Affective isolation: separating the affect from the object

Affective isolation: separating the affect from the object

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Affective isolation according to psychoanalysis, is a defense mechanism that it consists in isolating a thought, memory or a behavior, so that the lived experience is deprived of its affection or its associations, in the intellect or outside. What generates a dissociation, through which the person avoids "feeling" because it causes conflict or reminds him of a painful experience that also produces unpleasant emotions or some displeasure, can even separate the ideas and memories associated with what It generates conflict and anguish.

Through this defense, the person departs from the affective component associated with a given idea. A person who was the victim of an attack, for example, could try to deal with the conflict trying to be objective, separating the emotion and trying to be descriptive, staying attached to the cognitive elements.

A healthy affective isolation can help the individual choose to focus their attention on situations that can effectively be resolved at that time.. As when it is preferred to concentrate on studying and preparing for an important exam, instead of attending a party, as the individual separates the emotion and affection from the idea.

An example of emotional isolation is when someone tells you a traumatic and difficult story of his life; however, he does it as if he were talking about some everyday life like when he talks about the weather, with some indifference and without apparent emotion, this is because he tries to separate the intellect from affection in an attempt to protect the self from the real emotions that remembering that event would bring. In this way, although the memory of the event is maintained in memory and consciousness, it has a mitigating form that is tolerable to the subject. You can achieve this by concentrating on the descriptive and objective elements of the situation that represents a conflict.


  • 1 Object relations
  • 2 Isolation as a factor of poor school performance
  • 3 Loneliness or isolation?
  • 4 Isolation and self-destructive behaviors
  • 5 From affective isolation to other disorders
  • 6 Affective isolation and phobias
  • 7 References

Object relationships

According to Sigmund Freud, the drive has its origin in the impulse, which has a biological basis. The constant battle between impulse and defense makes the external object necessary for the pulse discharge, although it may be a contingent.

Melanie Klein and Hartmann, consider that there is a relationship between the subject and the object, where the former has its innate potential for internalization. It implies feelings of hate and love, the libidinal and aggressive with which the qualities of the object are distorted.

The theory of object relations follows several lines, so its definition is complex. However, it can be said that “privilege the link with the object ”. Certain fundamental ideas arise from the theories of object relations:

  1. It is decisive relationship, bond with mother And then with the parents.
  2. It is not thought in terms of impulses that are intended to be discharged (or not, exclusively), but in a need for contact with the primary object, whether for security, identification, tranquility, unity of the self, humanization, fusion and separation processes, etc.
  3. The pathology, especially the most serious, originates in these stages of the baby's initial bond with the mother.
  4. The Oedipus complex, like the superego, has as background the stages and needs of the first periods of life. If during these stages of development, it is adequate and the bond is strengthened healthily the Oedipus complex can be resolved naturally by moving to other stages of development.

It may interest you: Freud's stages of psychosexual development

Isolation as a factor of low school performance

In the affective aspect, the use of this yoic defense in an excessive way can affect the social and individual development, display the anguish produced in the avoidance of tasks that presuppose some social interaction, such as the activities of: leisure, pleasure, entertainment, education and work. In the intellectual and academic area specifically, it influences the avoidance of tasks where you have to interact with others, in case the person attends school, you can avoid doing group dynamics and exhibitions, which can lead to lower performance academic. When it becomes too complicated, it can lead to dropout.

Isolation can be a defense that has been used since childhood, it can be established in the child from early childhood with his love object, especially when he perceives contact with that object as threatening or dangerous, that is why he separates it from affection. This can lead to isolation behaviors both at home and at school, so it requires special attention. Psychological counseling can be of great help to parents, as it helps them to know some tools and strategies that they can use to modify these behaviors early and in a timely manner, before they have more harmful effects on the child's health and social development. .

Loneliness or isolation?

Loneliness is a subjective appreciation, it can be derived from the lack of close relationship or ties with attachment figure, whether real or perceived, a person can feel alone and be surrounded by people; while isolation has more objective elements and behaviors that can be appreciated, so they are likely to be quantified and measured. In some cases, it reaches such degrees that the individual has no people with whom to share their joys and sorrows, at the same time, It lacks the support and support that social networks usually give and being affiliated with a social group.

Spending more time in the virtual world and moving away from the real world and the relationships that are near or around, in the near reality, is a kind of evasion and isolation as well.

Isolation and self-destructive behaviors

Typical defenses of obsessive neuroses protect against impulsive behavior, crime or schizophrenic collapse; They have a stabilizing effect. They also prevent the regression from continuing to levels before the present stage, thus avoiding the extension of the pathology." Anna Freud

Patients suffering from a serious or terminal illness can try to reduce suffering through affective isolation, try to move away and not adhere to protocols that could help them improve their quality of life. Another reason, why it is important that they receive a multidisciplinary treatment that includes psychotherapeutic support, since they can be provided with tools to accept their disease, as well as contain it through the course of this and the stages of their condition.

