Extreme emotional detachment can operate as an unconscious defence mechanism to help us cope with traumatic experiences including, of course, childhood trauma (such as emotional, sexual and physical abuse). If it is necessary for us to employ this coping mechanism for extended periods of time, it can become a deeply ingrained and pervasive part of our psychological make-up and we may continue to use it to protect ourselves from potential, emotional harm for the rest of our lives.
Conditions that we may develop which are profoundly linked to feelings of emotional detachment include depersonalization and dissociation, both of which are characterized by feelings of ’emotionally numbness.’ /psychic numbing.’
Extreme emotional detachment can also lead to a lack of empathy for others, which, in turn, is associated with a higher likelihood of developing other psychiatric problems such as antisocial personality disorder or pronounced sadistic tendencies.
More frequently, however, those who have learned to detach emotionally as a way of mentally escaping the psychological pain of their adverse childhood experiences go on to develop serious difficulties with adult relationships due to a deep mistrust of others and a general fear of intimacy; furthermore, such individuals may come across to others (including family members) as ‘cold,’ ‘aloof’, ‘distant’ and ’emotionally unavailable’.
Other symptoms of being cut off from emotions include a lack of emotional intelligence, a tendency to have a preference for logical and rational thinking styles and a propensity to intellectualize potentially emotionally charged subjects.
Suppression of emotions may also result in dysfunctional, ‘compensatory’ behaviours including promiscuous sex/sexual addiction, drug/alcohol abuse and gambling.
In very extreme cases, some theorists believe that when emotional detachment gives rise to severe dissociation as in cases of, for example, posttraumatic stress disorder, multiple personality disorder may result.
To read my previously published article, OVERCOMING EMOTIONAL NUMBNESS,’ click here.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).