Unhealthy and Healthy Detachment

There are two different phenomena that take place when we relate to unwanted reality: unhealthy and healthy detachment.

Unhealthy detachment manifests in the phenomenon of dissociation – withdrawal from reality in the face of a traumatic or stressful situation. This can range from mild detachment from one’s surroundings as in daydreaming to extreme detachment even from one’s own physiological and emotional reality.

This defensive reaction is a coping mechanism and in that sense it does show strength, as it is attempt to protect one’s self. However it’s unhealthy when it becomes a pervasive reaction that comes up in unwanted life situations and this turns it into a severe psychological disorder such as PTSD.

A completely different kind of detachment takes place when one takes a stand toward what’s happening and says “This is wrong.” “I won’t do this.” “This is boring.” or “This is bad for me.” In this second case one is detached from reality not in order to escape from it but rather in order to orient one’s self to have a true relationship towards it.

In the first case the person is beset by fear and withdraws even from his own person-hood. In the second case the person shows strength and becomes a conduit for positive change.

The irony in healthy detachment is that by detaching from what is wrong one becomes more connected on the level of creating a meaningful relationship.

Thus if I’m not afraid to admit my wrongdoing and apologize for it or call someone on his hurtful words and express this, I will detach myself from what’s wrong in the situation and become more strongly connected to what’s meaningful about the relationship with this person.


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5 Responses to Unhealthy and Healthy Detachment

  1. Panny says:

    Thank you so much for this post!

    I am struggling a bit as I’m not completely getting it and feel the need to understand it properly, so please help me with this.

    Recently whilst sitting with special friends, I became detached from their conversation in the form of dissociation. The reason for this was that the conversation triggered flashbacks from my therapy which had gone wrong due to the therapists pushing of her religion in trying to force me to deny my own which she perceived as totally evil. As I began to detach during our conversation, I felt increasingly embarrassed and panicked, but could not stop it… or did not know how to!

    I don’t know what it was about our conversation that actually triggered the flashbacks or reaction, but once the dissociation set in, I felt totally trapped… I felt the need to escape, but felt so distant that I knew that I would not be able to move my legs… I could not even speak. Obviously this is unhealthy detachment, because the distance felt so vast at the time… almost as if I was falling down into a dark well of nothingness! No daydreaming… just a horrible all-consuming nothingness that I felt totally trapped in for some time.

    I’m a bit confused about why you say that dissociation that comes up in unwanted life situations turns into a severe psychological disorder such as PTSD. In my mind, it’s because one is already suffering from PTSD that one might manifest such problems as dissociation (unhealthy detachment from reality)

    Are you also saying that unhealthy detachment is an unconscious (psychological) detachment triggered by something that a person feels the need to escape from – and healthy detachment is a conscious decision making process of removing one’s self physically from a “wrong” situation in order to think more clearly about how to “right” the situation more meaningfully and productively.
    I’m sorry to be so complicated, but it is important for me to understand my own complicated and unhealthy behaviour patterns in order that I can find healing.

    Love and gratitude to you.

  2. logogroup says:

    Thanks for your willingness to share your struggles. It sounds to me like you’re very self-aware, and that’s something you can feel very good about! To explain more clearly what I meant – It’s not that dissociation “turns into” PTSD. I only meant to say PTSD is one example of dissociation. And you’re understanding me correctly when you say that in unhealthy detachment there’s a need to escape from something while in healthy detachment you are consciously removing yourself in order to relate more meaningfully to it. I guess the key difference is whether you are deliberately for a purpose detaching yourself or you feel out of control. You’ve described very well this out of control feeling when you talk about how the conversation triggered flashbacks. The question you can ask yourself is was there a point at which you sensed the direction things were going in and had not yet lost control (fallen into the tunnel as you put it) and if so, what would have been a meaningful way for you to relate to the situation at that point, before things got worse? Then maybe next time this kind of thing happens you’ll be more in control of things.

    • Panny says:

      Sorry for late response, for some reason I have not received an e-mail for your reply, so was lucky to come back here now to read over this post and found your msg. back to me. Thank you for it and for clarifying some issues for me. I wish I could think of how to answer your questions at the end… I feel quite “suffocated” that I can’t!

      I’m seeing myself sitting there again… how do I, in the middle of the conversation tell my friends who are happily chatting away, that I’m beginning to detach emotionally from the conversation… I can’t just get up and walk out mid-conversation!

      Yes… I can feel when the trigger has gone off… my pulse starts to race and I can feel it thumping in my ears and head… my eyesight starts to go off a bit (blur) and I feel like I’m squinting and my friends will see if I look at them! … I start to feel really dizzy… I feel panicked but remained very still in order not to let my friends know what’s happening, because I feel so embarrassed about it! I’m hoping I will be able to stop it on my own, but it’s too strong! I start feeling like some “other” scary dimension is sucking me away and soon I will disappear completely into it! It all happens quite fast! I want to scream out for help, but everyone is so happy and chatting away and I don’t want to create any drama… I hate drama! I don’t want to stop my friends from enjoying themselves, with my ridiculous nonsense!

      Soon I realise it has gone too far and I can no longer run even if I wanted to… I can’t even speak, because I’m already too far gone! It’s a terrible place to be in! Inevitably someone will eventually speak to me (call me back)… this is excruciating for me as I surface from “that horrible place”, because I realize that I have been “caught out!” That’s when I have to get up and run from the situation, because there’s no staying to try and explain what’s just happened… like I said… I hate drama… the whole situation is far too embarrassing and horrible for me! I don’t like being out of control like that… it’s so scary to me that it happens!!! I’d rather avoid any stressful situations to prevent it!

      I can’t answer your question… I don’t have an answer! I hate that I’m saying this!!! I just don’t have an answer!!!

  3. logogroup says:

    I can identify with your embarrassment, even though my experience has not been like yours. But being a shy person myself I know what you mean about not wanting to leave the situation because then you’re calling more attention to yourself. And yet, you say you do know when the trigger has gone off. So It’s the meaning of the trigger that keeps you from leaving (your silly stuff). But what if you had to go to the bathroom because you couldn’t hold it in anymore? Would you be embarrassed to say you need the ladies room? No, because that would be a need that everyone has and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. What would happen if you thought of it that way? What would happen if you say to yourself “Something here, that’s not the fault of the people I’m with, is just not good for me right now.” And then you excuse yourself and deal with it and come back later. Just as you’d do if you suddenly felt you were going to cry and you didn’t want to deal with it in front of so many people so again, you excuse yourself and come back. Leaving a situation is a normal and natural reaction for an unnaturally intense emotional response. Can you try to think of it that way and when you do, does it change in any way your confidence about handling the situation?

  4. Panny says:

    Thank you so much for your reply… I will definitely try to do this in future. I am sure it will work and will be far less embarrassing than subconsciously fading away during a conversation and then panicking about not being able to excape it! Thank you for your wisdom and time which is truly appreciated. Bless you for being such a lovely friend. I am so grateful for finding this site.

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