The term emotional cutoff was used by Murray Bowen to describe an "emotional process between the generations" in which "people separate themselves from the past in order to start their lives in the present generation". According to Dr. Peter Titelman, emotional cutoff is "emotional distance that regulates the discomfort of emotionally stuck-together fusion between the generations". In other words, it is an expression of the unresolved attachment, or "the degree to which an individual has been unable to be a self, separate from his or her parents". Emotional cutoff manifests as emotionally distancing behaviors expressed internally or geographically, including "running away or flight, isolation, withdrawal, and collapse". While emotional cutoff usually happens automatically, there can be "an intentional effort to distance" as well.
Titelman also noted that emotional cutoff "is not created or sustained by a single individual" and that it "takes two or more individuals to sustain it" and "at least one parent and a child" for it to occur. Emotional cutoff is often the outcome of covert incest.