6 Things That Can Cause Emotional Withdrawal -- And What To Do About It

Updated November 18, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Lori Jones, LMHC

"Emotional withdrawal can be a difficult process to go through. You might be keeping things deep inside because you don't know how to process or cope with feelings that you are having. This is okay for a short time, but it can cause new feelings to surface in ways that aren't so great in the long run. One way to work through emotional withdrawal is to talk with a counselor. A counselor will offer you a safe space to let your feelings out; plus, a counselor is a neutral person that can help you work through those feelings you are having in a positive way rather than keeping them bottled inside. We all withdraw from time to time, but don't let it overtake you, reach out for help." - Dr. Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPCC

Lately, have you noticed yourself being distant from your partner or friends? Maybe you've stopped doing things that were once a source of pleasure. Are you spending a lot of time thinking back in reflection? Do you notice yourself being more intentional with your time? Perhaps you haven't fully disconnected yourself from other people, but you don't have the desire to spend as much time with them as you used to. You may be experiencing emotional withdrawal. This article will discuss the signs and effects of emotional withdrawal within yourself and relationships and identify it in yourself or others.

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Emotional withdrawal can be deceiving. At times, people may attribute it to getting older. They may assume that it is simply an innate response to all of the time that they have dedicated to always doing something. Do you find that even when life is at its busiest, you are pulling back? It is important to consider if you have emotional withdrawal.

What Is Emotional Withdrawal?

Emotional withdrawal is defined as pulling back emotionally or physically by bottling up your feelings or disconnecting from others. Emotional withdrawal can be far more complex at times. It is comparable to a breakup in every way but physical. Partners are no longer fulfilling the emotional needs of one another, and contrary to what the classifications may lead you to believe, it isn't always an intentional behavior.

6 Possible Causes Of Your Emotional Withdrawal

Just as with any emotional issue, the causes of emotional withdrawal are vast.

Contrary to what the classification may suggest, pulling back from your partner isn't always something you choose to do. Emotional withdrawal can also occur in friendships and family relationships, and romantic partnerships, which is important to note. If you are unsure if you are dealing with emotional withdrawal, be sure to look at all of your relationships.

Furthermore, all emotional withdrawal is different. Here are five possible causes of your emotional withdrawal:

Fear - Withdrawal out of fear can lead to a cycle of needing to continuously fulfill your own needs rather than lean on those around you for help. You may be afraid to voice your desires and needs to your partner because you fear rejection. Instead, you withdraw. As a result, your partner may now feel rejected by the distance you have created. In relationships, the desire for connection is often mutual.

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Overwhelming emotion - Everyone reacts to their emotions differently. A magnitude of emotion that feels comfortable for one person may be very overwhelming to another. People who experience emotions very strongly often experience feelings of burnout, leading to the desire to withdraw. Emotional exhaustion can be\ challenging to navigate, but some small lifestyle changes, including developing healthy coping techniques, can help.

Anger - Some people don't mind making others aware of their anger. Others are very good at hiding their anger because they don't want to deal with the root cause. Suppressed anger can often result in withdrawal where one person in the relationship is simmering in secrecy. It is often good to withdraw when your anger can lead to irrational behavior and unkind words. Yet, it is the behavior that follows that makes all of the difference. If this is an effort to avoid adding fuel to the fire out of hurt feelings, it can be helpful to take a break for both parties to return to a calmer state. Yet, the situation still needs to be dealt with. The withdrawal was a tool to calm down and think rationally. You can now approach the situation with a clear mind.

Desire to be pursued - You may find yourself in a situation where one partner constantly shuts down, hoping that the other will reach out to them. At times, these dynamics can be rooted in insecure patterns of attachment. If you recognize this in your relationship, you might consider going to couples counseling so you and your partner can develop awareness around these patterns and learn to relate in healthier ways.

External Influences- Relationships are not safe from outside influences. Emotional withdrawal can be a response to feeling overworked and being under insurmountable pressure. In this instance, it is a survival tactic. The withdrawal allows you to concentrate on what is most pressing at the moment and not get caught up focusing on other emotions.

