What Is Emotional Detachment?

Emotional detachment may refer to an individual that remains unemotionally available in relationships with others.
An individual may experience emotional detachment following a form of psychological trauma, like the death of a beloved person.
Emotional detachment may be detrimental to family relationships.
Emotional detachment may refer to a person's ability to empathize with other people's feelings without compromising their own, which is very important for doctors.
A therapist or counselor should be able to maintain emotional detachment with patients.
Emotional detachment may be necessary in some professionals, including work as an EMT.
People who abuse drugs are often emotionally detached from others.
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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 17 December 2014
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Emotional detachment is a psychological term that can refer to either a positive or a negative behavior. When emotional detachment is negative, it presents as an inability to really connect with other human beings; this person might remain emotionally unavailable in all relationships, even though he or she is physically present in the relationship, which can lead to problems. The second type of detachment, which is a positive psychological behavior, is the ability to recognize and empathize with other people's feelings without compromising one's own personal boundaries, emotions, or sense of self. The second practice is one that can be cultivated and improved upon, and can be beneficial to relationships, whereas the first is usually detrimental.

The first type of psychological emotional attachment may also be referred to as dissociation, depersonalization, or emotional numbing. Frequently, it will occur due to some sort of psychological trauma that was experienced in the past after the individual felt emotionally connected to another person. As a result of this trauma, the individual might consciously or unconsciously choose to protect himself or herself by refusing to allow a similar situation to occur. As a result, this person's behavior in a relationship can be quite frustrating to others, including family members.

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People with emotional detachment will often experience the inability to connect to others in relationships. This may make it difficult for them to empathize with others, to share feelings, or to appear engaged in conversations from an emotional standpoint. They may seem to analyze situations intellectually and seem incapable of sharing feelings. Some will practice avoidance techniques, and may refuse to visit places where the trauma occurred, or may not want to develop relationships at all. These symptoms are more common when the emotional detachment is accompanied by some type of anxiety disorder; often, people will attend therapy for help with this type of behavior.

It is important to remember that emotional detachment, when discussed as a positive personality trait, is in no way similar to the dissociative behavior discussed above. Instead, these people are able to engage emotionally, share emotions and empathize with other people, but they are able to do so at a level that is not harmful to themselves. This is sometimes referred to as mental assertiveness, and is attributed to people with clear boundaries in their minds that they are able to maintain, even in stressful or highly emotional situations with others.

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anon976765
Post 28

I believe I'm emotionally detached in the sense that I can't connect well. I have had my grandfather and close family friends die and I have never cried. I'm not really sad, but I am very good at pretending and faking emotions. I doubt anyone has ever noticed before. I can also lie proficiently and it hardly ever makes me feel guilty.

Sometimes I feel nervous (my first roller coaster ride) or slightly sad (during sad movies), but I've never truly been really sad or really scared before. I just can't seem to understand. I have a lot of friends who actually care for me a lot, but I haven't really gotten attached to them and I don't even think of them when I'm away or on vacation. I guess it might be a bit sad for them to be so attached to someone who doesn't really feel anything for them.

I am very good at discerning emotions and friends often come to me for relationship advice etc. I usually know what to say, but inside I'm very awkward and unsure because I honestly have no idea what they're going through. My parents have been divorced for a few years and I visit my dad every month, but I don't miss him.

Sometimes when I'm on long vacations, I just forget to call my mom. I like to stay alone in my room for long periods of time reading, etc. It doesn't bother me to be so alone, though. I may just be an average teenager going through their teen years but I've always been detached like this and I'm very good at telling when I'm mad or angry because I'm at that age. I have very good judgment concerning myself and my teen behavior.

I've often been told, as well, that I act older than I am and that I'm very logical and cold. Gross things don't creep me out, blood doesn't make me sick, etc.

anon966253
Post 27

Reading this reminds me of the situation I'm in with my relationship. My partner is the emotionally detached one and I am the one who was clinging on whatever it took to get his attention.

As a result, the relationship failed and I am hurting really bad from trying to become emotionally detached in a positive way myself. He told me he was going thru a lot of trauma events during his childhood that left him shutting off his emotions when it comes to feelings.

He also admits to have issues with commitment (he ended up cheating on me with a woman, but said it was only a fling). Now that we've been together for nearly two years, I feel like the pain comes with being with a depressed/emotional absent individual is extremely painful.

