Emotionally Distant People: What You Need to Know

Emotionally distant people tend to establish a barrier between themselves and others and avoid close bonding. Learn more about why they may do this and what you can do about it in this article.
Emotionally Distant People: What You Need to Know
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Nothing seems to move or affect them. They’re like an iceberg. This is the image we have of emotionally distant people: as if they had a protective shield that makes nothing touches them.

However, it’s important to emphasize that this is a defense mechanism: it’s a rigorous control over emotions that’s the result of previous experiences. Let’s see what it’s all about in today’s article.

What are emotionally distant people like?

Emotionally distant people are those who erect a barrier between themselves and others. When we’re around emotionally distant people, it always feels like t you can only talk about certain topics and up to a certain point, because when the talk seems to become deep, they shut down without providing more details or giving rise to questions.

In general, the topics they talk about are trivial, without much importance. At the same time, when we think about how much we know this person, we discover that very little, since they never open up.

They seem to be cold people who are careful about expressing themselves since they don’t like to feel exposed and vulnerable. Therefore, this barrier serves them as protection. They don’t seek intimacy in their relationships.

For this type of person, life has no emotional nuances. Nothing touches them and nothing impacts them, whether it be for positive or for negative experiences.

Amigo emocionalmente distante en una charla.
The emotionally distant person ends conversations when he/she considers that he/she may start revealing any feelings.

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The possible causes of emotional distance

There are many different reasons why a person may have difficulties in expressing his/her emotions. Among them we find the following:

  • Learning from experiences: Our emotional universe expands or shrinks from opportunities to make contact with our emotions. One of these original experiences comes from our early childhoods. When our thoughts, feelings, and preferences are taken into account by the adults and people around us, we learn that they’re important. Otherwise, when there’s no place for emotions or when they all indicate the same thing, our emotional experiences become impoverished. Therefore, to defend ourselves or to avoid feeling discomfort, we begin to cover them up and silence them.
  • Invalidation of emotions and feelings: This may occur in long-standing relationships or at an early age. Phrases like “Don’t cry,” and “It’s no big deal” may have been the trigger for these people to learn that what happens to them is not important or that they should solve it by themselves. This often occurs in childhood.
  • Having been the object of ridicule: This goes hand in hand with the previous point. When this occurs, a person may become distant after having been teased for expressing how he/she felt. Therefore, he/she prefers to keep it to him/herself and not be exposed.

How to approach an emotionally distant person

Approaching emotionally distant people can mean a lot of effort that’s often accompanied by frustration. However, there are some recommendations that we can take into account:

  • Avoid pressuring them: No matter how much you insist over and over again, they will only open up when they feel comfortable, and confident and when they no longer feel threatened. So, it’s a good idea to avoid pressuring them, which only bring more distrust.
  • Time and patience: Trusting relationships develop and consolidate themselves over time. Only then is a person able to feel safe and open up. Keep this in mind.
  • Accept that not all of us have the same facility to express ourselves: It’s crucial not to try to change the person, but to accept that he/she has limits and a unique way of establishing relationships. This is what will give you the confidence and security to express yourself when you like.
  • Start with trivial topics: Even if you know what’s happening to him/her, start by addressing meaningless topics that are of little importance. Also, communicate by sharing how you feel and the things that are happening to you. Little by little you will be able to get closer and generate an atmosphere of greater intimacy.
Hablar con los hijos.
The type of relationships that were established in childhood tend to condition our ability to form more intimate relationships in adulthood since they condition our response to our emotions.

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Expressing emotions is healthy

Emotions are present in our lives as a toolbox we have to deal with different situations. Thus, fear alerts us that we’re in danger and invites us to take measures for our survival. Joy, on the other hand, tells us what makes us feel at ease.

To deny them is to run out of tools, even though situations that invoke them keep happening. In other words, we can avoid showing what we feel, but we will never be able to avoid being impacted by feelings. Doing so incurs a significant cost.

Despite believing that not showing emotions makes them less vulnerable, the opposite is actually true. Being blind to their emotions, emotionally distant people are imprisoned by them because they’re unaware of them. When they experience them, they don’t know how to manage them.

A good starting point is to analyze our beliefs about what it means to express emotions or to be emotional. Many times, we limit ourselves because we think it makes us appear sensitive, vulnerable, or that they can hurt us. Identifying what these underlying beliefs are will allow us to understand behaviors and try to change them for more functional ones.

Therefore, it’s healthier to accept emotions, work on them, experience them, and find a way to live with all sides of the coin. There are good and bad situations in life, and learning to accept our emotions can help us to live them all in the best possible way.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Fernandez, Ana María, & Dufey, Michele, & Mourgues, Catalina (2007). Expresión y reconocimiento de emociones: un punto de encuentro entre evolución, psicofisiología y neurociencias. Revista Chilena de Neuropsicología, 2(1),8-20.[fecha de Consulta 17 de Marzo de 2022]. ISSN: 0718-0551. Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=179317882002
  • Heras Sevilla, D., Cepa Serrano, A., & Lara Ortega, F. (2016). Desarrollo emocional en la infancia. Un estudio sobre las competencias emocionales de niños y niñas. International Journal of Developmental and Educational Psychology. Revista INFAD de Psicología.1(1), 67.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.