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Emotional Shutdown: What It Is, Why People Feel It & How to Help Them

It’s never easy when someone you love suddenly goes into an emotional shutdown. Let’s discover the cause so you can cope and reconnect with them.

emotional shutdown

When someone you love suddenly shuts down, doesn’t really communicate with you, and seems to be going through the motions, it is called an emotional shutdown.

Emotions are a key part of life. When it comes to love, you can’t have a healthy and lasting relationship without showing your emotions on a regular basis. At the end of the day, love is what holds a relationship together. If you’re not showing that love for one another, something isn’t quite right.

[Read: 36 healing steps to get over heartbreak & deal with the pain of fixing it]

What is an emotional shutdown?

If someone you love suddenly stops talking to you, stops showing you love and attention, and you can’t really pinpoint the reason, it will be extremely upsetting, worrying, and confusing. At the heart of it all, your partner is no longer engaging with you. The connection is ebbing away, and if you don’t know the cause, it will leave you in a lot of pain.

When someone has an emotional shutdown, they gradually retreat from life and become socially isolated and unable to maintain relationships. If this continues for a while, they start losing interest in the things they used to enjoy, their relationships become meaningless, and their career is no longer rewarding.

[Read: How to recognize and deal with an emotionally distant partner]

Why do people shut off emotionally?

An emotional shutdown may develop when there’s constant exposure to bad or unpleasant news. Abuse or a traumatic experience can also be the cause. This may also be a side effect of certain medications or due to parental or societal expectations.

There are many more reasons why someone may go into an emotional shutdown. It’s a personal deal for that particular person in many ways. Maybe they’re going through a hard time and don’t want to share their feelings. Maybe they’re worried about something and think that sharing it with you means they won’t be taken seriously.

Whatever the reason, try to identify the cause and then talk them out of the shutdown they put themselves in.

Emotional shutdowns don’t always happen in relationships, but they can generally happen, usually when a person is so overwhelmed with difficult emotions that they just can’t process them anymore. If someone is going through a particularly difficult period in their life, perhaps stress and anxiety, they may shut down to seek relief. In this case, it’s very important to find out the root cause.

[Read: What to do when you’re emotionally exhausted and just can’t deal with anything]

The most common potential reasons for an emotional shutdown

Everyone is different. Don’t label everyone with the same reason for going through a difficult emotional time. However, there are some most common reasons for an emotional shutdown. [Read: Dating someone with depression: 23 signs & truths you MUST know]

1. A deep fear of being rejected

Some people have a real fear of rejection, to the point when they reach a certain relationship milestone, and worry that they will suffer rejection if they even start to voice their emotions.

It might also be due to a past rejection. They suffered terrible pain because of rejection, and they don’t want to go through that again. [Read: How to date someone with trust issues]

Communication can be difficult for someone with this deep fear. It can be enough to cause them to go through an emotional shutdown. And that’s simply because avoidance is easier than facing their fear and dealing with it.

Putting yourself out there for possible rejection after a long period of time can be extremely distressing. All of this can be a trigger for previous history that the person simply hasn’t dealt with. [Read: Fearful-avoidant attachment style: What it is, 39 signs & how to deal with it]

2. Attachment injury

This all dates back to any childhood trauma they might have endured. In this case, the parent may have left the child to fend for themselves. The now adult simply thinks that people are just going to let them down. As a result, this kickstarts an emotional shutdown that happens almost like a habit.

In this case, the worry of being left out in the cold once more makes them go back to the same behavior – closing down and getting on with life on their own. [Read: The raw psychological effects of being ignored by someone you love]

3. Feeling judged

Some people struggle with admitting what they need emotionally in a relationship. In this case, they worry that they’re going to be judged. It kickstarts a series of guilt reactions. The person can’t handle the mixture, so they shut down emotionally instead.

[Read: 13 ways to grow into a kinder and better human being]

4. Mental disorders (anxiety, depression, BPD, etc)

People with anxiety may experience emotional shutdown due to high-stress levels, fear, or excessive worry. Those with Borderline Personality Disorder, aka BPD, may experience periods of emotional shutdown as well. Going through depressive episodes is another common reason for an emotional shutdown, as these people are less intuned with their feelings.

5. Grief

When coping with loss, especially death, a person may go through a period where they feel completely disconnected from their emotions and the rest of the world. [Read: 34 steps to stop being sad & break out of the comfortable misery of sadness]

Is emotional shutdown a choice?

Even while it’s not generally a choice, emotional shutdowns usually follow an unconscious habit of avoidance. The more you avoid, the less you feel, and the cycle continues to revolve in this way.

You could miss family reunions or social meetings that you would have usually loved. And you can become too watchful and analytical in an effort to protect yourself from unpleasant events or displaying emotional vulnerability.

At work, it would become challenging for you to justify your personal goals and desires or be able to say no to a pushy colleague or demanding boss to satisfy their ongoing requests.