He said he loves me still, but I have realized they're only words, after all. I have found my way here trying to learn about emotional detachment and was hoping there are ways I can practice to let go and find my inner peace again.

anon947638
Post 26

I was adopted when I was nine. Even before that, my childhood was hard, with several moves and (for over a year) an abusive guardian. After my adoption (to an elderly couple I'd known all my life), I was happier with a stable home and loving parents, but there was still something wrong. Something had changed in me. I used to be a loving child, open and happy. I was still open, to a point, but I was more cautious and there was an anger inside me that I tried to ignore. I was also more clingy, desperate for love and attention, always hugging my mother and asking if she loved me. It also became hard to make friends. I didn't make my first real friend (after the adoption) until I was 12, and then only because she refused to leave me until I finally considered her a friend (which she still is to this day).

A few years into the adoption, I think my parents and I hit the age gap. They didn't understand my need for something like a computer for homework and projects, or even my love for books. This distanced us to the point that I began to think I had done something wrong and would be left again.

I reacted in a new way. All that anger and fear I'd buried deep inside came to the surface and we began fighting. I still loved my parents, but I couldn't stand their intolerance or their inability to 'get with the times'. As I got older, it only escalated. The fights were terrible. My mother had the worst temper and knew exactly what to say to hurt the most. I soon learned to never trust her tearful apologies or promises to never say she hated me again. If she hugged me or told me she loved me, I smiled and told her the same, but inside, I felt nothing.

By the time I was 16, I stopped making new friends altogether. I had a small group of six friends, and no matter how hard it was to be my friend, they stuck with me. Without them, I don't think I would have made it through my teenage years at all. I'm quite sure I would have given into my depression and killed myself.

I'm 23 now, and I've left home, joined the military and traveled all over the world. Yet, I'm still alone, unable to get close to others, unable to even recognize myself anymore. The always happy mask I made as a teenager to protect myself has erased me and I can't remember who I was before. I can't take the mask off to let others in. I've made one friend in these last five years, and only because we both recognized kindred lost souls. I've been in two relationships, one of which I ended out of fear of being hurt and the other that ended because all he wanted was sex and not an actual relationship. That was three years ago. Since then, I haven't been able to connect to anyone.

I don't know how to change myself, but I'm so tired of being alone. I just want someone who can love me for me, and teach me how to love without drowning in fear.

anon943445
Post 25

I met a boy one summer when I was 13. We wrote each other and saw each other on Sundays and whenever we could. This went on for three years. When I was 15 and he was 17 we found out he had cancer and was dying. He died shortly after he turned 18.

I have been in several relationships since then. I have been married twice and engaged four times. But I am so terrified of being too attached and the possibility of them dying brings back the memories of how bad that hurt. I cannot imagine loving and living with someone for years and then they die. I would love to be able to stay in a relationship and not run when I start getting so attached.

anon943087
Post 24

After being married fro 21 years, I developed this towards my wife (not going into our list of reasons why). I'm still struggling with it today. I'm trying to change it, since 21 years is a long time, but it just seems as there is nothing there now. Even after working on our issues, the detachment is strong as ever.

anon932950
Post 23

One thing I don't understand about posts like these is that they always seem to say something along the lines of, "this person might remain emotionally unavailable in all relationships,"

In my own personal experience people who are incapable of expressing emotions and can't get close to people, such as myself, never have relationships, with anybody, ever.

anon928577
Post 22

I have the same issue for years. Until recently I noticed it is an issue as I have experienced very strong panic attacks. Before that I only thought it was my personality and a "smart" choice.

Similar to many guys here, I also had a trauma when I was a boy. My mom lost control many times when she had problems in her relationship with my dad and threatened to leave my dad a few times a year.

I was scared, lonely and maybe angry. But as a boy, I didn't know how to deal with that and choose to shut off my emotion by doing something else, like play a toy.

I am 32 now, married and with a lovely baby girl. But I still feel that I can not understand or recognize my family and relationship in an emotional way rather make rational decisions.

It is really sad. Even I almost can't feel the sad or any another emotion on myself (all feelings just slide away in 10 seconds).

I have seen a doctor for three months. But I'm still not sure when I can come back as a human being not a zombie.

