Emotional numbness is something we have all prayed for at some point. You know exactly what I’m talking about: about those moments when you feel as if you’ve reached your breaking point and as if you can’t take it anymore.
I’m talking about the moments when you’d rather feel empty than sad and miserable. I’m talking about the moments when the possibility of shutting your feelings off looks like paradise.
But, be careful what you wish for – you might just get it. What happens when you achieve emotional numbness?
Well, let me tell you that it looks nothing like it did in your dreams. In fact, not having any emotions whatsoever is scary to the point that it makes you dead from the inside.
When you reach this stage, you’ll give anything to have your ability to feel back. Nevertheless, things don’t always go that easily.
It’s not like you can snap your fingers and reverse the entire process. Instead, there are some steps you have to take before successfully overcoming emotional numbness.
But, before that, let’s check out what emotional numbing is and what causes it.
Emotional Numbness Meaning
Emotional numbing or anhedonia is not a mental illness, but it certainly does impact your mental health. Simply put, being emotionally numb means not feeling literally anything and being immune to all possible stimuli.
Yes, you don’t cry anymore, but you don’t laugh either. You are saved from sadness, but you’re deprived of happiness as well.
This is a state of utter indifference. From the outside, you live a completely normal life, but from the inside, there is nothing but this huge and endless void that disconnects you from the world.
Emotional Numbness Symptoms
You don’t become emotionally numb all of a sudden. In fact, there are certain red flags that are clear indicators that you’re stepping on the path of becoming emotionally detached.
Some of the symptoms of emotional numbness are similar to symptoms of depression. They include depersonalization, derealization, dissociation… Look out for these alarms and check if you can relate to most (or all) of them.
Stepping back from your loved ones
The first and the most common symptom you’ll feel if you suspect yourself of being emotionally numb is detachment from your loved ones.
I’m not talking about the people who have done you harm here (yes, you can still love the ones who hurt you – in fact, it happens more frequently than you might imagine).
I’m talking about your closest friends and family members. All of a sudden, you feel like you’re not so connected to your best friend or a sibling.
The worst part is that there is absolutely no reason for this to happen. They haven’t done anything to you, you two didn’t argue, and you’re still physically present in each other’s lives.
But, somehow, you feel like the bond that kept you together has disappeared. It’s like someone cut the cord that connected you with everyone, and you are left like a balloon floating around the clouds – all alone.
You try to change this. You try to literally force yourself to love these people the way you used to.
Nevertheless, it appears that all of your attempts are in vain. You’re growing more and more distant from everyone around and it looks like there is nothing to be done about it.
Solitude and isolation
Even though you used to be a true extrovert, lately, that has changed. There is no trace of the social butterfly you once were.
Instead of spending time with your friends, family, and coworkers, lately, you prefer solitude over everything else. You’re off of all social media, you avoid any type of gathering, and you spend all of your time by yourself.
Don’t get me wrong: there comes a period in our lives when we all want and need some time off. You want to recharge your batteries and could use some privacy.
But, when it comes to you, this period has been lasting for a while now. In fact, it seems that it has surpassed a phase – it has become your lifestyle.
You voluntarily socially isolated yourself and you avoid all possible human contact – except the one you’re forced to maintain.
Love and hate don’t stand a chance against indifference
People assume that love and hate are the strongest emotions out there. Even though these two feelings are two sides of the same coin, there is something that surpasses them.
There is something stronger than any emotion: the absence of emotions.
If you come to think of it, this is exactly what you’ve been feeling lately: nothing. Isn’t it ironic? The fact that you feel nothing overwhelms you.
When you’re in emotional pain, you’d give everything to achieve indifference. You think of it as the best way to go through life.
After all, almost nothing and nobody can touch you. You’re unbothered by people’s efforts to break your heart simply because you don’t have one.
You can’t seem to get angry, and you have forgotten what it means to hate. You don’t cry and you don’t go through stages of grief or sadness.
You don’t miss people, you don’t hold grudges against them, and you’re convinced that you could live all alone in this world since no one’s loss would shake your entire world.
Sounds almost too good to be true.
