17 November, 2022

Do you ‘shut down’ or feel emotionally numb when you get overwhelmed?

You could be emotionally detaching.

Emotional detachment describes a state of being unable or unwilling to engage or connect with other people’s feelings – or even your own.

It’s often used as a coping mechanism during difficult situations, but it can also be a sign of underlying mental health issues.

We explore some causes and signs of emotional detachment and offer advice here.


What causes emotional detachment?

Emotional detachment is often triggered by negative feelings.

These are just some reasons someone might emotionally detach or dissociate.

Traumatic event

Emotional detachment can be a reaction to a traumatic or stressful event. This might be an accident, abuse, breakup, or the death of a loved one.

Childhood conditioning

Growing up in an environment that didn’t encourage vulnerability may cause someone to feel uncomfortable discussing feelings or getting close to people as an adult. It may also cause someone to rely on the ‘silent treatment’ or emotional detachment if they never learned how to express themselves in a healthy way.

Fear of getting hurt

Someone might choose to detach emotionally from a love interest or intimate partner as a protective measure. They may keep an emotional wall up to avoid future emotional pain – particularly if they’ve been hurt in past relationships.


Emotional ‘numbness’ can be a side effect of some medications, such as antidepressants. Always speak to your trusted medical professional if you’re concerned about how your medication may be impacting you.

Interpersonal conflict

Some people choose to emotionally detach from their intimate partner or a specific friend or family member if they’re upset with that person. They may feel drained and not have the desire or emotional bandwidth to connect while they’re upset.

Mental health conditions

Emotional detachment is a symptom of several mental health issues, such as depression, PTSD, and some personality disorders. You should speak to your GP about a mental health care plan and seek a professional diagnosis if you’re concerned about your mental health.


Signs of Emotional Detachment

These are some of the behaviours that may indicate emotional detachment.

Experiencing one or more of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean you’re emotionally detached. If you’re concerned about how you’re feeling and how you’re interacting with the people around you, talking to a professional might help.

  • Feeling ‘numb’
  • Inability to identify emotions
  • Difficulty showing empathy to others
  • Feeling disconnected from others
  • Difficulty sharing emotions to others
  • Difficulty committing to a relationship or person
  • Losing touch with people you normally enjoy interacting with.


How to Cope when You’re Emotionally Detached

Emotional detachment can be a positive temporary tool to protect ourselves from stress or overwhelm.

But it can lead to relationship breakdown and other issues such as social isolation, which can have serious impacts on our mental and physical health.

Emotional connection is an important part of a healthy and happy life.

We hope these tips help if you’re struggling to emotionally connect with yourself and others.


Making sense of the messiness in your head might be the last thing you want to do right now. But being able to identify and address your feelings is an important first step to feeling connected to yourself – and others – again.

Take some time to look within and reflect on how you’re feeling in your mind and body. What might be causing you to emotionally detach from the world around you? What’s one small way you can start to process this and move forward?

You might like to write your feelings down in a journal. Don’t think too much about what you’re writing – just let the words flow as they come to you.

Be honest

If it feels safe to do so, telling your loved ones how you’ve been feeling may bring you some relief and help you feel a sense of connection again.

Chances are they’ve felt the same way at some point and will be able to offer some empathy and understanding for your situation, and patience as you work on feeling like yourself again.

Seek professional help

Our counsellors can help you explore your thoughts and feelings in a safe, non-judgemental space. You can learn more about our counselling service here, or call 1300 364 277 to book an appointment in person, over the phone, or via Zoom video call.