Emotional Detachment Disorder: What Is It?

One of the consequences of the deficit of love and affection in childhood is emotional detachment disorder. Want to know what this disorder is and how it's usually identified?
Emotional Detachment Disorder: What Is It?

Last update: 22 August, 2020

Emotional detachment disorder encompasses a set of traits in some people that arises from a lack of affection during childhood. Childhood is a stage of life where every human is deeply vulnerable. What happens during those years leaves lasting traces that can manifest themselves throughout a person’s life.

Lack of affection during childhood prevents healthy emotional development. Babies and children need recognition through caresses, words, care, and emotional support. When a child doesn’t receive this, damage occurs and prevents psychological evolution from following its natural course.

Emotional detachment disorder results from a deep conviction that you’re unloveable. There’s also a significant dissatisfaction with yourself and a deep fear of being abandoned. A person might have these traits through their life, but they manifest differently at each age.

“Do you know what makes the prison disappear? Every deep, genuine affection. Being friends, being brothers, loving, that is what opens the prison, with supreme power, by some magic force. Without these one stays dead. But whenever affection is revived, there life revives.”

-Vincent Van Gogh-

A sad little girl.

Signs of emotional detachment disorder

Some common traits are present in people who have emotional detachment disorder. Although many people may have felt unloved, what differentiates this feeling from the syndrome itself is the stability of symptoms.

The most common signs of emotional detachment disorder are the following:

  • Feelings of worthlessness. The person doesn’t feel like they’re worth much. They constantly doubt their capabilities and believe that most circumstances are beyond their strength or capability.
  • Perceptions of failure. People with this disorder often feel that they have failed miserably, even if they haven’t. They also severely criticize themselves.
  • Lack of self-love. These people don’t have any sympathy for themselves. They find it difficult to find virtues in themselves and, when they do, they quickly minimize them. Essentially, they despise themselves.
  • Retreating from social situations. It’s difficult for people with this disorder to show what they think or feel to others since they have a strong fear of rejection. Similarly, when they experience rejection, they struggle with these situations.
  • Instability. They tend to be unstable in their interpersonal relationships. As a result, they jump from attachments with abandon.

Manifestations of emotional detachment disorder according to age

As we’ve pointed out, emotional detachment disorder manifests itself differently according to age. However, essential traits are present at all ages, although how they’re expressed varies according to the degree of maturity and the environment.

Taking age into account, these are examples of how this disorder might manifest:

  • Early childhood. Babies or children with this disorder may cry a lot, rarely smile, and have frequent infections. It’s common for them to experience digestive issues. In addition, sometimes these children don’t grow normally.
  • Preschool age. These children are apprehensive in relationships with their peers and often have difficulty with language.
  • Elementary school age. Learning disabilities, difficulty focusing and concentrating, and feelings of worthlessness are common. The child may doubt themselves and refer negatively to themselves. They may also believe that they annoy others.
  • Preadolescence and adolescence. Teens with this disorder tend to be impulsive, active, and preoccupied with their appearance. They can get excited very easily and may have symptoms of addiction.
  • Adulthood. Commonly, adults display isolation, a lack of commitment to goals and objectives, and frequent feelings of failure. Also, they fail to establish healthy relationships and may hold themselves back at work.
A woman in a field with the sun setting.

What can you do?

Realistically, you can never completely resolve emotional detachment disorder. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to solve some of the issues. You can learn to live with a lack of childhood affection and you may even be able to take advantage of it. But the hardest part is getting started. Once you take the first step, things become clearer.

In these cases, it’s best to begin psychological therapy with a sufficiently experienced professional. Certain therapies or psychoanalysis usually work very well in these situations. However, people who have this disorder tend to idealize their therapist. Thus, they must learn how to respond to this over-expectation.

It isn’t easy to overcome this situation by yourself since it’s a very difficult disorder. Without external support, the person ends up avoiding actually healing their internal wounds. In any case, art, reading, meditation, and sports are factors that help a lot.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Alemán, G. C. (1998). Síndrome de carencia crónica afectiva (Doctoral dissertation, Universidad de Granada).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.