[Read: 44 stress-free ways to ignore someone & stop people from hurting you]

Signs of emotional shutdown

1. The early symptoms of an emotional shutdown are:

2. difficulty in creating or maintaining personal relationships

3. a lack of attention or looking distracted while around other people

4. difficulty in showing love or affection to their loved ones

5. showing avoidance towards people and places connected to prior trauma

6. hiding or reducing emotions

7. inability to empathize with someone else’s feelings

8. inability to commit to someone in a romantic relationship

9. difficulty in making someone a priority

10. losing interest in things or activities they used to love

11. being harsh or unkind to others

[Read: How to recognize an emotionally distant partner & deal with them]

Effects of emotional shutdown

When you have an emotional shutdown, your self-awareness, confidence, interpersonal interactions, and communications are all affected. You could occasionally have a sense of numbness or disembodiment, making it difficult for you to articulate your emotions or sustain intimate sentiments.

Since you’re unable to understand what is happening to you, you may learn to internalize your disappointments and anger while experiencing dread. You begin to avoid stressful events and conflicts with people because your anxiety becomes so unbearable. It’ll get to the point where you sometimes let out angry outbursts or withdraw.

It could be hard for your friends and relatives to communicate with you, or if you grow more aloof, they may find it hard to empathize with you. Some may even criticize you for being cold and distant.

[Read: Stonewalling in a relationship: 15 signs & best ways to fix it ASAP]

How to reconnect with your emotions

Mindfulness is the key to reconnecting to your emotion. A counselor may be able to assist you. They’re someone who’s willing to show empathy and help you get back in touch with your feelings, become more emotionally aware, and challenge you to commit to the process.

Instead of fixating on being out of control, you may find mindfulness of breathing useful in teaching you to trust your feelings as a source of understanding. You’ll be allowed to get out of your head and focus more on your body. By getting rid of stress, you can now take care of your well-being and get back to your old self.

[Read: 52 happy habits and ways to find happiness within yourself & feel better]

What should you do if someone you love shuts down

The million-dollar question.

If you notice someone close to you has shut down, be sensitive and understanding, no matter how confused you may feel within yourself. [Read: Why am I so emotional? Science has the answers you may not expect]

1. Be present and remember that their avoidance likely has little to do with you

It can be extremely difficult to deal with someone close to you in this situation. It’s the most natural thing in the world to assume that they’ve shut down and aren’t talking to you because you’ve done something to upset them, and they’re simply not telling you what it is. [Read: Loving someone with depression and why it’s not your job to fix them]

But that isn’t likely to be the case. Going back over past conversations and working out what might be causing it isn’t going to be useful; accept what has happened. Then, work with them rather than assuming that it is about you and your actions.

[Read: 12 mysterious factors that play the biggest part in emotional stability]

In most cases, if you did something wrong, you would have been told about it, or there would have been an angry outburst.

Understand that it probably isn’t about you and is more likely to be due to past experiences or wounds which haven’t healed. They could be from other relationships or even childhood. We all express our feelings in different ways. You shouldn’t judge if someone shuts down in this way; instead, be mindful of what might be going on beneath the surface.

Once you’ve understood that it’s not likely to be a reason linked to you, be present in the moment. Let your loved one know that they’re safe with you, nothing is going to hurt them, and if they want to talk to you, you’ll always listen without judgment.

When they talk to you, listen carefully. Show them that you, indeed, are listening. Don’t interrupt! Simply allow them to speak because it’s possible that once the blockage frees itself, the words will flow.

[Read: How to stop being selfish towards the ones you love]

2. Provide a safe space and remind them that you are available

Once they’ve talked to you, reassure them as much as you can. To overcome an emotional shutdown, the person needs to feel 100% safe and that nothing will harm them if they open up.

If this doesn’t happen, they will simply stay in shutdown mode. They won’t allow their feelings to open up. It will mean a prolonged period of silence and a lack of emotional support for both of you.

[Read: How to help someone with trust issues open up & overcome their fear]

3. Keep your promise; be available

You shouldn’t give them more reasons to keep their feelings to themselves by going against your promise. If you tell them you will be there when they need you, make sure to keep your promise. The worst thing you can do to someone who’s emotionally shut down is turn your back on them and make them doubt their significance.

When they choose to go to you, it means you have their trust, and they see you as their safe space. So if you care about them, try not to let them down. You don’t need to be there for them 24/7 because you have your own life, too; just don’t make them feel like they have no place in your life.

[Read: 20 types of lovers and relationships you’ll come across in the dating world]

An emotional shutdown is confusing to the people who are around it and upsetting for the person going through it. Don’t take it personally, and understand that you are not the direct cause. There are so many ways you can show support, but the best way is to seek a professional counselor to help them get back in touch with their old self.

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Nicky Curtis
Nicky Curtis
Having stumbled from one relationship drama to another throughout her 20s, Nicky is now somewhat of a guru in the crazy world of life and love. Telling it how i...
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