But, let’s not forget about one thing. When you become indifferent, you not only lose the bad and unwanted emotions.
You not only lose the ability to hate – you also become incapable of loving. Sadness is not the only thing that goes away – positive emotions, including happiness, also follow it.
This is exactly what has been going on with you. You’ve become emotionally unavailable and insensitive.
Losing interest in the things that used to make you happy
All of the sudden, you’re not looking for a new day. All the little things that used to bring you joy have become totally irrelevant.
You’ve lost interest in activities that used to make you happy. You’ve stopped looking forward to the weekend, you no longer anticipate your vacation, your hobbies have become dull, and no accomplishment can fulfill you anymore.
You’re empty and all you feel is this abyss inside of you. All of a sudden, this numbness isn’t so great, is it?
It is when you lose control that you repress your emotions – not when you’re in control
Most people think that the ones who are struggling with emotional numbing have lost the ability to feel. All of their emotions are wiped away and have died out, but the truth is quite different.
You see, each one of your sensations is still there – you’ve just buried them deep inside of you. I’m not saying you did it on purpose or even consciously, but either way, it happened.
So now, everything is piling inside of you. These huge piles of happiness, sadness, love, hate, anger, resentment, joy, and compassion have jumbled together.
They’re not disappearing with time. Instead, the piles are getting bigger and bigger, and the more you try to push them down, the more they grow.
Finally, you become incapable of reaching them. You’ve spent so much time training yourself not to feel anything that your emotions have hidden from you, so now you can’t get to them – even if you want to.
It seems that you can’t make yourself feel anything. You’ve repressed your emotions to the point where you have forgotten how to use them properly.
Not just that: you’re also scared of even taking a peek at them. You’re terrified of what you might find there, and more importantly, you wonder if you’ll be able to handle it.
What you have to be aware of here is that repressing your emotions is a red flag that you’ve lost control over yourself, even though you think otherwise.
You think that ignoring your feelings is an act of emotional and mental strength. You think that by doing this, you’ve finally learned how to govern yourself while you’re doing completely the opposite.
You’re making the most cowardly move ever – you’re running away from parts of you in hopes of erasing them. You consider yourself too weak to be in actual control and to look your demons in the eye.
Witnessing your life vs participating in it
Emotionally numb people don’t live their life – they merely witness it. You’re not the leading role of your own movie – you’re nothing more than an extra, or even worse: a part of the audience.
This is known as depersonalization or derealization. You’re nothing but an alien in your life and you’re detached from the world around you.
If you dig a little deeper in yourself, you’ll see that this is exactly how you can describe your every day. It’s like life is passing by you and you’re not doing anything to participate in it.
It’s like you’ve exited your body a long time ago and you’re just observing everything that’s going on to someone else – even though that someone else used to be you.
It’s a weird feeling, I know. You’re merely surviving, waiting for your end to come.
You don’t intend to leave a mark on this world. You’re not putting effort into spending every day as if it was your last or enjoying every breath you take.
You’re not doing anything at all to make the best of your time on Earth. It’s like you don’t see that you were put in this world for a reason. It is like you don’t notice that your life was a gift that you’re putting to waste.
You’re not living – you’re merely existing. You’re completely passive: instead of taking action, you allow things to happen to you.
What Causes Emotional Numbness?
There are different causes of emotional numbing. The most common medical causes are bipolar disorder, taking antidepressants, or substance abuse. All of these things might make you emotionally inert and apathetic.
On the other hand, it’s possible that hurtful events from your past made you emotionally numb. Insensitivity and disconnection from your own feelings is nothing but a coping mechanism and this is what causes it.
You were hurt to the point in which you no longer felt anything
As strong as you once were, you’ve always been a human being. This means that your heart was fragile, and that you had your weaknesses and vulnerable sides.
The point is that you’ve reached your maximum. You’ve reached a point where you simply can’t stand being hurt anymore.
Your heart was broken so many times that you had no other choice but to glue it back together one way or another.
People kept doing you harm one way or another. So, the only way to put that to an end was to shut yourself off emotionally for good.
Actually, you had two choices. You could continue taking blows and literally go insane because no human being can stand that amount of emotional pain.
