There is something that can be worse than feeling furious or hopeless. Emotional numbness can evolve from various issues and cause serious damage.

You’re not alone if you can’t cry at a funeral. You’re also not a freak if you can’t laugh or smile on happy occasions. There is something else going on within you when experiencing the inability to feel. This is emotional numbness, and it has many recognizable symptoms. There are reasons why you cannot feel and there are also ways to heal this problem.

The Meaning of Emotional Numbness and Dissociation Explained

First of all, what is emotional numbness? It is a condition brought upon by years of building emotional blockades toward others and denying ourselves the right to feel.

Simply stated, emotional numbness is a result of dissociation. They are not one and the same – dissociation is a condition, while the state of being emotionally numb is what happens due to the condition.

When you disassociate yourself from emotion, you separate yourself from the situation attached to the emotion. For instance, when someone dies, if you are emotionally numb, you may not be able to cry. This doesn’t mean you are heartless. It simply means, well, it means many things. Let’s read on.

What Are the Symptoms of Emotional Numbness?

1. Feeling distant

One sign that you might be experiencing emotional numbness is the detachment of your mind from certain situations. Sometimes, you feel like you’re in your own body, while at other times, you may feel like you’re floating above it, looking at yourself. It’s not necessarily as an OBE (out of body experience), but more like watching a film of yourself. Something is wrong if you’re constantly viewing things from outside yourself.

2. Lack of participation

You watch others doing things, but you just cannot seem to join in. As far as your own hobbies or interests, you leave them behind as well. There’s just no desire for past hobbies or interests. Where others are concerned, you either want to watch instead of joining in, or you simply don’t want to be around to do anything. It just doesn’t matter to you.

3. Living a “flat” existence

It’s kind of hard to explain the “flat” existence, but it’s living a life of going through the everyday motions. When you’ve started to live a flat life, you just do the exact same thing from day to day, moment to moment. It’s neither negative or positive, it’s just motion.

4. In-ability for love or hate

What’s worse than being extremely angry at someone? That would be not caring one way or the other about anyone or anything. When you feel numb emotionally, you can’t feel love or hate.

5. You are empty inside

Some people become so numb, they turn into an emotional fog, a smoke that just dissipates into nothing. Unfortunately, having no feelings gets so deep that a hole erodes into your core. But even at this level, emotional numbness can be turned around. It starts with finding the cause. Which leads us to our next thoughts. What happened?

What Are the Causes of Emotional Numbness?

causes of emotional numbness

There’s not just one thing that steals away our feelings. No, there are many reasons this happens. That is why it can be difficult to pinpoint roots and help individuals cultivate normal emotions. I go through emotional numbness at times, but I don’t stay there inevitably. My numbness usually stems from deep roots in childhood. Unfortunately, it’s a numbness that I still often fall right back into with certain triggers. It happens to many of us. Delving into this problem, there are reasons.

1. Childhood trauma

The most common reason why people experience emotional numbness is childhood trauma. These events can be one or more of the basic abuses experienced while growing up. For example, if you were sexually abused, you might grow up to dissociate automatically during normal intimate situations. You can be a married woman with a fairly healthy intimate life, and yet, you can still separate yourself from your mate emotionally at times.

Physical, verbal, mental, and definitely emotional abuse can also lead to emotional deficits like numbness. It just depends on how you respond to treatments, or whether you received any treatments in the past. Some people never even tell anyone else about going through these things. What’s worse – some people cannot even remember due to a sort of dissociation that developed during the time of the abuse.

2. Substance use

Substance abuse has a category all its own. This is because substances such as drugs, alcohol, or other things can greatly alter the mind in a whole different way. With other types of abuse, the mistreatment generally comes from outer influences, but with substance abuse, after any initial outside influence, the abuse continues as self-inflicted harm.

It’s called addiction, and these addictions, usually drawn from some initial starting point, can bring about numb sensations. Sometimes, as with drugs, these substances can cause immediate emotional numbness because of chemical content. The same can be said for alcohol. Think about it this way, alcohol greatly numbs the skin, often keeping you from feeling the extent of certain pains or injuries. It can do the same to your mind. As with other addictions that don’t seem to fit into any neat category, emotional numbness can come from the inability to “kick the habit”.

3. Mental illness such as anxiety or depression

This cause of emotional numbness can come from childhood trauma, genetics, domestic violence, adult trauma, or any other thing that alters the mind and emotions forcibly. You can be born with the pre-determined destiny to inherit depression.

