Mental health, emotional wellbeing & personal development

What is emotional detachment?

What is emotional detachment?

Sometimes life gets so tough that the only way to cope is to shut down emotionally. Emotional detachment is the same as going into ‘autopilot’. You’re going through the motions but you are detached and not really feeling anything. It’s a defence mechanism to avoid feeling the intense negative emotions that come with emotional hurt.

People who have had abusive or neglectful childhoods are particularly good at emotional detachment. When you’re a child, you are at the mercy of your parents. You can’t exactly trade them in and get new ones. The best way to cope with unpredictable parents who are sometimes kind and sometimes angry, is to learn how to emotionally detach. It’s almost like closing off one box and entering into another with thicker walls. You feel less, you are able to protect yourself and feel nothing.

Of course this defense mechanism as a child doesn’t necessarily work as an adult and can cause alienation and isolation. It can be difficult to stop emtional detachment as it was a very useful strategy as a child. As an adult though, you are far more powerful and have far more choices than when you were a child but it can be hard to break old habits.

What often happens though, is when we are faced with similar abuse or neglect as an adult by our partners, thie emotional child in us can take over and respond in a childlike manner.

How to overcome emotional detachment:

Don’t isolate yourself

Isolating yourself is probably one of the worst things you can do although it’s what most of us do when we feel attacked. We don’t want to be a liability and other people have their own problems. If you don’t want to speak to someone you know, find a good counsellor.

Know that it’s okay to have time out

You’re human. We all have times when life gets on top of us. Some if go to rehab, some of us get more addicted, others withdraw. Dont add to the pressure by feeling guilt. Accept that you need to be self compassionate and give yourself the time and space to recover. You’re not perfect, just like the rest of us.

Try not to overthink

Instead of wallowing in your thoughts, try to take action. Get to the gym, increase your self care and keep busy. Acknowledge that you are vulnerable but push through that and try to do things. Even if you can only face a shower and a short walk out of the house each day. Do whatever you can manage and try to increase that slowly over time – baby steps does it.

Accept don’t suppress emotions

When we try not to feel, we suppress our emotions but they don’t go away. When I talk about keeping busy, do this only after you have worked through your emotions. The more you avoid unpleasant emotions, the more they will control you. When you sit with them and accept them (possibly with the help of a counsellor), you will feel more adept and confident at dealing with them. When you avoid, you send yourself a message that you can’t deal with the intense emotions, such as fear, guilt, shame etc

Feelings can’t hurt you, they are your guide. They are trying to tell you something. perhaps you are in the wrong relationship, perhaps you are engaging in self sabotaging, when something is wrong, your emotions are there to guide you. Listen to them.

Once you have confronted your emotions, it’s okay to keep busy. Never use busyness as an avoidance tactic. You can use it as a focus strategy, that’s fine.

Focus on what is good on your life

Things are never bad as they seem. Whatever you are going through will change on some level whether you are proactive, reactive or do nothing.

Hang in there, try to live a full life. Engage with others. When you are emotionally detached, you aren’t living – you’re surviving. reach out to others. Do small things each day to help you move forward and above all, don’t be hard on yourself. We’re all in this ‘soup’ together.

Mandy X



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