Feeling emotionally numb can happen as a result of physical or emotional pain. In an attempt to protect yourself from being hurt again, it's not uncommon to disconnect, detach, or numb out feelings related to the situation. When this happens, you may feel temporary relief that allows you to move on.
What is the cause of feeling numb? Feeling emotionally numb commonly arises as an unconscious protective response to feeling difficult emotions, whether due to anxiety, stress or trauma. Experts regard it as a form of dissociation, a process that allows us to unconsciously protect ourselves from emotional pain.
Below are a few examples of why people become emotionally numb.
Here are some common reasons associated with emotional numbing include:
Physical or Emotional Pain: The brain may numb itself to protect you from feeling intense amounts of pain or sadness or anxiety in situations that may be deemed traumatic.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The Summit Wellness Group says, “when someone experiences a specific situation that leads to PTSD, the brain will try to shut out any negative emotions, but this can also lead to shutting out the positive emotions as well which is why many people struggling with PTSD appear mentally or physically distant at times”.
Grief: Sometimes, when the grief that is felt becomes too much, the brain will numb itself to feelings to protect itself from the unpleasantness of sadness and loss. The brain doesn’t want to feel negative emotions, so instead, it will turn off the ability to process any emotions.
Overwhelming Stress: Many people who experience intense anxiety, and even those who just have an episode of extreme stress, may experience some form of emotional numbing because of that stress. Our body’s response to stressors is a survival technique, however, too much anxiety for an extended period of time can lead to fatigue, depression, and emotional numbing.
Depression: The Summit Wellness Group says, “one of the side effects of depression is an inability to feel positive emotions, feeling drowsy, and not like yourself”.
Physical, Mental, or Emotional Abuse: A lot of trauma victims will experience emotional numbing to protect themselves from the experience that caused them so much pain. This is why sometimes people will forget what they experienced or only remember bits and pieces because their brain was trying to protect them from the trauma.
Drug Addiction: Drugs can affect our emotions in a number of ways. Sometimes people abuse substances to stop feeling things like anxiety or depression, and sometimes the use of a drug can induce emotional numbing.
Medications or Health Conditions: A side effect of some medications, especially those used to treat mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, or a side effect of some medical conditions may be emotional numbing or an inability to express one’s emotions.
According to the Newport Institute, “not letting in our emotions keeps us from processing and healing the cause of those feelings. Moreover, pushing hard feelings away can make it hard to feel anything at all—whether that’s love, happiness, surprise, or even interest. Over time, detachment from our emotions can affect our sense of identity, relationships with other people, and even our physical well-being.”
There is a famous quote by Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston and author of “The Gifts of Imperfection: Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life” that states, “We cannot selectively numb emotion. If we numb the dark, we numb the light. If we take the edge off pain and discomfort, we are, by default, taking the edge off joy, love, belonging, and the other emotions that give meaning to our lives.”
If you are thinking, what are the symptoms of emotional numbness? Here is your answer as described by verywellmind.com including extra resource material for your learning pleasure.
Experiencing an inability to fully participate in life.
Failing to access your feelings.
Feeling flat, both physically and emotionally.
Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy.
Preferring isolation rather than being with others.
Did you ask if feeling numb is a coping mechanism? That is a great question!
As a coping tool, emotional numbing can manifest as avoidance, denial, and detachment and can actually prevent you from experiencing healthy processes of confrontation, problem-solving, and emotion management that are important avenues of growth for people.
Coping mechanisms manifest into numbing which includes those behaviors we engage in to distract, avoid, or distance ourselves from our present emotional experience, and we most often engage in numbing behavior to avoid difficult emotions such as fear, shame, grief, sadness, despair, and disappointment.
Those behaviors present themselves as activities that are included but are not limited to drinking, drug use (over the counter, prescription medication and illicit drugs are all included here), shopping, binging on Netflix, scrolling or social media use, talking, busy-ness and food.
Here is another way of looking at the numbing mechanism shared by me and our community friends. Which is your coping mechanism of choice? Share in the comments below.
Eating an entire pint of ice cream or maybe two. Using drinking excessively to run away from your problems. Shopping excessively. Scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, Youtube shorts, watching Netflixs, HBO Max, or Disney channel for hours. Using recreational drugs such as marijuana, cocaine or heroin. Engaging in risky sexual behavior. Sleeping for days. These are all examples of using coping mechanisms to distract you from dealing with the challenge or situation before you.
Now that you are beginning to understand what coping mechanisms are and how they arrive in your life. Begin breaking down how to recognize the differences between what you want and what you’ve been doing in your process to numb your feelings and start to assess your values.
Here are the top 16 ways to stop numbing your emotions, increase your awareness and begin healing by helping yourself notice how you feel.
Practice mindfulness meditation to increase awareness of your emotions.
Identify the triggers that cause you to numb your emotions and avoid them.
Engage in physical activity to release tension and pent-up emotions.
Write in a journal to process and express your emotions.
Seek support from a therapist or counselor.
Practice self-compassion and self-care.
Allow yourself to feel your emotions without judgment.
Cultivate positive relationships with supportive people.
Practice gratitude and focus on the positive aspects of your life.
Engage in creative activities to express your emotions.
Practice deep breathing exercises to calm your mind and body.
Set healthy boundaries to protect your emotional wellbeing.
Identify and challenge negative thought patterns that contribute to emotional numbing.
Learn healthy coping mechanisms to manage difficult emotions.
Engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.
Seek professional help if emotional numbing persists or becomes overwhelming.
The information provided guides you in understanding the cause for your emotional numbing as the key to seeking treatment that will actually help. Because there is typically an underlying reason for that numbness, treating just your ability to feel emotions won’t solve the core problem and may cause a relapse of emotional numbing. Booking your complimentary consultation about your numbness is the first step in getting help, because I am able to pinpoint where the emotional numbing came from and how to best treat the source. If you don’t treat the underlying causes, such as PTSD, and you focus solely on treating one symptom, the likelihood of relapsing back into emotional numbness is high.
In my coaching practice I use a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) depending on the underlying causes of your emotional numbing. Both therapies place emphasis on the internal thoughts and emotions that may have led to emotional numbness and help you learn to feel and accept those emotions without focusing on the negative aspects causing the numbing.
I trust you gained so much information from learning the top 16 ways to stop numbing your emotions. It is my sincere wish for you to have robust and flexible relationships that are solution focused and through using the information above you will get from where you are to where you want to be.
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