Or, you could build high and thick walls around yourself. At the time, the second option looked like a life belt.
You were drowning in your mental soreness and you had to save yourself.
You didn’t do it consciously. It’s not as if you woke up one day and made the decision of becoming emotionally numb.
It just happened. It was your mind’s reaction to everything you have experienced.
Post-traumatic stress disorder as a life sentence
Sometimes, you are convinced that everything you went through in the past is long forgotten. When it happened, you found a way to cope with your pain. Maybe it wasn’t the healthiest path, but it was the only thing you could do.
I don’t know if it was something that happened back in your childhood. Maybe you had a toxic relationship that left unerasable consequences on you. Either way, the pain you went through changed you.
You went through a traumatic experience. Or, you just witnessed one, but were influenced by it heavily.
The point is that you have been living day after day pretending that nothing ever happened. You decided to ignore this event or this part of your life because you don’t have the courage to face it properly.
Well, let me tell you that the way you feel now is nothing but a reaction to that traumatic event. You might think you forgot all about it, but trust me – your emotional wounds never disappeared – they just turned into scars.
By choosing numbness, you actually sentenced yourself to life. Instead of handling your trauma and really leaving it behind you, you carry it around.
This way, it becomes your heaviest burden that weighs more and more with every day that goes by.
Not a victim, but a survivor
It is a proven fact that it’s not rare for victims of abuse to, in a way, die spiritually. I’m not talking about physical violence here: emotional, mental, and verbal abuse can get you down this road as well.
Why does this happen? Well, when you are subjected to any kind of violence, you are forced to develop different defense mechanisms to deal with your situation.
You can’t stand the humiliation, self-pity, self-loathing, and pain anymore. You’re surrounded by darkness and you see no way out.
So, the only choice you have here is to shut yourself off. You learn to turn off all of your emotions and you simply stop reacting to everything going on around you.
The only way to save yourself from this hell you’re going through is to retreat into your own mind. You create a world of your own and you stop paying attention to your reality and surroundings.
Once you achieve this, you become emotionally numb. You don’t have the strength to handle all of this emotional ache, so you learn to ignore it.
But, once again, you can’t choose which feelings you’ll embrace and which ones you will set aside. Therefore, you become emotionally detached from yourself.
Nevertheless, this continues happening even when you break the cycle of abuse. You keep on living as a victim and adopt these behavioral patterns as something completely normal.
In fact, you use this defense mechanism every time you find yourself in a potentially harmful situation. Basically, you live in denial, and you keep seeing yourself as a victim, even though you’re much more than that.
Well, let me tell you that you’re actually a survivor of abuse. Once you start seeing yourself in that way, you’ll start clearing your energy from trauma.
You’ll see that you also have what it takes to face all of your feelings as unpleasant and unwanted as they might be.
Once you start seeing yourself like that, your post-traumatic growth will start at last.
Steps To Successfully Overcoming Emotional Numbing
When you finally decide that it’s time to do something about your condition, that’s the first step towards recovery. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to note that you’ve been emotionally numb for some time now.
Therefore, you can’t expect to go back to your old ways overnight, can you? Instead, this is a healing process that goes step by step.
There is no point in healing the consequences before finding the cause
Here comes the scary part. This is the phase many would like to avoid, but at the same time, the phase which is crucial for your recovery.
When you try to heal the quickest way, you only focus on the consequences. You put all of your energy into making yourself currently better.
That works – for a while. But, after some time, you go back to your old ways, of course, without the intention of doing so.
That is exactly why you must cure the underlying cause before dealing with the consequences. Your numbness is the consequence while your traumatic experience is the cause.
I know that this is the last thing you want to do. After all, avoiding your past is what brought you here in the first place.
You invested so much effort into blocking your trauma and running away from your wounds, and now, someone is telling you that you have to do the opposite: you have to look them in the eyes.
Sadly, there is no other way to go. At least, not an efficient one.
Dig deep inside of yourself and do the best you can to realize what experience made you this way. Who cut your heart so bad that you’re still bleeding?
Having a support system is like having a safety net below you at all times
I don’t care how strong you might think you are – nobody deserves to go through something like this alone. That is exactly why you must surround yourself with people who will hold your hand through this difficult time.
