We all know people in our lives who are detached. They tend to have trouble accessing or experiencing emotions. Some of the character traits present in a person like this are emphasis on independence, the fear of joining or being a part of groups, and aversion towards intimate relationships where opening up is so important.
Someone who is emotionally detached will usually bounce from one relationship to the next, invariably distancing himself when threatened with increasing emotional closeness from his partner. Although we usually tend to think of males as those who have trouble accessing their emotions, the underlying character structure that leads to psychological detachment can manifest itself just as easily in females.
The goal in this article is to summarize some of the factors that go into the creation of a neurotic personality structure, specifically the emotionally detached type, and to provide a few useful analogies to help flesh out the ideas.
Let’s discuss the neurotic character traits present in a person who is emotionally detached. What can we surmise about his early childhood experiences? In my work with clients several salient features emerge. He will almost certainly have grown up in a restrictive environment where absolute control was important to the caregiver. He will have been alternately showered with praise (sometimes more than he deserved given the circumstances) and punished for his shortcomings (also more than the situation warranted). In other words, his relationship towards his primary caregiver will have been characterized by emotions that alternated between the poles of security and emotional abandonment. Threats of abandonment or being disowned are quite common. There were probably not clearly defined rules, meaning that the caretaker was in a position to find fault with almost any behavior, seemingly at random. A behavior that on one day elicited no response whatsoever would on a subsequent day be grounds for punishment and verbal or physical abuse.