Introduction to Emotional Detachment Disorder

Emotional Detachment Disorder is defined as the inability or unwillingness to connect with other people on an emotional level. Someone suffering from emotional detachment is physically present without being emotionally present. For some people, it is voluntarily used as a defense mechanism to avoid triggering situations that results in high stress levels. For others, it is an involuntary response to a triggering situation where the individual is unable to face their emotions. When severe, people commonly refer to their dissociation as a constant state of numbness, never feeling any of the highs or lows.  


Emotional detachment is commonly (but not exclusively) a direct result of one or more of the following situations:

  • A significant loss, such as death or separation
  • A traumatic experience (commonly resulting in PTSD)
  • Experiencing a form of abuse or neglect
  • Battling another mental health disorder (depression, bpd, anxiety)

 

Symptoms of emotional detachment disorder vary from adults to children. An adult suffering from emotional detachment may have poor self-esteem accompanied by difficulty opening up and expressing their feelings, typically in intimate relationships. Children, on the other hand, may show a range of symptoms such as being overly friendly with strangers or showing no emotions when interacting with others including their primary caregiver.

 

When discussing emotional detachment, a few questions commonly arise.

  1. Are you able to overcome emotional detachment?
    1. The short answer is Yes! Emotional detachment is commonly a result of another condition or traumatic experience. If your doctor believes it is a result of another condition or trauma, they may prescribe medication or recommend therapy to treat the condition or trauma first. Therapy can be a great place to help you learn how to process your emotions in a healthy way.
  2. How do you get diagnosed for emotional detachment disorder?
    1. Below is my personal checklist for emotional detachment disorder. If you check one or more of these boxes, please schedule an appointment with your doctor or therapist for an official diagnosis and treatment plan.
      1. I have difficultly emotionally connecting with others.
      2. I have difficulty empathizing with someone else’s feelings.
  • I have difficulty expressing my own feelings.
  1. It is difficult to maintain or create relationships with others.
  2. It is difficult for me to be affectionate towards others.
  3. I avoid certain people, places, or things because they trigger me.
  • I avoid certain people, places, or things because they are associated with some traumatic experience in the past.
  1. Can you safely use emotional detachment to avoid reacting to high stress situations?
    1. This is a tricky question! For me personally, I have learned that instead of forcing myself into an emotional detachment, I can utilize neutralization techniques. Although other people may feel comfortable and safe disconnecting their emotions in certain situations, I found that I had difficulty empathizing with other people and was unable to safely express my emotions when I turned my emotions on after a temporary detachment. This led to severe, uncontrollable self-destructive reactions. Therefore, I have started utilizing three neutralization techniques:
      1. If I know I am going to face a certain person, place, or thing that commonly triggers a past traumatic event or an anxiety attack, I will focus on mindful breathing throughout the length of the situation and steer all topics of conversation to something that does not bring up any high levels of emotion. Talking about the weather or a television show are usually my go to conversation topics.
      2. Something I struggled with for a while was the need of validation and attention from certain people in my life. I let those individual’s opinions of me or my fear of their what they might think control my life and my actions. During this time, I had severe anxiety making any kind of decision for myself. To overcome this, for every negative opinion or harmful comment thrown at me, I say in my head the exact opposite. If someone says I am heartless, I tell myself that I have a huge heart and care deeply for others. I neutralize the negativity with immediate positivity.
  • Lastly, in situations where my emotional reaction feels extreme, I focus on processing the emotion in the heat of the moment. I ask myself three questions. 1) Why am I feeling emotion x? 2) Is emotion x a direct response of the situation or is this misplaced? 3) When I feel emotion x, what has worked in the past to move from that intense feeling to a sense of calm?

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