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How to Cope When Someone You Love Has an Emotional Shutdown

When someone you love suddenly goes into an emotional shutdown, it can be extremely painful and confusing. What is the cause and how do you cope?

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.

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 you’re struggling to understand the cause.

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

There are many reasons why someone may go into 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 shutdown doesn’t always happen in relationships, it can sometimes happen generally. 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 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.

#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 it.

[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. Because it is easier than facing the 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 which the person simply hasn’t dealt with.

#2 Attachment injury. This all dates back to any childhood trauma that might have happened. 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 shutdown emotionally instead.

These are three main reasons why emotional shutdown happens. It can also happen simply because someone is going through an overwhelming series of emotions that causes them to simply not be able to take anymore. In this case, encourage them to open up and seek help.

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

What should you do if someone you care about goes through an emotional shutdown?

The million dollar question.

You’re left confused. You have no idea what to say or do when this type of thing occurs. Maybe you look at your behavior and things you’ve said or done to identify whether or not you did something to cause it. The chances are that you didn’t. In most cases, if you did something wrong you would have been told about it or there would have been an angry outburst.

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]

Understand that it probably isn’t about you and 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 a different way. 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 judgement.

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]

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 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 lack of emotional support for both of 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 shutdown 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]

It 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]

An emotional shutdown is confusing to the person who is around it and upsetting for the person going through it. Don’t take it personally and understand that you are not the direct cause.

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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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