What it Means to be Emotionally Detached and How to Overcome it

Cropped shot of a young woman looking depressed while staring out the window of a train

Emotional detachment can present in various ways and mean different things to different people.

However, emotional detachment typically means maintaining a certain amount of distance or lack of emotional connection in situations or relationships, often (but not always) to protect yourself from potential harm, rejection, or stress. 

What it means to be emotionally detached

Individuals who experience emotional detachment may feel disconnected from their own emotions or the emotions of others. 

There are various reasons why a person may become emotionally detached.

For example, emotional detachment can sometimes be a coping mechanism a person adopts when facing stressful or difficult situations. In other cases, it can be a symptom of a mental health condition. (Identifying and Overcoming Emotional Detachment, verywell mind, Kendra Cherry, MSEd, 10 April, 2023.) 

Some experts describe emotional detachment as reduced emotional involvement or investment in others or situations.

Whichever description feels right for you, there are ways to overcome emotional detachment, which we will explore in this article.

If you are experiencing signs of emotional detachment and want help understanding and overcoming it, our friendly team at Centres for Health and Healing can help.

We specialise in diagnosing and treating various mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and trauma, helping you learn healthy coping mechanisms so that you can live a fulfilling, happy life without isolating or withdrawing from others and the world.

Contact us today for further information and support about our mental health treatment programs.

Why do people become emotionally detached?

sad depressed child sitting alone

People can become emotionally detached for various reasons, including:

  • Childhood trauma – children who grew up in abusive or neglectful environments may use detachment as a way to cope. Trauma specialists state that emotional detachment can help protect people from the effects of traumatic experiences. 
  • Fear of vulnerability – many people use detachment to manage feelings of vulnerability that would otherwise leave them feeling weak or susceptible to emotional distress, rejection, or harm.
  • The need for self-protection – emotional detachment can be a tool individuals use (consciously or unconsciously) to protect themselves against hurt or disappointment.
  • Having a mental health condition – various studies have shown that emotional detachment can be a symptom of a mental health disorder such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder.
  • Specific medications – research indicates that people who take particular medicines such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or antidepressants for a mental health condition may experience symptoms of emotional detachment as a side effect. (Identifying and Overcoming Emotional Detachment, verywell mind, Kendra Cherry, MSEd, 10 April, 2023.)

The link between emotional detachment and substance abuse

Much research literature highlights that emotional detachment is strongly linked to substance abuse; for example, individuals addicted to drugs or alcohol may become emotionally detached due to the effects of long-term drinking or drug-taking.

If you or a loved one are worried that you may have a substance use disorder, it’s important to speak to an addiction counsellor or mental health professional who can help.

Early treatment can help you manage your addictive symptoms and get to the root cause of your dependency issues, allowing you to get a handle on your substance use and avoid relapse.

What are the signs and symptoms of emotional detachment?

As mentioned, emotional detachment can present differently in each person and may depend on various factors, including genetics, family history, and whether you have another physical or mental health condition.

However, there are some common indicators of emotional detachment that many people exhibit.

They include:

  • A lack of emotional responsiveness
  • Difficulty expressing feelings and emotions
  • Avoidance of intimate relationships and closeness with others
  • Numbness or apathy
  • A tendency to prioritise logic over emotions 
  • Ambivalence towards others
  • Losing touch with people
  • Avoiding people, activities, or situations
  • Trouble empathising or feeling compassion toward others
  • Preferring to be in your own company 
  • Difficulty forming and maintaining close bonds with others 
  • Problems expressing emotions or being vulnerable
a lady suffering from depression

If you are experiencing symptoms of emotional detachment, it’s important to know that you are not alone.

Many people experience detachment, often as a way to cope with traumatic or difficult life experiences.

Although emotional detachment is not a mental illness, it can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying mental health issue; therefore, speaking to a health professional is vital to help you get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Your physician may ask you some questions about your history and perform a physical assessment to rule out any potential medical issues causing your symptoms.

Once you receive a clean bill of health, your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist who will perform comprehensive and detailed assessments of your mental and emotional well-being.

Do attachment styles play a role in emotional detachment?

The short answer is yes.

Attachment styles developed in early childhood can significantly influence emotional detachment in later life. 

