Emotional detachment is when a person is unable to engage fully with their own or other people’s feelings. It can occur as part of an attachment disorder or in response to a temporary situation.

Emotional detachment can affect a person’s physical, psychological, emotional, and social development. However, being able to disconnect from one’s feelings may also be helpful when experiencing stressful situations.

This article discusses the signs and symptoms, as well as the potential causes, of emotional detachment.

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Emotional detachment is a psychological condition in which a person is not able to fully engage with their feelings or the feelings of others.

It can be ongoing, as it is in people with attachment disorders, or it can be a temporary response to an extreme situation.

Emotional detachment can present itself in a variety of ways.

In children

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), a child can develop two types of attachment disorder.

Reactive attachment disorder

Children may develop reactive attachment disorder (RAD) due to negative experiences with adults in their early years.

Symptoms of RAD include:

  • having difficulty calming down
  • showing little or no emotions when they are interacting with other people
  • not looking for comfort from their primary caregivers
  • appearing unhappy, scared, sad, or irritable when taking part in normal activities with the primary caregiver

Disinhibited social engagement disorder

Symptoms of disinhibited social engagement disorder in a child include:

  • being overly friendly with people they do not know
  • walking up to strangers and perhaps hugging them
  • allowing strangers to pick them up
  • not checking with their primary caregivers when they are in a stranger situation

Learn more about emotional attachment types.

In adults

Potential symptoms of an attachment disorder in adults can include:

  • difficulty opening up
  • challenging intimate relationships
  • poor listening skills
  • a lack of physical, verbal, or sexual contact
  • poor self-esteem
  • substance misuse
  • ambivalence

The causes of emotional detachment can depend on whether it is part of a larger attachment disorder or a temporary response to a specific situation.

Past experiences

Children may have a greater chance of developing attachment disorders and emotional detachment if they experience difficult circumstances in early life, such as:

  • experiencing significant loss, such as the death of a parent or separation from a caregiver
  • having traumatic experiences
  • growing up in an orphanage
  • experiencing emotional abuse
  • experiencing physical abuse
  • experiencing neglect
  • not having the chance to develop a safe emotional bond with a caregiver


Those experiencing emotional detachment may feel emotionally numb. However, emotional detachment does not always occur due to a mental health condition or attachment disorder.

According to some 2016 research, long-term use of antidepressants can cause side effects.

Out of 180 people who took part in the study, 64.5% reported feeling emotionally numb.

Other conditions

Feeling emotionally detached can be a symptom of a number of mental health condition, a few of these include:

Whether or not emotional attachment can be beneficial depends on the cause and scenario.

If it is due to a mental health condition, or if it is affecting a person’s ability to maintain relationships or other aspects of their daily life, a person should speak with a mental health or healthcare professional.

However, it can be beneficial for a person to distance themselves emotionally in some professions. For example, for those who work in the healthcare profession, regulating their emotional responses can be beneficial to prevent burnout and help maintain their mental well-being.

Some people may also experience emotional detachment in order to live through traumatic situations. However, a person should seek treatment to ensure that this does not become permanent.

Trained mental health professionals can diagnose emotional detachment.

The first step is typically an interview, or assessment, in which the mental health professional will ask about the person’s moods, thoughts, feelings, key behaviors, and any recent changes they have experienced. They will also ask how long this has lasted.

Treatment for emotional detachment will depend on individual factors.

If the person is a child, the treatment plan may include other members of their family.

For adults, treatment depends on whether the emotional detachment is in response to a specific situation or part of an ongoing pattern.

Individuals can work with a mental health professional to:

  • learn how to open up
  • find ways to relieve stress and anxiety
  • improve their ability to trust others
  • strengthen their sense of self
  • develop skills for regulating their emotions

Concerns about mental health are very common, with 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiencing a diagnosable condition each year.

In general, the time to seek help is when emotional or mental challenges start to interfere with someone’s daily life on a regular basis.

This might be when such challenges start to cause:

  • excessive fear and anxiety
  • changes in eating habits
  • changes in sleeping habits
  • bad moods that do not seem to go away
  • mysterious or vague physical ailments
  • angry outbursts
  • social withdrawal
  • poor performance at work or school
  • run-ins with the authorities
  • substance misuse
  • thoughts of suicide

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

Was this helpful?

For individuals dealing with emotional detachment due to specific situations, such as a health crisis, making sure that they have the support they need in the moment is vital.

People who develop emotional detachment as a result of a traumatic experience can have a difficult time learning how to connect with other people and give themselves permission to fully experience their feelings.

It can take extensive work with a mental heath professional and community support, but progress is possible.

Emotional detachment can be a serious mental health challenge, particularly when it develops during childhood.

People with emotional detachment can experience great hardship, but there is hope through treatment.

MR 01/31/24: It would help accuracy to say ” ‘certain specific’ difficult situations” below, so as not to express that any difficult situation would leave detachment as a reasonable choice (especially because not detaching is very difficult for those who typically rely on it as a way to cope)

Emotional detachment can also be a reasonable choice when people are experiencing difficult situations.

If a person is experiencing emotional detachment, they can speak with a mental health professional.