Childhood Trauma- Some people withdraw as a result of childhood trauma that has not been processed. If a child cannot cope with their trauma properly, they might become emotionally withdrawn in adulthood. This is also common for anyone raised in an environment where the adults responsible for them was emotionally withdrawn and unable to form bonds. For children, much of their habits and emotion management skills; you from their guardian. If their guardian was emotionally withdrawn, this could be a reason someone withdraws.

How To Tell If You're Emotionally Withdrawn

Learning whether or not you are emotionally withdrawn can be a difficult process. However, there are recognizable signs you can begin to look out for. To begin, you can first examine the behaviors you are exhibiting and how they impact your relationships. Some common signs of emotional withdrawal include feeling fewer deep emotions towards a loved one, feeling as though you are not grounded, or you are out of your body, and generally feeling "empty." These are a few indicators of the signs that you may be emotionally withdrawn, but everyone's experience is different.

Thankfully, counseling can begin to help you identify these signs and symptoms as well as remedy them. If you struggle connecting to your partner, you often feel your emotions toward them are not as strong as they once were, or you don't feel like you can approach them for help; you are not alone. However, getting help from a trusted counselor at ReGain can help you to feel less emotionally withdrawn and happier in your relationship.

Effects Of Emotional Withdrawal

Being emotionally withdrawn can impact your relationship. Often, when you or your partner feel emotionally withdrawn, you may not give each other the emotional support you both deserve. Suppose you notice that your partner is emotionally withdrawn. In that case, you may feel they are leaving you out and uninterested in you, leading to a feeling of a lack of security in your relationship. This is completely understandable, as one of the basic human needs is to feel loved and wanted by the people we care about.

If you are emotionally withdrawn, you may also notice unwanted effects of these emotions on your relationship. Although it is not intentional, you may not be able to give your partner the emotional vulnerability or presence that they deserve if you are feeling emotionally withdrawn. This may lead to more resentment and stress in the relationship.

Your intimate relationship may also be impacted by emotional withdrawal. The withdrawn person may have no desire to be physically intimate because of what is going on in their minds. Even if they do have the desire to be intimate, their partner may not feel rejected. In conclusion, when a partner feels emotionally withdrawn, it may create a circle of negative feelings to lead to more withdrawal.

Unfortunately, there may be times when being emotionally withdrawn causes, one partner to end the relationship. They may not see the sense of staying with someone if it appears that the person has less desire to be with them. Although this may not be true, they can only decide based on what they are witnessing. The potential lack of communication, affection, and attention can occasionally lead to feelings of abandonment. This is why the voicing concern about feeling a lack of emotional presence is very important. The other partner may want to understand they are not the problem; it is just that their partner is dealing with emotional withdrawal.

Know That You Need To Reconnect

Reconnecting is possible for people who are experiencing emotional withdrawal. Once you have discovered the causes of your emotional withdrawal, you can take the necessary steps towards healing. A vital step towards healing is to be honest with yourself about the root causes and the effects, whether good or bad, that your emotional withdrawal has had on your life and relationships. It may not be easy to take a step to find healing, but the positive growth will be worth it.

Recognizing your emotional needs and the needs of your partner can help you reinvest your emotions. Most people aren't sure what they need from their partners but still feel that something is lacking. The article explains that the basic emotional needs of someone in a relationship are affection, being understood, being nurtured, and feeling valued. These are all things those dealing with emotional withdrawal can lack. So, knowing what you need to work on and how to express your emotions to your partner can assist in closing the emotional distance.

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Forgiveness is also a vital component of reconnection. Understanding that the emotional effects of the withdrawal were not intentional and forgiving yourself and your partner is essential in taking the next step to recommitting and strengthening your bond. Focus on positive ways to solve problems, learn to communicate openly, and take a break to clear your head at critical points.

As you begin to work on reconnecting, you may realize that you need the assistance of a professional relationship counselor. It isn't uncommon to need help uncovering and facing unresolved issues. This is the perfect opportunity to strengthen the bond with your partner by allowing them to accompany you on parts of the journey that you are comfortable sharing. It may also be a good way to share uncomfortable things because there will be someone there with the knowledge to teach you. With the help of your partner, you can overcome the barriers you are facing today.

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