Emotional Detachment And Suppressing Powerful Emotions
When we write about emotional detachment as a syndrome it’s essential to understand that we don’t mean that there’s any inherent flaw in the emotional apparatus as such. People with emotional detachment are capable of empathy and capable of experiencing the full emotional spectrum. Emotional detachment is not an in-built flaw in the emotional apparatus but a chosen strategy taken in childhood or adolescence that, by adulthood, comes to seem as if it were inherited.
But actually it’s precisely because of being able to feel deeply that emotional detachment as a life solution is taken in the first place. Emotions become too painful, dangerous, and overwhelming due to sustained traumatic experiences, behaviors under the sway of these emotions lead to bad, unwanted consequences, and so the rather clever solution is devised to put a cap on them, to suppress them, to turn away from them, to basically decide “This is for the birds. I’m not going to let myself feel deeply anymore since nothing good comes of feeling deeply anyway.”
Of course the tragedy is that we don’t get to pick and choose between the wanted and desirable emotions and the unwanted and undesirable emotions, it’s either be in touch with our emotions and experience them all deeply when the situation calls for them or not be in touch with them and have rather blunted affect regardless of the situation.
So by deciding to stop feeling deeply in order to suppress the dangerous, painful emotions the wanted, pleasant emotions get suppressed too. Life becomes a sort of gray, interminable stretch without much anxiety or sadness but without much joy either, and definitely without the felt ability to really share emotions and connect on a deep level with others.
So what adults with emotional detachment need to come to see is that while it made good sense in childhood and adolescence to suppress the powerful emotions that were causing a lot of damage to the psyche, emotions in and of themselves are not dangerous. They come and go, like waves in the ocean. We all have the ability to observe those emotions as they arrive and to sit with them rather than thoughtlessly acting on them. We don’t have to turn our emotions into tangible behaviors, and that taken for granted assumption that we do is what needs to be actively challenged. Powerful emotions only lead to destructive consequences when we allow ourselves to be completely lost in them and then allow those emotions to turn into destructive words or actions.