Neurosis

Detached Personality And The Inability To Express Feelings

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We all approach the way we express what we’re really feeling differently. Some of us wear our hearts on our sleeves, some of us are more reserved. But as long as we feel able to let what we’re authentically feeling be known there’s little cause to label any point on that continuum as dysfunctional. We might get better results in specific situations by adjusting the level of emotional expressiveness but that’s more of a superficial concern.

But people with detached personality don’t feel capable of putting their authentic feelings out there, especially in conflict situations where that’s exactly what’s required of them. They don’t suffer from the inability to access their emotions, nor from the inability to name them, what they suffer from is a felt block where expressing their authentic thoughts and feelings, especially when these thoughts and feelings are tinged by negativity, feels dangerous and off limits.

To  observers people with detached personality seem like they just don’t care. They remain pretty stoic, or even sarcastic. They might try to divert the conversation to some other topic, make light of what the other has just said, demean those who get ‘overly emotional’, etc. But inside they’re struggling and suffering. Internally there’s a lot of roiling broiling conflict, a lot of hostility actually, because all those feelings that others find it so easy to express remain painfully unexpressed, circling indefinitely with no place to land. These people desperately want to be able to unleash those negative feelings but there’s a yawning black hole that could be labeled ‘bad consequences’ or maybe ‘danger ahead’ and so they do what they’ve been doing since childhood to find relief from the painful anxiety cued off by the hostile conflict situation. They turn off, they clam up, they put up their walls, they disconnect.

Obviously this behavior is infuriating for partners and other intimates who don’t have access to the inner worlds of their emotionally detached counterparts but only to their outer behaviors, which seem rather cavalier and uncaring, discounting and demeaning, disconnected and cruel.

The misfortune of the situation is that this confusion and anger is likely to get transformed into hostile attacks, which only serve to reinforce that behavior of turning away that is already the preferred method for finding relief in a world perceived as hostile. What’s important to remember is that while some of us approach conflict situations with zeal, as challenges to be attacked and overcome, those with detached personality see conflict and by proxy those who represent it as an insurmountable enemy where the only sure way to survive is to hide, to escape. Those with detached personality can get more comfortable over time with sharing how they’re really feeling but what they need is a space that feels really safe and open and accepting, one where they get reassured in the moment that there aren’t going to be any bad consequences for sharing their uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.

Greetings I'm Michael, the owner of Evolution Counseling and the author of all the articles on this site. I got my master's degree from Seattle University in community mental heath counseling and have committed myself to advancing my knowledge of psychology and to evolving my own philosophical system ever since. In addition to the content on this site I offer online coaching using Skype. If you'd like to learn more about it click on the online coaching tab or if you think you'd like to set up a session send me an email at evolve@evolutioncounseling.com.

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