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Emotional detachment is an inability or unwillingness to connect with other people on an emotional level. For some people, being emotionally detached helps protect them from unwanted drama, anxiety, or stress.

For others, the detachment isn’t always voluntary. It’s instead the result of events that make the person unable to be open and honest about their emotions.

Emotional detachment can be helpful if you use it purposefully. You may set boundaries with certain people or groups. It helps you stay at an arm’s length from people who demand a lot of your emotional attention.

But emotional detachment can also be harmful when you can’t control it. You may feel “numbed” or “muted.” This is known as emotional blunting, and it’s typically a symptom or issue that should be addressed by a mental health provider.

Below you’ll read about the different types of emotional detachment and learn when it’s a good thing and when it might be worrisome.

People who are emotionally detached or removed may show it as:

  • difficulty creating or maintaining personal relationships
  • a lack of attention, or appearing preoccupied when around others
  • difficulty being loving or affectionate with a family member
  • avoiding people, activities, or places because they’re associated with a past trauma or event
  • reduced ability to express emotion
  • difficulty empathizing with another person’s feelings
  • not easily sharing emotions or feelings
  • difficulty committing to another person or a relationship
  • not making another person a priority when they should be

Emotional detachment may be voluntary. Some people can choose to remain emotionally removed from a person or situation.

Other times, emotional detachment is the result of trauma, abuse, or a previous encounter. In these cases, previous events may make it difficult to be open and honest with a friend, loved one, or significant other.

By choice

Some people choose to proactively remove themselves from an emotional situation.

This might be an option if you have a family member or a colleague that you know upsets you greatly. You can choose to not engage with the person or persons. This will help you remain cool and keep your calm.

In situations like this, emotional detachment is a bit like a protective measure. It helps you prepare for situations that would normally get the best of you.

As a result of abuse

Sometimes, emotional detachment may be the result of traumatic events, such as childhood abuse or neglect. Children who are abused or neglected may develop emotional detachment as a means of survival.

Children require a lot of emotional connection from their parents or caregivers. If it’s not forthcoming, the children may stop expecting it. When that happens, they may begin to turn off their emotional receptors.

That can lead to depressed mood, inability to show or share emotions, and behavior problems.

What’s more, children who were abused or neglected as a child, or even those who were just raised in a certain type of strict household, may also struggle with accepting other people’s emotions. They may not know how to respond to a significant other in a time of high stress and emotion.

Other conditions

Emotional detachment or “numbing” is frequently a symptom of other conditions. You may feel distance from your emotions at times if you have:

Medicine

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant. Some people who take this type of drug may experience emotional blunting, or a switched-off emotional center.

This period of emotional detachment may last as long as you’re on these drugs. Doctors can help you find another alternative if the drug affects you in this way.

Emotional detachment isn’t an official condition like bipolar disorder or depression. Instead, it’s often considered one element of a larger medical condition.

These conditions might include personality disorders, Asperger’s syndrome, and an attachment disorder.

Emotional detachment could also be the result of trauma or abuse. People who have been neglected or abused may develop this as a coping mechanism.

A healthcare provider may be able to see when you’re not emotionally available to others. They may also talk with you, a family member, or a significant other about your behaviors.

Understanding how you feel and act can help a provider recognize a pattern that could suggest this emotional issue.

Treatment for emotional detachment depends on the reason it’s occurring.

If your healthcare provider believes you struggle with emotional attachment and openness because of another condition, they may suggest treating that first.

These conditions might include depression, PTSD, or borderline personality disorder. Medicine and therapy are helpful for these conditions.

If the emotional issues are a result of trauma, your doctor may recommend psychotherapy or talk therapy. This treatment can help you learn to overcome the impacts of the abuse. You also learn new ways to process experiences and anxieties that previously upset you and led to the emotional numbing.

For some people, however, emotional distance isn’t problematic. In that case, you may not need to seek any type of treatment.

However, if you realize you have issues in your personal life because you’re emotionally distant, you may want to seek out support. A therapist or other mental health provider will be a good resource.

For some people, emotional detachment is a way of coping with overwhelming people or activities. In that sense, it can be healthy. You choose when to be involved and when to step away.

In other cases, however, numbing yourself to emotions and feelings may not be healthy. Indeed, frequently “turning off” your emotions may lead to unhealthy behaviors. These include an inability to show empathy or a fear of commitment.

What’s more, people that struggle to express emotions or process them in a healthy manner may seek out other outlets for those feelings. This could include drugs, alcohol, or aggressive behaviors. These aren’t a substitute for emotional processing, but they may feel like a way to release that energy.

Emotions and feelings are a vital part of human connection.

Some people are able to turn off their emotions in order to protect themselves. For others, emotional numbing is unintended. It may even be part of a larger issue, like depression or a personality disorder.

If you have difficulty processing emotions or you live with someone who does, it’s important you seek help from a mental health provider. These experts are trained to help you understand why you respond in this manner to emotions. They can then help you work through that behavior in a healthy way and attempt to correct it.