Anxiety can come from domestic violence. PTSD can come from wartime trauma and any other event or part of your life that sparks fear. From mental illness such as anxiety or depression, you can experience symptoms and one of these symptoms happens to be emotional numbness.

Take panic attacks for instance. When I experience these attacks, I have trouble breathing, my heart rate increases, and then I experience all sorts of random abnormalities in my behavior. Sometimes, I just become numb. My skin will either itch, or I won’t be able to feel a thing. The worst part is for many hours afterward, I will become emotionally numb. I can’t laugh, I can’t smile and I feel like a brittle piece of paper floating through the air.

Individuals with mental illness do experience emotionally numb symptoms, and they go through this in various ways – more ways than I can explain in an hour’s time.

4. Medications

Certain medications can also alter the way you think and even the way you feel. In fact, one of my medications does take away the severity of my emotions. If I take more or less, the amount of lost emotions differs. This just makes sense. Some of these medications are used for anxiety, while some are administered for manic states of bipolar disorder.

There are also medications given for physical problems, and the side effects don’t only cause headaches and nausea and such, but can also cause emotional numbness as well. When I take any sort of narcotic pain reliever, I seem to lose a small bit of emotion. Yes, these medications do cause an altered state of mind, but they can sometimes temporarily take away the ability to feel joy or anger.

5. Loss of a loved one

You can also experience the lack of feeling when someone close to you dies, especially when it’s a mother, father, or sibling. When a mate dies, it can be even harder. Learning to live without someone close to you that spent years, even decades of their life in your company can have a devastating effect.

It can be so horrible that you forget how to feel grief, love, or even anger. Losing a loved one can cause many different feelings, and this includes the inability to have any feelings at all. I’ve been through this too, on more than one occasion. I’ve also witnessed one dying relative live with denial of their own impending death. This was especially hard to watch.

How to Overcome Emotional Numbness?

How to overcome emotional numbness

To be quite honest, some people just train themselves to avoid difficult emotions. This provides a little insight into how to treat the problem. You can do things both professionally and as maintenance measures to help you embrace your emotions. Many will tell you to try professional help first, so we can start with that.

Treatment Options:

1. Acceptance and Commitment therapy

This type of therapy is useful for those who suffer from PTSD and many mental health problems. ACT helps you recognize when you’re avoiding feelings due to experiences. When recognized, this therapy can help you understand how it’s good to feel both the negative and positive emotions that come with life.

2. Psychotherapy

This type of therapy basically finds the root of your problem. It recognizes that your lack of emotions is not natural, of course, and they must have a point of origin. Psychotherapy also coaxes feelings to the surface, even negative ones, so that the patient can learn how to process them in a healthy manner.

3. Cognitive Behavioral therapy

Not only does CBT help you bring forth your feelings, but it also helps you learn how to properly deal with them instead of using emotional numbness as a defensive mechanism to push them down again. Cognitive-behavioral therapy addresses your unhealthy coping skills and helps you turn them into powerful and positive solutions.

How to Maintain Good Emotional Health to Avoid Feeling Numb?

You can also deal with emotional numbness on your own as well. There are a few ways that your feelings can be pulled to the surface by consistent physical and mental maintenance. Or rather, you can use lifestyle modifications that cause emotions to even surface naturally.

1. Cut out stress

Stress can be a huge contributor to emotional numbness. It can literally suck the emotions right out of you for a long time. So eliminating this stress as much as possible is one answer. Some stressors will be difficult than others to eliminate, but you must cut something negative loose in order to feel again.

There are many ways stress sneaks in, as well, and one of the most common sources is the unhealthy relationship. Getting relationship counseling is one way to help, ending the relationship is another. I can’t tell you which is better, but you will begin to understand the route to take. The same goes for jobs, friends, and toxic family members as well. Deal with it, or get away from it. It’s necessary.

2. Get plenty of rest

The lack of sleep due to things like certain medications, stress, mental health symptoms like anxiety, and others can gradually rob you of your basic positive emotions. Regulating your sleep patterns can help you gain back a healthy sense of being. In order to regulate those sleeping patterns, however, you have to deal with whatever is causing you to lose sleep and making you feel fatigued.

You already know you have to eliminate stress, but maybe you need to speak with your doctor about changing medications. Maybe you need to speak to your therapist about your mental health symptoms. Of course, this is where professional therapy comes in. Whatever you need to do, get your sleep patterns back in order.

