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Why Do You Feel Emotionally Numb?

Emotional numbness often feels like a persistent feeling of emptiness or 'deadness' inside. Some people describe emotional numbness as a sense of apathy or total indifference. It can sometimes coincide with a specific stressor, but it's also a feature of several mental health disorders.

What's Happening When You're Feeling Emotionally Numb?

Emotional numbness exists on a spectrum and can feel different for everyone.

If you feel numb, there's a good chance your body and mind are protecting you from experiencing emotional pain. This can come in the form of several defense mechanisms, including suppression, denial, minimization, avoidance, and intellectualization. Many people are also used to numbing their physical or emotional pain with mood-altering substances that induce a sense of emotional blunting.

What Causes Emotional Numbness?

Emotional numbness happens when people emotionally shut down from their feelings. The causes of emotional numbness are varied, but they may include:

History of emotional abuse or trauma: Traumatic experiences activate the body's fight-flight-freeze-fawn system, and people with emotional numbness may disproportionately 'freeze' when they feel overwhelmed or experience other strong emotions.

Medication side effects: Some medications blunt emotional expression. These effects may dissipate over time, but make sure to address them with your doctor or psychiatrist.

Prolonged grief: Grief and loss can trigger emotional numbness. Sometimes you may not really "feel" in response to what happened. However, the emotions may cascade over you several months or years after the loss.

Depersonalization derealization disorder: Dissociative disorders coincide with feeling emotionally numb. These are often in response to unresolved trauma, and symptoms may include feeling disconnected from your body or the outside world. Severe symptoms may include spurts of amnesia or feeling like you don't have a core sense of self.

Drug abuse: Substance use often emerges as a way to reduce negative emotions. But over time, the substances can hijack your ability to feel anything at all.

Is It Bad to Numb Emotional Pain?

There's nothing wrong with occasionally numbing negative feelings from time to time. Some emotional responses feel so overwhelming that distracting them can be the best course of action.

But if you persistently numb your emotions, you may be jeopardizing your mental health. Despite your intentions, you can't just selectively numb negative emotions. If you're in a state of emotional numbness, you also risk stunting your positive emotions. This speaks to the flatness most people who experience emotional numbness feel.

How Do You Overcome Emotional Numbness?

We tend to be wired to healing, and the mind and body can be incredibly resilient. Even though your emotions may scare you, learning to sit with difficult feelings is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. This is especially true if you have a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Label your emotions: Practice identifying how you feel in a given moment. Even if you aren't totally sure, your best guess is good enough. Over time, you'll gain more insight into how certain feelings affect you, and you'll also become increasingly aware of when you tend to experience numbness.

Share your feelings with another person: Emotional numbness can fester in isolation. Intimacy can be one of the antidotes to "thawing" yourself out and embracing more emotion. Of course, this can feel vulnerable, so you want to ensure that you vet safe people.

Recognize dissociation: Dissociation exists on a wide spectrum, and it's important to remember that it's an involuntary coping mechanism intended to keep you safe from intense emotional experiences. That said, you can learn to gently break free from dissociation by practicing relaxation exercises and affirmations that root you back into the present moment.

Reduce or abstain from substance abuse: Emotional numbing from drugs and alcohol can provide immediate relief and help you temporarily cope with intense feelings. However, they can also perpetuate cycles of complete disconnection from yourself.

Seek professional support: Sometimes treating emotional numbness requires treating underlying stress, unresolved trauma, or other mental health issues. If that's the case, you may benefit from working with a mental health professional trained in emotional identification.

Strengthening Emotional Resilience and Emotional Competence With Resurface Group

Feeling disconnected from your emotions sometimes provides a crucial buffer preventing you from feeling too overwhelmed. But if you struggle with chronic emotional detachment, you may walk through life chronically feeling numb and isolated from the world around you.

At Resurface Group, we are deeply passionate about helping people achieve a greater sense of fulfillment in daily life. We treat all types of mental illness, including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and substance use disorders.

We will help you understand your symptoms of emotional numbness and create a comprehensive treatment intended to help you heal (beyond just experiencing temporary relief). Wherever you are on your journey, we look forward to meeting you there.

Contact us today to learn more about our dynamic programs, including Resurface Connect, our virtual IOP program providing services to clients throughout the state of California.

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