For example, research shows that people with an avoidant attachment pattern may struggle with emotional closeness and intimacy, preferring to be independent and not rely on others, which can lead to the suppression of their emotional needs. 

Moreover, individuals with disorganised attachment styles (which often stem from neglectful or inconsistent caregiving) may experience difficulty regulating their emotions, leading to emotional detachment as a protective mechanism. 

Attachment styles play a significant role in shaping how we relate to others emotionally. 

Individuals who do not receive adequate or consistent care, love, and attention from a parent or caregiver in early life may develop an attachment disorder.

Attachment disorder types

Research shows that emotional detachment can be a hallmark symptom of an attachment disorder, a condition that impacts a person’s ability to form and maintain relationships with others. (Attachment disorder in adults: What is it? Medical News Today, Louise Morales-Brown, 14 April 2023.)

If you think you may have an attachment disorder, it’s vital you understand the different types, including the signs and symptoms, to help you get the right help and support.

Below are the two types of attachment disorder:

  • Disinhibited social engagement disorder: occurs when an infant, for whatever reason, does not form a close or meaningful bond with their caregiver. Children with this condition may demonstrate affection and warmth towards strangers and exhibit ambivalence or little to no affection for a parent or caregiver.
  • Reactive attachment disorder: this attachment disorder often occurs as a result of parental neglect or abuse towards a young infant or child. Children with this condition have not been able to develop a healthy or secure attachment toward a parent or caregiver and, as a result, may experience problems with emotional regulation and expressing how they feel.

How to overcome emotional detachment

Treatments for overcoming emotional detachment depend on what is causing you to engage in this response in the first place.

Your therapist or doctor will explore your symptoms and develop a diagnosis and treatment plan that best suits your needs.

Trauma treatment

Black man, mental health and depression counseling and psychologist, stress headache and help

If your symptoms are due to unaddressed trauma, your doctor may recommend specific trauma treatments that can help ease your symptoms and release any stored traumatic experiences from your body.

For example, trauma treatments such as eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) can effectively treat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

When you experience a traumatic event, you may become so overwhelmed that your brain is unable to process what is happening around you fully.

The traumatic memory can become “stuck”, and you may re-experience what you felt, saw, or heard when the event occurred.

Because of these “trapped” memories, you may experience various trauma-related symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and dissociation.

EMDR uses bilateral eye movements (side-to-side eye movements), tapping, and other techniques to help release trapped trauma from the body, allowing the brain to reprocess distressing or traumatic memories effectively so that you no longer experience them as intense and painful.

Other effective treatments 

Other effective treatments for emotional detachment may include a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

Talk therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are often recommended to those with emotional detachment issues. These treatments help address negative beliefs and self-destructive behaviours, helping you become more self-aware and in control of your thoughts and feelings.

Individuals who struggle with emotional detachment may also benefit from the following therapies:

How Centres for Health and Healing can help

Centres for Health and Healing provide personalised, holistic treatment programs for all types of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and trauma, shaped around your individual preferences, goals, and therapeutic needs.

Our highly-trained and compassionate staff provides the highest level of care and support to guarantee deep transformational healing and lasting recovery.

We also offer a complete aftercare plan following treatment, providing the necessary tools to support your long-term recovery with comprehensive follow-up treatments and support available when needed.

Our individualised treatment approach considers all the various parts that must be unpacked and worked through to ensure you get the most out of your recovery, including trauma-informed treatment and other therapies.

In addition, our client-centric approach blends various treatment methods and modalities, creating lasting healing and recovery when brought together. 

The goal is always to treat the ‘whole’ person, not just their symptoms.

If you or a loved one are struggling with emotional detachment, please get in touch with our friendly treatment centre in Ontario for further information and support about our personalised treatment programs.

We are here to guide you toward lasting resilience, transformation, and emotional wellness.

Additional resources you might find helpful

  1. Identifying and Overcoming Emotional Detachment, Verywell Mind, Kendra Cherry, MSEd, 10 April, 2023
  2. What to know about emotional detachment, Medical News Today, Danielle Dresden, 13 March, 2023
  3. Attachment disorder in adults: What is it? Medical News Today, Louise Morales-Brown, 14 April, 2023
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