Do you guys have any method to heal yourself or any books for this issue?

anon348483
Post 21

Its really hard trying to have a relationship with an emotionally detached man. He avoids intimate conversations at all costs and just gets up and walks away (passive aggressive) without saying a word if I want to talk about something that's bothering me. He doesn't consider "emotions" a good thing at all and looks down on anyone who displays any sort of emotion.

anon341148
Post 20

I agree with Moldova about taking the distance with a grain of salt (and preferably, an ounce of patience and understanding, as long as it's not also laced with condescension).

I dissociate a lot as a result of childhood trauma, and though I'm fine with letting those who care about me enough know why I act certain ways (and that I'm working on it all with a therapist), so I don't see much of a point in telling such personal details to every single person I come across, although some (such as men who like me but I'm not interested in) get peeved and make other assumptions about me, and even assume I think I'm "above" them/narcissistic for being aloof/withdrawn.

I'm not closed off to everyone, but I do have to know the person and feel a sense of rapport on my end, as well, and have a reason to feel safe with them before I let them really know me better before being more relaxed around them.

Or, if I see someone having bigger problems with a similar cause as mine, I let them in on it so they know they're not alone and that there are healthier ways to cope. I do hate, though, that because I'm extremely guarded with some men (whether or not they deserve it) that sometimes the guys feel offended or shamed by feeling like they're why I feel so violated sometimes if they try to move faster than I'm comfortable with. If a guy looks annoyed at me for it (or looks at me like I have three heads) it kills his chances of ever being able to try again.

anon339508
Post 19

Training your capacity for what is presently referred to as 'mindfulness' is way to seek greater skill at positive detachment.

Negative detachment is considered a more or less instinctive response to severe emotional shock ('trauma')or simply to a prolonged overload of emotional stress at some time or period of your life. Many highly sensitive persons eventually develop this pattern as a result of trying to hard, for too long to live as if they were not.

'Mindfulness' might help to alleviate the negative pattern as well, as this mental approach makes it easier to gradually contain and acknowledge difficult emotions such as rage or anxiety, while implicitly presenting a more assertive pattern of response, so that the urge towards destructive acting out is not experienced to the same extent, while such emotions arise and fall. The implicit lessons of a more patient and observing attitude makes for a more gradual 're-awakening' to contact with your own emotions, and a gradual process of accept of the bad that was, and the scars that remain, also lessening the risk of repeated trauma by a rushed approach to self therapy.

Seeking professional assistance is always an option, if you find yourself psychologically stuck, of course.

anon333839
Post 18

I want to be an emotionally detached person. Currently, I am a very emotional person buy my hubby is an emotionally detached person. To stay with him for a longer time, I need to change my nature and be an emotionally detached person. Can anyone help me in this?

anon332004
Post 17

How interesting. In recent times, I have come to realise that I am the second type, the one who engages and empathises well, but while keeping a certain distance. I can understand, but I do not take it onto my shoulders. I find this to be a positive. I know people who could really do with this.

My mother has no boundaries emotionally and takes everybody else's problems on personally. As a result, she's very highly strung. My father is emotionally absent. I feel that the second way you've highlighted is the balance.

anon327893
Post 16

I was in a relationship with a man like this. Every time I felt I was being treated unfairly or was being neglected, I spoke up to him as respectfully and honestly as I could about it. I always gave him respect and that's what he said he needed from me, so I thought this should be reciprocated also. But every time I spoke to him, he was horribly offended! He blamed me for being harsh and lying about his character, as if I were attacking him or something. He always assured me that he wasn't angry at me and only hurt, but then he would pull away for months, hardly speaking to me at all emotionally shutting me out! He would only speak once in a while to remind me how harsh and mean I was, etc. He would go about his life not relating to me or being distant with me. It was so painful for me emotionally!

Eventually, after a few months, he would come back and start being romantic with me again, but never did the original problems we had together ever get solved. I finally had to talk to him again about the relationship and the whole distance thing started all over again. Now we have been broken up for three years now, but he is still around, trying here and there to be romantic with me, and saying he still has feelings for me, etc. But he has disconnected his phone and only has a cell, which I have not been invited to call yet. We can only do the email thing and he hardly uses that much, and doesn't write much even then. But when he does call me, he tries to say he cares and tries to be romantic with me. It's like he wants the romance with me as a woman, but cannot deal with relationship stuff! So he says he likes being alone for now so he won't have to deal with relationship drama, etc., but says he still has feelings for me and still does the romance stuff once in a while with me. Also, he has turned other women down who have asked him on dates and sometimes reminds me there is no one else and that he thinks of me all the time. Weird.

