These times are trying. Let’s face it, 2020 will be long remembered by everyone alive right now. I have seen all of the 6 types of basic emotions (in the 1970’s psychologist Paul Eckman identified these that were universally experienced in all human cultures) on my social media channels lately. Happiness (some good news, yes!), Sadness (so much of that going around), Fear (wayyyy too much of that for my feed), Disgust (yes, that is there as well), Anger (loads of that) and Surprise (Murder Hornets? Really??).
But lately it has come to my attention that there are many people who are experiencing emotional detachment…because this just seems like too much for them right now. Emotional detachment can be described as an inability or unwillingness to connect with other people on any of the 6 emotions listed above. I know that it is way more than we all expected to deal with right now, and I do understand, trust me, but being emotionally detached for long periods of time in order to shelter yourself from anxiety or stress can lead to further problems down the road.
Grief and experiences like that can be forced on us and the detachment becomes a way to survive and live through the experience. In that case, detachment isn’t voluntary at all.
Then there is the purposeful detachment that you put in place in order to set boundaries. It helps you because maybe you are feeling raw and emotionally drained, so you do this to protect yourself. It makes sense and you do this without realizing it…perhaps.
But then there comes the times that we start to feel numb…and I have recently began seeing signs of that as well in my feed. The numbness can lead the way to depression if you aren’t aware of it.
Here are some signs that you might be emotionally detaching and/or numbing yourself:
- you are aware someone is in pain/hurt/sadness, but you just don’t care at the moment or find it within you to empathize
- you avoid talking about people, doing something that might cause you to see them, or thinking about certain places because you feel trauma or sadness around the thoughts
- you have difficulty creating/maintaining relationships of any kind
- you lack attention when you are around others and seem preoccupied or people think you don’t listen
- you have difficulty being affectionate with others…including family members
- you realize you have reduced ability to express emotion and there are times you remember more feelings than you have now
- you realize that it’s easier to leave and not commit than to make someone a priority when they should be
If you have emotional detachment from trauma, abuse, or PTSD, you should definitely seek help and care from a medical provider. There are treatments available and this article is not medical advice, so please seek the proper treatment. However, if during this time you are choosing to distance yourself, I am going to go into the ways it can be helpful to you during this time as well.
Looking at attachments objectively can help you move forward.
During a normal attachment to someone, it is healthy to wonder if they are doing okay from time to time and check up on them. You might say prayers, or think about their well-being, and send them good wishes and intentions. Excessive attachment can be when a person, goal, thing or even status as a professional becomes your entire reason for being. People who are struggling with excessive attachment, might also feel unsure of anything without the person, goal, thing or professional label. It is important to remember who you are at your core…because it’s still there underneath all of the emotions or even under the withdrawal of emotion.
How do I practice detachment and healthy emotional responses?
- Make a checklist of what is important to you. If you had no phone tomorrow, and no social media, would you be okay or is some of that all-consuming? Try to be honest with yourself as you think about the people, places, and things that felt like they were consuming your every thought. Did you leave any time for yourself and your care at all?
- Analyze the patterns you have created around attachment. A client once told me she rescued men…she knew it and was trying to stop being drawn to people she could “fix”. If you are also drawn to people who treat you poorly, look at that as well. Perhaps it is a career with a pattern of horrible bosses, or a career that is always unfulfilling. Look at what is working here and what is not.
- Make a list of qualities you like. What kind of person do you want to be and have you been that person once before? Did you leave your religion and want to get back to it? Perhaps it is honesty that you crave and you lost a friend who used to be open with you because you had a hard time hearing the truth. Maybe you have pushed people away, but look at the person you want to be, and write down who that person is.
- Get out and move. In order to feel balanced, it’s important to exercise, move, do yoga, bike ride, or something that gets your body feeling better. Exercise appears to boost the size of your hippocampus, which is the area of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning. Want to read something new and do some personal development? Exercise as well as change your thoughts. Regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and sweat glands pumping, has great benefits. Indirectly, exercise improves moon and sleep as well as reduces stress and anxiety…so while I understand your brain fog and confusion during this time, get on your exercise clothes daily!
- Do something good for yourself. A few years ago I was talking to a client and I asked her when the last time was she took a bath. She said “A bath???” and I remember thinking, she thinks I have lost my mind. Yes, I repeated. A bath. She is a great client and friend now, but back then she wasn’t putting herself first, second or even third. She’d agree and be okay with this as she has written many testimonials to the work we have done together on her mindset. But at this point when we met, she didn’t know how to love herself first and that healthy attachments would naturally follow after that. She started taking care of herself, lost weight naturally, and started seeing herself in a different way. It became freeing to realize that she didn’t come last…that she actually needed to put herself first in order to function as a mom, partner, and business person.
Take a good look at yourself because you, my dear friend, are worthy of love. If you have been avoiding the pain, again, please talk to someone if it serious. If you read this and think that perhaps you just haven’t looked at what is going on too closely in your life, and you want to focus on your own health and well-being for a while, feel free to read the following articles as well.
- 7 Ways Starting a Daily Journal Practice Will Change Your Life
- How Creating Self-compassion opens the Door to Healing
- The Top Ten (reading what others have done)