Shaking Off Emotional Detachment

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Our conceptualization of emotional detachment is based around the premise that it’s a chosen response to adverse environmental conditions in childhood. After laboring under the yoke of emotional and psychological abuse for some time, the conscious or unconscious decision taken is “Better to feel nothing at all than to feel this. Caring deeply, opening myself up, only ever leads to deep emotional pain. The solution to my problem is to just stop caring. If I don’t care they can’t hurt me anymore.”

We see right away that emotional detachment is quite different from depression or psychopathy, even though all three syndromes have as one of their distinguishing features a marked lack of affect. But where depression is the inability to feel connected along with the desperate desire to be able to and psychopathy is the inability to feel connected along with the pleasure in being unable to emotional detachment is the ability to feel connected along with the decision not to.

And this is the first insight to start shaking off emotional detachment. Although those with emotional detachment may have stopped caring long ago and therefore labor under the misconception that they’re simply incapable of opening themselves up emotionally, emotional detachment is not the inability to access or to share emotions. The predisposition for feeling and caring deeply is there, the predisposition for being able to intimately connect with others is there. Under healthier environmental conditions those predispositions would have developed normally and the result would be healthy emotional attachment in adulthood.

To use a fitting analogy the spark is there but the fire is not yet built. You can build a fire from a spark with a little skill and a little effort. The second insight to start shaking off emotional detachment is that opening up emotionally doesn’t pose the same risk in adulthood as it did in childhood. It’s sort of like how going back to a place you knew from childhood always seems smaller than how you remember it but you’re only hit by this feeling once you see the place for yourself. In the same way the emotional pain caused by emotional abuse at the hands of a primary caregiver seemed bigger, more monstrous in childhood, because back then you weren’t equipped to defend yourself or fight back, you weren’t equipped to understand the situation, to put it in a larger context. You’ll only be able to note the difference between now and then by seeing it for yourself, and this means having the courage to open up to someone, it means risking emotional pain and rejection all over again.

Even if emotional pain and rejection are the result, the sky isn’t going to come crashing down, the world isn’t going to come to a screeching halt. You’re an adult now with accumulated life skill and knowledge. You have the ability to fend for yourself, to leave the situation if it isn’t working, and therefore the reward is well worth the risk.