What is Emotional Cutoff?

Emotional cutoff … this is a thing. A psychological concept that describes a process of detaching or disconnecting from family members or other close relationships. Often it’s not necessarily a conscious decision. It’s more like a switch that flips in your head. Or rather, your heart. Like a breaker getting tripped, it’s a protective mechanism. It’s natural, and it’s designed to keep you from further hurt. The switch doesn’t flip without a whole lot of prior hurt. And I mean a whole lot. Because this is not something that any of us want, this emotional cutoff. But it’s what we do when we are hurt over and over and over again. It’s armor we put on, and then can’t seem to take off.

The automatic, unconscious decision to distance yourself emotionally from someone, or some people, as a means of self-preservation can have a profound impact on other aspects of well-being and relationship. Emotions aren’t something we can compartmentalize very well. There’s not really a way to pick and choose the situations in which you feel. The breaker analogy breaks down here. A breaker governs one circuit. But emotions are more like the power to the house. Either you allow yourself to feel them or you don’t. Some common signs of emotional cutoff include:

  1. Avoidance of certain family members or family gatherings, including phone calls, texts, or any number of other forms of communication.
  2. Withdrawal. You may be physically present in a relationship but emotionally absent. You may seem aloof in the view of others, or uncaring. And you kind of are uncaring. Not because you don’t care, but because caring hurts too much.
  3. Lack of interest in resolving conflicts: If you’re cut off from your feelings, you don’t feel a need to resolve conflicts. You’d probably like to resolve conflicts, but you’ve tried, and it just doesn’t work, so you avoid, or withdraw. You detach and disengage. (Note: this is not mindfulness, or Zen-style detachment. That’s something else entirely).
  4. Chronic anger or resentment: You may also struggle with chronic feelings of anger, resentment, or bitterness. Sometime these center on the close friends or family members who have hurt you. Other times they may be more broad, extending to all kinds of unrelated interactions in the wider world.
  5. Difficulty forming new relationships: It may be challenging to form close relationships or trust others because you fear being hurt or rejected.
  6. Social anxiety: Emotional disconnection from family relationships, from the people who are supposed to love and support you, may lead to feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. These are characteristics of social anxiety that make it challenging to form and maintain relationships or participate in certain social situations.

There’s no shame in any of the signs of emotional cutoff. None at all. It’s not a choice you made, but a protective mechanism that’s hard-wired into you. Counseling can help address both emotional cutoff and social anxiety. If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional cutoff, support is available. Reach out to me if you’d like to explore the patterns of behavior that may be limiting you. Together, we can overcome them and build healthier relationships.

One thought on “What is Emotional Cutoff?

  1. Sounds familiar. Been there! Thanks for naming it and offering to help people work through it, this is a huge thing to address. And like you said Mike, nothing to feel ashamed by.

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