Let’s go back to all of your friends and family you keep on ignoring lately. Well, they’re the ones who will help you the most.
These are the people you can call in the middle of the night whenever you’re going through some hard times. These are the people who will help you reconnect with yourself by reconnecting with them.
These are the people who will understand what you’re going through and who won’t judge you for any of it.
These are the people who will be there to catch you whenever you’re about to fall and who will collect your broken pieces and make you whole again.
Yes, you’re the creator of your own happiness. That means that the steering wheel of your own life is in your hands since you have all the responsibility on your shoulders.
But, that doesn’t mean that surrounding yourself with awesome passengers won’t help. They are your support system: your pillars and your safety net.
Activity is the medicine you need to take daily
I don’t care whether you’ll hit the gym, go hiking, or start riding a bike regularly – lifestyle changes are crucial for your recovery.
Trust me: any kind of activity will help you a lot – it will enrich your brain with endorphins and literally fill you with positive emotions.
Yes, most of these things are exhausting. I know that your schedule is tight and you’re too busy to start working out now.
But please, forget about the excuses. Forget about waiting for next Monday and start moving.
I assure you that you’ll start feeling much better in no time. At the end of the day, the important thing is to keep yourself occupied.
If you’re not into sports, there is always journaling, joining a book club, learning a new language, occupying your time with painting or music – whatever suits you the best.
You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf
I’ll be dead honest here: you can’t change everyone around you. In fact, you shouldn’t even try doing it.
When you go back to being sensitive, bad things will start happening to you again. People will hurt you and your heart will get broken – nobody can save you from that.
But, your goal shouldn’t be to impact your entire surroundings. You’re not here to change the world – you’re here to change yourself, and that’s more than enough.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you have to learn how to cope with negative emotions.
You have to learn how not to be affected by other people’s actions and how to find inner peace despite everything going on in the outside world.
The way to achieve this is through mindfulness. Instead of obsessing over the past and the future, being mindful means being present in the exact moment.
This is actually the most important step in fighting emotional detachment. Whatever is going on around you, take a step back and put all of your efforts into becoming aware of what you’re feeling at the moment.
You don’t judge yourself and you don’t make any presumptions. Instead, you just identify your emotions the way they truly are.
Breaking up with stress
Even though you can never erase the possibility of stress in your life, you can definitely move away from its known sources.
The less you expose yourself to unwanted emotions at this stage, the more willing you’ll be to overcome your numbness.
Cut ties with everyone who causes you stress and anxiety. If necessary and possible, change your surroundings.
It’s never too late to engage in another career, to get a divorce, or to find new friends – whatever suits you the best.
Finally, if you’re having a hard time dealing with your emotional detachment on your own, it’s time to look for a mental health professional.
This is especially important if you’re taking some antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications for another mental health condition whose side effect can be emotional numbing.
In that case, a licensed therapist will suggest to you some treatment options without these unwanted side effects.
A healthcare expert is also a part of your support system – they’re just someone who knows exactly what you’re going through.
Seeking counseling and therapy, or at least calling a helpline, will be one of the best choices you’ll ever make. You’ll be able to talk to the person who’ll help you realize what has been going on inside of you.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is there to identify your problem, to find its source, and most importantly: to lead you through your journey of recovery.
To Wrap Up:
Even though emotional numbness might seem satisfactory at the moment, the fact is that it can’t go on forever. You’ll snap out of it sooner or later, and it’s much better to get out of this state under your own terms.
Sadly, with time, being emotionally detached from everything and everyone, including yourself, has become your comfort zone. Well, now is the final time to step out of it and take the leap into the unknown. It’s time to start practicing emotional self-care.
I won’t lie to you: emotional processing won’t be all butterflies and roses. Instead, you’ll expose yourself to a range of unwanted emotions that you’ve been successfully avoiding.
But, at the same time, you’ll be capable of feeling all those emotions that make you human. Most importantly, you’ll feel alive once again.
And, believe me when I tell you that this sensation is worth all the trouble. Trust me: you’ll thank yourself later.