Not officially listed in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) but is a significant clinical presentation that needs a specific modality of treatment. In essence it is the brain’s response to some type of early childhood trauma, abuse or neglect and is found more often in men than in women. I have blogged before regarding men and their difficulties identifying and expressing their emotions which can be found here. That blog was viewing this issue from a social construct rather than from an adaptive response from the individual after experiencing some kind of tragedy.
When someone experiences trauma, abuse or neglect the subsequent emotions felt can be overwhelming and frightening. It can leave someone feeling powerless and unable to cope with daily life stressors. During the initial stages of healing, the individual has essentially 3 fundamental choices of how to proceed where they feel they can manage.
They can decide that dominating others is the way to proceed. Mentally they declare, “I will never let someone gain power over me so I will get to them first”. Years later this can lead to someone using power and control to hurt others. They can decide to become submissive and resist any temptation to fight back because fighting back represents more pain. One may believe, “if I consent to being walked over, perhaps that means I am in control”. The third way, emotionally detachment is one declaring, “I will no longer give a shit!”. Living with their painful emotions leads them to believe of themselves as weak, undeserving and worthless so a decision is made that not feeling emotions will lead to a functional life.
These decisions may not be chosen consciously and may depend heavily on the situation, their morals and their values. Whatever the motivation was for their decision, the brain will accommodate their decision. For the emotionally detached individual, they will become experts at distracting themselves mentally when situations arise that may trigger negative emotions. These individuals will always appear to be on the go because staying busy is key to survival. Usually the emotionally detached person can function quite well for several years as their limitations will not be highlighted until they are in a romantic relationship. Their partner and them will have re-occurring arguments over their inability to open up and express themselves, “why aren’t you ever present with me?”, will be common questions they’ll hear.
The difficult thing to understand is that it is not merely a switch they can easily turn back on. They have trained their brain well to avoid emotions. Not only negative emotions which was their intention but positive emotions as well. Discussions about their emotions make them uncomfortable, defensive and possibly irritable. All of this can be very frustrating for both sides but the good news is that the innate ability to identify and express emotions is still there, they just need to learn how to access them again. Consider like a file they saved on their computer but forgot the file name.
Hurrying the process can only make it more difficult, both individuals must remain patient and supportive. If you or your loved one is having difficulties with feeling detached from their emotions, please feel free to Call Me to schedule a free 10 minute consultation. You can also visit my website, www.sommers-counseling.com, for additional resources.