What causes emotional numbness?
There are many causes of emotional numbness. Two of the most common causes are depression and anxiety. Often, when we do not deal with our emotions and suppress them, numbness follows. We become so accustomed to learning how to ‘not feel’ that we end up numb. The problem with feeling numb is that we live a life that is ‘unplugged’. This is an expression I use and compare numbness to being unplugged from the electricity (life). There are no highs and lows, you are just surviving.
No one wants to feel unhappy or upset but suppressing emotions in an attempt to not feel negative emotions is a short lived strategy. Emotional energy has to go somewhere and when it is internalised and suppressed, it often leads to anxiety and depression.
In some cases, your body can become so stressed that you become overtaxed emotionally and physically fatigued. That depletion of both emotional and physical energy can create emotional numbness.
Emotional numbness can sometimes be traced back to a person’s childhood. If there was neglect or abuse, a child can learn to suppress emotion in order to cope with the emotional trauma. This becomes a habit that is continued into adulthood. It doesn’t serve and adult though who is more powerful than a child and it interferes greatly with interpersonal relationships. Healthy relationships involve an exchange of thoughts and feelings in order to feel connected. An emotional investment is important for a mentally healthy individual. Feeling disconnected (unplugged) from others will ultimately lead to further mental health issues if not dealt with appropriately.
Signs of emotional numbness
You find it difficult to empathise with others and can’t put yourself in their shoes.
You find it hard to identify emotions.
You rationalise life events rather than feeling them. You operate on a cognitive level only.
You tend to internalise problems rather than talk to others about them.
You may lack strong opinions and be passive.
You struggle to maintain healthy long term relationships.
Indecisiveness can be a feature of emotional numbness.
You rarely talk about inner feelings and thoughts.
How to treat emotional numbness
One of the best ways to alleviate emotional numbness is to learn to identify feelings and label them. I give some clients a diagram (see below) and ask them to write down any emotions they notice and use the emotion wheel to help them:
The wheel lists simple and complex emotions and helps someone who feels emotionally detached to get into the habit of identifying feelings. It can take a while but being tuned in to any emotions is a good start to begin identifying and labelling them.
Get used to talking and communicating more. Speak up about what is going on internally for you. What is your inner dialogue?
See a counsellor to help you unpack your inner emotional world. You may surprise yourself.
Emotional numbness serves its purpose in the short term but in the long term in can lead to feelings of chronis emptiness and loneliness. Face your fears and learn to feel again. Feeling is a risk but that’s what life is all about – the highs and the lows. I know I would rather feel alive than feel disconnected, as if I am on the outside looking in.
Photo by dollen