This man is 53 years old and it seems he had a great childhood. Well, his father died when he was age nine. He grew up with five sisters. When his father passed he had to live with his grandmother in a pueblo with no running water or electricity. I am not sure, but he might have been the only child to have to live with grandma, as I think his sisters got to stay with his mom. I wonder if that is the problem for him? He did have a girlfriend who cheated on him years before he met me and she apparently said mean things to him. I just wish I could help him open up emotionally and trust me. I do love the man a lot!

anon321313
Post 15

My boyfriend needs an emotional bond from his partner - currently it is me. I feel I am emotionally detached and he has tried to help me overcome it, but it just doesn't click. We've been together for three years.

I was raped when I was 17, but prior to that I was pretty happy with myself, and had few friends, but was close to most of them. I am in my early 50's now. My family did not share much positive emotion while I was growing up, and when I was raped, my parents only showed anger because I found out I was pregnant at that time also. They made me abort the baby. I felt so alone, and had no one to go to because they said another word would never be spoken of this.

Since then, the more I look back, I see that is where I disconnected my emotions. I have recently sought therapy and am still trying to work through the trauma. My boyfriend understands my frustration with all this, but is about to give up because I'm still not understanding what it is I need to do. I know what I need in a relationship and he wants the same. He gives me what he has to a point, emotionally, and will give more if I would only open up emotionally in conversation.

I'm looking for techniques and what and how to say things so he'll feel what I'm feeling, so I can be the happy, carefree person I once was. I want to feel again.

anon321300
Post 14

How do I stop this? I've been doing this since I was nine, and I need to break this habit. I've been worse than going through the motions and to be honest, no one cares when I've tried to ask for help. I want to be me again. I can't do this for another 10 years.

anon305682
Post 13

I don't know what to say. After reading the posts, I think I have grown up with negative detachment or dissociation.

I have been on a personal development journey for the past 12 years and have a goal to teach personal development, even though I am having lots of setbacks that I don't understand. I am self sabotaging.

Now on my personal journey and self healing, how do I move forward, conquer this beast and get my work out there? Thank you all for your wonderful posts.

golf07
Post 11

I find it interesting to read about the positive side of emotional detachment. It seems like most of the time you hear of it portrayed in a negative light.

I can see where positive detachment can be a very good thing for young people who may be in situations where they are faced with peer pressure, and do not want the consequences of making bad choices.

If you have a very strong sense of self, it is much easier to detach yourself from a situation like this and make choices that will benefit you and not complicate your life further.

myharley
Post 10

It is not uncommon to see negative emotional detachment in cases of adoption. You see this more frequently if the children are older when they are adopted.

Many times we have no idea what kind of trauma these children have gone through that may be the cause for this type of detachment. This is a way they have of protecting themselves from further hurt and many times do not even realize they are doing it. It just becomes a normal coping mechanism for them.

Seeking counseling can be a positive option for them, but many of these kids will struggle with this for most of their lives no matter how much love is poured in to them.

LisaLou
Post 9

I have some friends who adopted two children from a foreign country. Both of these kids were adopted before they were one year old, but one of them as been told she has emotional detachment.

This type of negative emotional detachment has been a struggle for their family. Their daughter has a hard time bonding with anybody and has a hard time making friends. If she does make a friend, it is difficult for her to keep that friendship for very long.

This is quite sad because she is a very bright and talented girl and has parents who are giving her a very loving and stable home. They are going to counseling and are hoping this will help unravel some of the mysteries, and that she might be able to begin trusting and connecting with those loved ones around her.

snickerish
Post 8

@bluespirit - I did not read a "Gift to Myself." But I did try and read the author's other book which accompanies that book, its title is "Healing the Child Within." I am glad the book helped you.

But in my case, and I am sure many emotional detachment cases the detachment was a little more severe as it was a part of my Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder, so I sought professional help.

Support groups and family counseling were also helpful in addition to my individual counseling.

bluespirit
Post 7

I noticed some emotional detachment symptoms in myself most notably the inability to connect with others when I was in middle school and high school. I was always around people and had many friends but I still always felt alone.

In my case emotional detachment causes me to feel alone in a crowded room no matter how much attention or love I received.

