Disadvantages of Behavioral Disengagement

Disadvantages of Behavioral Disengagement

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

  Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 6/18/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.

We have all sometimes felt like keeping to ourselves instead of reaching out to friends and family to connect and maintain our relationships. Sometimes life can be too overwhelming, and we just don’t have the energy and the patience to engage with the outer world.

A relationship with a loved one could have soured so much that we don’t want to deal with them at this point. We have tried our best to communicate, and that has not ended well in the past.

It is perfectly alright to need some time on your own in the short term, especially if you’re an introvert who draws energy from your inner world. But there can be dangers to disengaging in the long term.

What Is Behavioral Disengagement?

The American Psychological Association defines disengagement as “the act of withdrawing from an attachment or relationship or, more generally, from an unpleasant situation.”

Although disengagement mainly refers to relationships, people can sometimes disengage from activities they used to enjoy, especially if these activities involve interacting with others. People often disengage with work as well.

What is disengagement coping? Behavioral disengagement is a coping mechanism employed by many to cope with intense emotions, grief, loss, and other challenging situations.

Examples of Behavioral Disengagement

  • Ignoring calls or messages from others
  • Keeping quiet in a social setting
  • Leaving a party early although you used to enjoy the company
  • Canceling plans with friends frequently
  • Staying indoors and keeping busy with activities that you don’t enjoy
  • Simply going through the motions at work and not contributing like you used to
  • Thinking it’s too much effort to go to a social gathering
  • Drifting into your own thoughts even when you’re with friends (This is specifically called mental disengagement)

Impact of Behavioral Disengagement

1. Overall Health

Disengaging behavior does not address the root cause. It merely suppresses the underlying condition and the connected stress, resulting in many types of medical issues.

For instance, chronic stress can be a result of long-term behavioral disengagement and cause muscle tension, fatigue, ulcers, weight changes, frequent infections, obesity, irritated bowels, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Additionally, research suggests that 60–80% of primary care visits are connected to a stress response.

2. Surgery Outcomes

It’s easy to constantly think about the pain of surgical wounds and your surgery when you’re recovering. Being engaged in relationships and things you enjoy can keep you healthy and mentally agile during the postoperative period.

In addition, if you have disengaged in the long term, experts have found empirical evidence to confirm that the associated stress can slow down postoperative wound healing.

3. Mental Health

Behavioral disengagement is a symptom of depression. When people are depressed, they stay isolated because they don’t want to burden others, and they think that others won’t understand their mental condition.

Connecting and engaging with others releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine. This can make us feel good about ourselves and improve our mood.

4. Longevity

A study of patients in near-death intensive care found that disengagement can have lower rates of prolonging life expectancy. The same study observed a higher rate of prolonging life expectancy in those with positive religious coping mechanisms.

5. Life Satisfaction

Engaged people tend to be happier and more satisfied with life as they are active in living their life and overcoming obstacles. Research also confirms that people who actively engage with stressors gain a perceived sense of control over their lives.


Although behavioral disengagement may seem to work for you in the short term, it will have dire impacts in the long term.

Please reach out to a medical professional if you feel like you have disengaged with life, so you can work on root causes and live a more engaged life.