Emotional Detachment Disorder
People with personality disorders exhibit characteristic, emotional response patterns that can become problematic. Generally, each of the personality disorders has an emotional response pattern that is associated with that particular disorder. This inflexible pattern of emotional response often creates difficulty. Some personality disorders are characterized by emotional sensitivity and a tendency to experience feelings with great intensity. Other personality disorders are characterized by little or no emotional response, regardless of the circumstance or situation. Yet another set of disorders are characterized by bouncing back and forth between these two extremes: from being overwhelmed with intense emotions one moment, to feeling numb and disconnected in the next.
Some theorists understand this aspect of personality disorders as a problem of emotional regulation; some disorders are characterized by a tendency to under-regulate emotions, whereas others tend to over-regulate emotions. This differs from a healthy personality where we expect a full range of emotional intensity from controlled to fully expressive. This range is dictated by the situation and circumstance. Of course, people with healthy personalities will occasionally get overwhelmed with emotions, or can feel emotionally detached at times. Similar to the distorted thinking patterns we discussed earlier, the problem for people with personality disorders is the extreme degree and persistence of their dys-regulated affect.
In addition, people with healthy personalities tend to understand when it is beneficial to express a particular emotion, and when it is best to restrict its expression. In other words, people with healthy personalities have learned that there are times when it is wise and appropriate to fully express a particular emotion. At other times it is best to regulate or restrict its expression, or to dampen down its intensity. Having decided just how much emotion is appropriate to display, they then display only the appropriate amount, knowing just how to do that. As we have emphasized previously, a key feature of healthy personalities is flexibility. Healthy personalities have a flexible range of affective responses that properly consider the time, place, and circumstance.
Unfortunately, persons with personality disorders are not nearly as flexible. Depending upon the type of personality disorder, affective (emotional) features can range from being very constricted, indifferent, cold, and experiencing little pleasure in life; to rapidly changing and wildly fluctuating emotions, often expressed with great intensity and dramatic flair. In some personality disorders this lack of flexibility surrounding emotional expression leads to problems with chronic anger and irritability, problems with extreme anxiety, or a complete lack of empathy.
Examples of personality disorders with problematic emotional response patterns
Just as we did before when we considered disordered thinking patterns, let's look at some examples of specific personality disorders to illustrate these problematic emotional response patterns, and the types of interpersonal problems that are created a result.