Mental Health



Mandy Kloppers

What is detachment disorder?

What is detachment disorder? Do you sometimes feel as if you are on the outside looking in? Do you tend to put up emotional barriers to stop other people getting too close? Are there times when you lack empathy for what others are going through – especially those closest to you? If you have answered “yes” to any of the previous questions, you may someone who is able to emotionally detach.

A detachment disorder is ultimately dysfunctional in the longterm but in the short term, it qorks quite well. It can help you to feel less threatened or unhappy by blocking out painful emotions. Being able to emotionally detach is an effective coping mechanism, but only in the short term. The problem is, when someone learns how to compartmentalise their emotions, they find that it works and this reinforces the behaviour. Emotional detachment is a defense mechanism that ultimately leads to a person feeling isolated and lonely.

I equate emotional detachment to be ‘unplugged’. Think of a lamp that is plugged into the wall. It receives electric charge – sometimes there is too much electricity and bulb blows but usually, the lamp functions just fine displaying it’s light. If thelamp were to be unplugged, there would be no chance of shorting due to too much electricity but there would also be no light shining. This is the analogy I use to explain to clients the ultimate consequences of being emotionally detached. You are just existing – safe from the highs and lows of emotions but not truly participating in life.

Feeling alive, to me, means taking risks and experiencing the highs and lows that come to all of us. So, how do you begin to engage again and allow yourself to feel?

Allow yourself to be vulnerable

Yep, this is scary. No one likes to feel vulnerable or open themselves up to the possibility of being hurt but it’s an essential step in learning to feel again. You can start with baby steps and learn to trust at your own pace. You have to start somewhere. Tell someone a secret, let someone in. Ask someone for help. These are good examples of opening up. Consider dating again if you have been avoiding this. Let others in, not random strangers but people who you feel would respect you and not abuse you. If you never try, you will always be detached.

Understand where the detachment disorder originated

Often, a difficult childhood can sow the seeds of emotional detachment. When parents are neglectful or don’t offer consistent unconditional love, we learn that the world isn’t a safe place. We learn to be fearful and mistrust others. Our ‘filter’ becomes embedded with mistrust and suspicion of others. It’s well known that children who had tough upbringings learn to compartmentalise to cope with emotional trauma. This works as a child when you have less freedom and fewer choices but as an adult, this approach can stifle you. It can keep you isolated and lonely.

Look at the source of the negative early messages – no doubt your parents/primary caregiver had their own issues. Start to see them for who they were rather than the ‘all powerful beings’ they seemed when you were a child. You can’t undo the past but you can UPDATE YOUR BELIEFS!

Connect with others

The more you let others in and spend time with others, the better your skills become at connecting and bonding. The more you do something, the more comfortable it becomes. Don’t be afraid of people. yes, there are douchebags and even having a few of these in youor life will help you to realise that you can handle it. As an adult, you can limit contact with toxic’s’s part of life.

Spending time with others doesnt guarantee that everyone will be nice but it does offer you the promise of feeling more ocnfident around others. You will also, thankfully, meet many like-minded kind people.

I used to have negative views about others. I saw them as judgemental bigots who wouldn’t understand me. When I realised I thought this way, I actively challenged this thinking. I made myself look for examples of kind, caring people..and I found them! They are everywhere – in public, in restaurants, in the car next to you on the highway, on Twitter and Facebook (to name a few). They are there but you need to look. When we have automatic thinking, we often discount what we don’t believe as we automatically look for examples in real life that confirm our beliefs..this is called “confirmation bias“.

Identify emotions

Start a thought diary and write down automatic thoughts as well as the emotion they caused. For example: “People are going to judge me” (thought); Feeling: fear. Get into the habit of identifying your emotions. See your emotions as your internal compass. They are telling you something. So, if you are feeling fear, investigate that. What exactly do I fear will happen? look into it, speak to others. Sit with the emotions – this way you get used to dealing with them instead of pushing them down and suppressing them. Learn to feel again.

Ask yourself why it is so bad to feel emotions? Fear, anxiety, anger…these are all indicators. if we don’t understand the source of the fear and work through, we will remain emotionally detached. See a counsellor if need be – they will help you to confront your emotions. Learn to like your emotions and see them as useful rather then be afraid of them. Emotions don’t automatically mean you really are in danger, but it’s important to know the difference. If we overgeneralise and assume all negative emotions are overwhelming, we live in a stunted environment and live life with the ‘snooze’ button on. Plug back in!

We all want to hide from negative emotions. They can cause us a lot of angst…they can also help us to tune in to what we want and don’t want. Facing our emotions can actually empower us and encourage us to embrace life and feel less fear. An emotion is just a warning, when we know what to do with it, we ‘reset to zero’ rather than directing that emotional energy inwards. Suppressing emotions can lead to even more problems and I see them on a daily basis: panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression. See emotions as your friend, look at them in a different more helpful way and you’ll be well on your way to feeling less detached.

Mandy X