When the person tries to have control over their impulses, they can become very rigid, they may want to impose that control over others, which can generate repressed hostility or outbursts of anger, due to the excessive pressure imposed by the intrapsychic conflict, and not being able to control all circumstances can generate frustration and more antagonism, it is common that they result in obsessive-compulsive neuroses, lack of emotional regulation, stress and anxiety problems.

You may be interested: Denial: a destructive type of defense mechanism

When the isolation condition may require psychological attention?

Some people who tend to isolate themselves may seem hostile, however, it is often due to intense needs for affection, same that they can try to satisfy through developing certain behaviors that can be destructive to their health.

A way of Affective isolation is putting time and space between ideas and associations so that they do not generate more distress for the person. The temporal interval could be associated with some compulsive neurotic behavior, such as performing rituals in which the person uses a lot of time and energy, but perceives them as necessary to release some anxiety.

Eating too much or stop eating properly (eating disorders), changes in sleep habits, overwork, use and abuse of drugs, both legal and illegal, ending healthy relationships, neglected sexual activity, They can be indicators that intervention is required.

Some of the dysfunctional behaviors of the person who uses emotional isolation inordinately could be:

  • Try to avoid contact and relationships with other people.
  • Social isolation.
  • Deiderative thinking: See what you "want to see" only.
  • Rumination of destructive thoughts towards others and himself, the constant negative reassessment instead of this working as an adaptive confrontation.
  • Maladaptive confrontation: associated with the lack of emotional and emotional regulation.

From affective isolation to other disorders

This defensive mechanism consists in the primary dissociation between love bonds and aggressive bonds. It tends to prop it up and keep it, preventing the pairs of dissociated from joining in fantasy or reality as such union would mean the disorganization of the fantasized self as chaos or madness" Melanie Klein

Affective isolation can involve a series of avoidance behaviors, where the individual, in severe cases, can avoid social interaction, because it causes too much anguish or anxiety and tries to take refuge in itself, combined with other very primitive defense mechanisms can produce negative effects; The person can distance himself physically and emotionally from people he appreciates and vice versa. It is very characteristic in obsessive and compulsive neuroses.

However, another class of more serious illnesses can be seen as they impede the functionality and proper development of the individual in their different contexts, especially when this mechanism is overexploited as a protective resource. This is the case of generalized anxiety disorder, distress attacks or panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder; Even in some, eating disorders may flourish. When anxiety and emotions are constantly under repression, psychic attrition is very large, and there may be very little energy available for normal and convenient activities for the subject.

You may be interested: Reactive Training: believing in the antagonistic

Affective isolation and phobias

The retroactive annulment of magical thinking undoubtedly refers to a contact phobia" Sigmund Freud

When the person avoids work or activities that involve contact with other people, such as school, for example; when he avoids creating links with other people beyond superficiality, for fear of being: Embarrassed, criticized, ridiculed or rejected, it may be that you have developed a personality disorder by avoidance. Psychological attention should be provided as many of these conditions can have consequences for the person who suffers and result in the development of agoraphobia, social phobia or others. phobias, which could have their genesis in part, precisely in the separation of the object with the affection, as a self defense mechanism.


Through the mechanism called affective isolation, the subject separate the affect from the intellect. Separating certain emotions can be an effective strategy, when proper management of emotions is required, using this tool in a “healthy” way and not in excess, it can be beneficial for the person, because in that way, the individual can concentrate their efforts and energies in your objectives and goals, instead of doing just what you want. The confrontation is sometimes adaptive, because it is associated with the regulated expression of emotions and assertiveness within communication. Being careful, orderly and systematic can be beneficial, when you do not fall into excess, the person can use these traits to maintain their balance.

It is common to resort to this defense mechanism, often found as a resource in obsessive-compulsive disorders, in other disorders such as anxiety and distress, and even an excessive use of this defense could lead to phobic states.

People who overexploit this resource can try to isolate themselves from others, thus freeing themselves from some anxiety and stress. However, other personality problems can be generated, as well as other serious disorders, so it is important to detect destructive behaviors in time so that it can make a timely intervention.

You may be interested: Sublimation, a socially acceptable defense mechanism

Bibliographic references

  • Freud, Sigmund (1981).Complete works of Sigmund Freud. Volume III. 4th. Edition. Spain: New Library Editorial.
  • Bleichmar, N. M .; Lieberman, C. and Cols. (1989).Psychoanalysis after Freud. Mexico: Eleia Editores.
  • Hall, Calvin, S. (1990).Compendium of Freudian psychology. Mexico: Paidós.
  • Kernberg, Otto (1991).The theory of object relations and clinical psychoanalysis. Mexico: Paidós.
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