3. Keep a healthy support system

You will always need a group of friends and family that will allow you to feel free. Sometimes, you unknowingly teach yourself to hide your emotions to avoid fights or confrontations. Having a good support system that allows you to show your anger and work out frustrations is a huge key to healing from emotional numbness. Make sure you pick the right group of people or even one really good friend. These are the ones who will let you be yourself, which is an integral part of this healing.

4. Use creativity

If you cannot express your emotions through speaking, then maybe you can be creative. Painters are notorious for expressing repressed feelings in oil and acrylics.

In the past, some individuals weren’t allowed to express themselves due to laws. But painters could make beautiful works of art that some didn’t understand. Only the painter could reveal their true intention and emotion behind the work, and they could reveal it to whomever they felt would keep them safe. You can also express emotions this way, and if you feel numb, pushing that paintbrush or tapping those keys will help open you up.

5. Meditation

Did you know that meditation and mindfulness can solve many of your problems? I think they can solve almost all of them, including the horror of emotional numbness. Focus, centering, being in the present, aromatherapy, and prayer can all coax out what’s thought to be dead space from within you. Enlightenment can marry you with your true emotions and help you control them as well.

Emotional Numbness, Go Away!

At one time or the other, I think we’ve all experienced this numb state. Whether it was from trauma or isolation, most of us learned how to resurface from the depths of this hole. You may fear the grips of emotional lack right now, and you may be stuck in the hopelessness of succumbing to this demon.

But before you slip under the waves, take my hand. I’ve been there, I go there still sometimes, and it’s not without hope. If you suffer from emotional numbness, please take a second look at some of the symptoms, causes, and solutions, so you too can learn to feel emotions in a healthy manner.

I look forward to your comments and suggestions. Thank you.

Sherrie Hurd, A.A.

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Richard Thorn

    So comforting to dead how the condition can emerge. It’s not a non-treatable mental issue. The article neatly explains the causes and symptoms. Thank you for this.

    1. Sherrie Hurd, A.A.

      No, it’s treatable. A person just has to want to get help in order to get this treated. Yes, you can live with it, and I do. However, some people cannot deal appropriately with emotional numbness and often turn to negative solutions. Thank you for reading, Richard.

  2. Avatar
    Anonymous

    I am in this situation right now and its because multiple stressors are occurring simultaneously and are not short-lived.
    Chronic pain, unemployment, worrying about money, dealing with illness and euthanasia of a pet, dealing with a non-functional alcoholic, dealing with a retired spouse that does nothing around the house, having to spend a lot of time at home. You shut down because it is all just too much.

    1. Sherrie Hurd, A.A.

      Yes, you can start to shut down, but this is beyond emotional numbness, and unfortunate. There are ways to deal with emotional numbness, and if you are afraid you’re actually shutting down, you need to seek support right now. A good therapist would be ideal as well. Let me share a little about therapists that I have encountered. They listen. Maybe you have used one, and maybe not. If you haven’t, then just know that they will listen and they expect you to tell them what you want to talk about. I used to get frustrated by this. I would go in and sit waiting on them to whip out my magic solution to all my problems, but they never did that. It’s important to do just what you did here…open up. It’s not for them so they can give you the answer. It’s for you so you can hear it from your own lips. When you hear these things out loud, you will know what needs to be done. Just remember, you are important, and your mental health has to be at the top of your priorities. Until it is, you cannot help with other things. When you feel like you’re shutting down, go find someone somewhere to talk to…but make sure it’s someone who will not take advantage of you. If possible, please seek a good therapist. Sometimes, you cannot pull that weight on your own, and you are worth saving.

      I wish you well.

  3. Avatar
    Jasmin

    I’ve been experiencing emotional numbness for quite some time now. What a relief to read this article. You feel not alone in this situation. At times I feel like a freak whenever I’m supposed to cry and I do feel like I want to cry but nothing comes out. A sociopath kind of feeling. I think my issue comes from a childhood trauma (emotional abuse), and the meds that I’m taking against schizoaffective disorder, and perhaps from the illness itself. Has anyone experienced the first type of therapy mentioned in this article (Acceptance and Commitment therapy)? Sounds interesting.

  4. Avatar
    Don

    The only time I experienced this was through depression which lasted quite some time. It is difficult to become emotionally vested in another when it is at its worst. Curiously though, there were also times I became overly vested in another from depressive effects. Perhaps that is due to being able to directly feel them as you are lost in yourself, and I say that because my main symptom was ’empty inside’. It doesn’t make much sense, but seems that way. Another good article.

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