But because my emotional detachment was not severe and was in my opinion caused by dealing with severe cases of mental illness in my nuclear family at a young age, I found that as I became older, away from the stressful situation, and understood how these things affected me I was able to reconnect with people.

I now have a very satisfying emotionally connected marriage and friendships!

A book I read called, "A Gift to Myself" really helped me understand my emotional detachment. Has anyone else read it?

lonelygod
Post 6

@letshearit - I think that having a relationship with someone who is emotional detached can be a real challenge worth undertaking. I have never walked away from a relationship easily and I really feel that emotional detachment is a learned trait solely adopted for self-preservation.

Getting close to someone, showing them you are not a threat and doing your best to keep their trust can really pay off in the long run. I would never leave someone I loved just because they had some trouble connecting with me right off.

One of the best relationships I have ever had was with someone who was initially emotionally detached. It took a lot of work for us but everything really worked out and I really believe I helped her learn how to love again.

letshearit
Post 5

For those who have been in some complicated relationships, those with people suffering from emotional detachment can be the most difficult. I am sure many of you have been in a relationship with someone who has been through some sort of trauma in their life, and it can make it really hard for them to really relate to you.

Someone who is emotionally unavailable in a relationship can have trouble realizing how much they are short-changing themselves and the people around them. I found that frank honest conversations with them can really help them open up. For those that are unwilling to open up, all you can do is move on knowing you have tried.

Moldova
Post 4

@Cupcake15 – I think that sometimes when you deal with people that emotionally detached you should not take things personally because the person with the emotional detachment issues is really struggling with allowing people to get close and usually suffer quite a bit.

Whenever I see people that sort of keep to themselves, I usually respect it and try to be friendly but not too forward. This way I don’t get hurt or offended when they don’t reciprocate.

Some people that get offended easily have to realize that not everything is about them and dealing with a person with emotional detachment disorder can make the other person feel a little insecure if they don't understand the condition.

cupcake15
Post 3

@Sunshine31 - I agree with you. I know that a lot of emotional detachment cases develop from post traumatic stress disorder. People that have served in the military or have been in a severe car accidents or have seen some get killed in front of them can develop emotional detachment syndrome and really develop a level of emotional detachment in relationships that cause many of these relationships to fall apart.

For example, if you consider the Vietnam veterans that still have post traumatic stress disorder even forty or so years after it tells you how powerful this emotional trauma can be.

I read that they have three times the divorce rate of the average American and the suicide rate is almost 80% higher than that of the average American. I think that people that suffer from emotional trauma that develop emotional detachment syndrome can have really detrimental effects in their quality of life because this type of emotional detached personality is hard to deal with on your own.

These people really need counseling in order to develop a happy life and healthy relationships because if not the other parnter in the relationship will feel emotional abandonment.

sunshine31
Post 2

@Sneakers41 - It is sad that your father could not realize that his parents were just toxic people that really would not make anyone unhappy. I guess when your own parents reject you; it is really hard to develop a healthy personality that leads to healthy relationships.

I know that some people become emotionally detached by developing multiple personalities.I read that it is the way that some people deal with extreme trauma. It makes sense because this fantasy world makes it easier to deal with the pain.

It is like the pain is so intense that the fantasy is a release of some kind. I saw the movie Cybil about the young women that developed multiple personalities and it really makes a lot of sense. I think that this form of dissociation is far better than other coping mechanisms.

I also read that many psychiatrists can treat people with this condition by offering a form of hypnosis that will allow them to confront the initial trauma that led to his condition. I think that this is important because people tend to block painful memories and have a hard time recalling them on a conscientious level.

sneakers41
Post 1

I wanted to add that my father suffered from an emotionally detached personality because of a lot of emotional trauma that he experienced as a child.

His parents were very emotionally distant with him and sent him to a military boarding school when my father expressed anger and depression because of his parent's impending divorce.

This was in the thirties when my dad was a kid and instead of his parents understanding how he felt they actually added to his distress. His mother actually blamed my father for the divorce and this was something that my father never got over.

He really longed to have a relationship with his parents but when it was time to go home in the summer, instead of going home, he was sent to a hunting camp in North Carolina and he never spent any time with his parents.

As a result of this childhood trauma my dad developed emotional detachment in his marriage with my mom as well as developing an emotionally detached personality with his children.

This became more prevalent the older we got. When we were children he was more involved then when we became adults.

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