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Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
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.
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. Being emotionally detached could be a way to avoid emotional invalidation — someone denying your feelings — for one example.
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.
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.
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
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.
Emotional detachment can be the result of many different things, whether from a larger attachment disorder or a temporary response to a specific situation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
However, the study also notes that not much research has been done yet on the emotional adverse effects of long-term antidepressant use.
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.
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.
Start your mental wellness journey today.