Houdini Syndrome: Escaping from Emotional Involvement

Everything seemed to be going well when, suddenly, the person you were with abandons you without further explanation. What happened? Why does this situation occur? The explanation may lie in Houdini syndrome.
Houdini Syndrome: Escaping from Emotional Involvement
Bernardo Peña

Written and verified by the psychologist Bernardo Peña.

Last update: 11 June, 2022

Houdini syndrome refers to the 19th-century Hungarian magician and escapologist. However, today, we’re referring to a type of psychological and emotional escapism that has a lot to do with the mechanism that controls avoidance.

Therefore, people with Houdini syndrome are characterized by escaping from jobs, obligations, and relationships after a certain amount of time. In general, they tend to engage quickly in an activity or relationship. However, the greater the commitment, the greater the need to escape from it. Therefore, there comes a day when they simply disappear.

People suffering from Houdini syndrome are merely reflecting a deeper symptom that occurs, even at the social level, which doesn’t help them establish healthy and lasting bonds between individuals. Now, why does this phenomenon occur?

Liquid society and modern bonds

No matter the era, there have always been people who’ve found it difficult to establish lasting bonds and to make commitments. However, our current society is too individualistic compared to other times in history.

Unfortunately, people are increasingly seen as mere means or objects. This situation means that we often think that friendships or relationships will never last forever.

Today, bonds with others are weaker and more diffuse. It seems as if people are replaceable at any time and in any place. Nothing lasts forever, and many may laugh at this concept.

Neither things nor relationships seem to be made to last. Weak ties are like shallow roots. At the slightest difficulty, everything falls apart.

A black and white photo of a man walking away from a woman.
We live in an era where relationships don’t seem destined to last very long.

The phases of Houdini syndrome

Houdini syndrome usually occurs progressively, in phases. It goes from giving everything, to disappearing, often without a trace. Classically, we can distinguish between the following three phases:

  • The first phase of sentimental boom: In this phase, we fall in love, and it seems that everything’s going to go very well, that we’re lucky to have met that person and to have them by our side. Everything’s perfect and our dreams are projected as reality with that person. However, this phase is usually gone as quickly as it appears.
  • The second phase of doubts: As the relationship has a shaky foundation or shallow roots, doubts may appear about the reliability of the relationship. Nothing’s as beautiful as it was at the beginning, and we’re unclear about what’s going to happen. Uncertainty sets in.
  • The third phase of emotional flight: The person in question escapes from the relationship. They leave us, perhaps without giving any explanations. The other person may sever contact radically, and it’s not uncommon to never hear from them again.

Why can this emotional escapism occur?

A woman sitting alone on a bench on a hill.
When one of the partners disappears from the relationship due to Houdini syndrome, it’s common for the other person never to hear from them again.

There can be 3 factors whose simultaneous action could be the equivalent to an explosive cocktail:

  • Immaturity: Derived from the lack of emotional education that some people have. Many have stereotyped ideas about what relationships should be like, and don’t know how to manage them. There’s also a fear of commitment or inability to plan one’s own life.
  • An individualistic society: Today’s society, as we mentioned earlier, no longer attaches importance to stable relationships, forming families, and sex as an expression of love and transcendence. Instead, a kind of misunderstood freedom that manifests itself as individualism has replaced these values.
  • Internet, social media, and new technologies: Finally, social networks give us the impression that we have dozens of potential partners within reach–people who have us on standby, who write to us, send us photos. Under these circumstances, it’s difficult to focus and stay with only one person, renouncing all others, according to the stereotype that society imposes.

Houdini syndrome isn’t the only option

In conclusion, perhaps for many, the situation isn’t the most favorable, but we must avoid being victims of escapism, and avoid escaping ourselves. Houdini syndrome is more and more frequent in this liquid society, but it’s not the only behavioral option.

Therefore, we should take care of the person we’re with. What’s more, we shouldn’t play with other people’s feelings, just as we should take care of our own self-esteem and face the fear of supposedly renouncing a multitude of partners.

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.

  • Estévez, J. V., & Martin, A. (2016). La concepción del individualismo de Hayek y Friedman. Revista de filosofía84(3), 99-114.
  • González Fernández, S., Zayas García, A., & Guil, R. (2015). Relaciones personales en la sociedad de las redes sociales virtuales.
  • Singer, I. (2000). La naturaleza del amor: El mundo moderno (Vol. 3). Siglo XXI.

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