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Emotional Detachment: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Katelyn Hagerty

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 10/27/2022

Everyone goes through times when it’s difficult to connect with people emotionally. Maybe you’re fearful of being vulnerable in a new relationship. Or perhaps you’re going through a stressful time and feel emotionally numb as a result.

But when someone can’t connect with others on an emotional level or are seemingly able to “turn off” their emotions, this could be emotional detachment disorder — also simply referred to as emotional detachment.

Emotional detachment can present itself differently depending on a person’s age, history and more. We’ll break down the symptoms and causes of emotional detachment disorder as well as how to fix emotional detachment.

What Is Emotional Detachment?

Emotional detachment is a condition when people can’t connect with their own emotions or emotionally connect with others, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Being emotionally detached can develop in two ways — either as the result of certain mental health disorders or as a temporary coping response to difficult or stressful situations.

Unlike bipolar disorder or a depressive disorder, emotional detachment isn’t an official mental health condition. Instead, being emotionally detached is often considered part of a larger mental health condition — like a depressive disorder, personality disorder or attachment disorder.

Emotional detachment can be a coping mechanism from distressing situations or as a reaction to unprocessed emotions, trauma or abuse.

However, being emotionally detached for a long time can have negative impacts including emotional numbness or “emotionally blunting” — an inability to feel positive or negative emotions or emotional detachment common in those with major depression among other disorders.

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Symptoms of Emotional Detachment

Emotional detachment can present itself in a few different ways and can be present in both children and adults.

Some signs of emotional detachment might look like:

  • Difficulty empathizing with others

  • Not easily sharing emotions or opening up

  • Difficulty committing to a relationship or person

  • Feeling disconnected from others

  • Struggling to create or maintain personal relationships

  • Reduced ability or inability to express emotion

  • Feeling “numb”

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children can develop emotional detachment symptoms from two types of attachment disorders:

  • Disinhibited social engagement disorder. A condition when children aren’t fearful of meeting new people or approaching and being overfriendly with strangers.

  • Reactive attachment disorder. A rare condition where children don’t form a healthy emotional bond with their caretakers and struggle to form meaningful connections with others.

Being emotionally detached is more often a symptom of a mood disorder or psychological trauma. Several disorders can cause emotional detachment, which we’ll go into below.

What Causes Emotional Detachment?

Emotional detachment can be the result of many different things, whether from a larger attachment disorder or a temporary response to a specific situation.

By Choice

Sometimes people may choose to be emotionally detached from a specific person who upsets them a lot or is emotionally draining.

Disconnecting from others emotionally can be a good thing in some cases. Being emotionally detached can be healthy if you do it purposefully, such as setting boundaries from people who demand too much of your emotional attention.

People who work in the healthcare industry can also benefit from regulating their emotions to prevent burnout and help maintain their mental well-being.

From Traumatic Events

Emotional detachment can often be the result of a traumatic event, such as childhood abuse or emotional neglect.

A sample of over 500 Italian high school students who were emotionally neglected during childhood found that the students felt more emotionally detached and isolated from their parents as teenagers.

Mental Health Condition

Feeling emotional detachment can be a symptom of another mental health condition. These conditions can include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Posttraumatic stress disorder is a disorder that develops after someone has been through a shocking or scary event. Feeling emotionally numb or detached is just one symptom of PTSD. You can learn about more symptoms of PTSD in our guide.

  • Depression. Everyone experiences depressive symptoms differently. Some may lose interest in typical activities while others feel emotionally detached or apathetic.

  • Bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a condition where someone experiences both depressive episodes of a low mood and other depressive symptoms as well as manic episodes of a high, elevated mood. During a depressive episode, you may feel detached from others emotionally.

  • Personality disorders. There are several different types of personality disorders, each with unique symptoms. But a general characteristic of personality disorders is the inability to connect emotionally with others or be emotionally detached.

Medication

Emotional detachment doesn’t always occur from a mental health condition.

In one 2016 study on the long-term use of antidepressants, 64.5 percent of people reported feeling emotionally numb.

Some of the most common antidepressants from the study were citalopram (Celexa®), venlafaxine (Effexor®), fluoxetine (Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®) and nortriptyline.

However, the study also notes that not much research has been done yet on the emotional adverse effects of long-term antidepressant use.

How to Fix Emotional Detachment

If you feel like you haven’t been able to emotionally connect with yourself or others, treatment for how to fix emotional detachment will depend on different factors.

If you think your emotional detachment could be caused by PTSD, depression or any other mental illness, it’s important to reach out to a professional for help. Even if you don’t know the cause, reaching out to a healthcare professional could be helpful.

You can seek help locally by searching for psychiatrists, psychologists or other licensed mental healthcare providers in your area. 

You can also connect with a mental health professional online using our depression treatment online resources to receive professional help from the comfort of your couch. 

Therapy may be recommended by a mental health professional to discuss triggers or gain more control over your thoughts and feelings. Our guide to the types of therapy goes into more detail about how different forms of therapy may help improve your symptoms and quality of life.

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Figuring Out Emotional Detachment

Intentionally or unintentionally turning off our emotions can do more harm than good in the long run. While being emotionally detached may be a way to cope with trauma or distressing situations, there are negative impacts on your mental health.

But there are ways to learn how to healthily process your past trauma or unprocessed emotional experiences.

If you’re struggling and find yourself going through emotional detachment, it’s always best to seek professional advice from a healthcare provider.

13 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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