotions?

The underlying cause for lack of emotion is the determining factor of whether a treatment option may be successful.

Some people, such as those with a personality disorder, may not see a problem with their lack of emotion and may be unwilling to seek treatment.  However, if you are in a relationship with a person or have a family member who is exhibiting personality disorder traits, it is important to reach out for help.  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.

If you are concerned about someone who shows signs of impaired cognition and emotion, or if you are personally experiencing symptoms that make you uncomfortable, reach out to your primary care provider or mental health professional.  Take the time to talk about your concerns.  Talking to a counselor or therapist can help you make sense of the symptoms you are experiencing or witnessing.  Besides, a mental health professional can help you establish a plan to protect your safety and well-being.

Mental health care options include individual and family therapy, psychosocial support that focuses on developing communication and vocational skills, and monitoring of any medications that may be prescribed.  Some people 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.  For those people, online counseling may be an effective option.

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Whether you choose to talk to a local counselor, visit a community mental health center, or engage in online counseling, you can learn effective ways to cope.  Online counseling options, such as the services provided by Better Help, focus on providing affordable mental health care to individuals that are convenient and easily accessible.  The team of licensed professional counselor’s workers will work with you to identify risks for your safety and well-being and help develop a plan of care that is specific to your needs.

As disheartening as dealing with someone who shows no emotional response may feel, it is important to care for yourself and promote your own mental well-being.  Reaching out for help can help you focus on behaviors that can foster emotional and physical well-being and help you cope with the experiences of having someone with a lack of emotion in your life.


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