What is emotional numbness?
Emotional numbing is a mental and emotional process whereby one shuts off their feelings and reactions. This means that those who feel emotionally numb tend to feel disconnected from the world and the people around them. Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., LMFT explains that ‘while emotional numbing blocks or shuts down negative feelings and experiences, it also shuts down the ability to experience pleasure, engage in positive interactions and social activities, and interferes with openness for intimacy, social interests, and problem-solving skills’. Numbness can be brought about due to intense stress, trauma, anxiety, depression, and PTSD among others.
There are 5 signs you might be experiencing emotional numbness:
1. You cannot feel and express emotions
You are incapable of feeling both negative and positive feelings; instead, you feel as though you are in a constant state of neutrality. It follows then that you find it difficult – or even impossible – to express emotions as you struggle feeling them in the first place.
2. You engage in mind-numbing activities
Instead of engaging in activities that require creativity or socializing, you prefer mind-numbing activities such as watching TV. What is more, you do not actually gain any real pleasure from these activities but because they do not require any effort on your part, you engage in them so as to distance yourself from the world.
3. You feel disconnected from your body and its needs
You feel lifeless and you fail to notice (or even receive) signals regarding hunger, thirst, or tiredness. Thus, you feel no connection between your physical body and yourself.
4. You feel as though you are in auto-pilot mode
You often find that it feels as though you are not participating in the events which happen in your life. Instead, you feel like a passive observer or a robot in auto-pilot mode.
5. You no longer have an interest in the things you used to enjoy
Now, your hobbies and even your closest friends seem to bore you. Even though you try to show an interest, you are overwhelmed by one thought: “What’s the point?”
Emotional numbness is not a permanent state.
It is important to know and remember that the way you feel is temporary. As with every self-development journey, learning how to feel again is a long and difficult process. However, with willpower, patience, and determination, you can regain control of your life.
1. Get in touch with your physical body
It is to be expected that when one feels emotionally numb and disconnected from their body, exercising may be the last thing they want to do. However, getting in touch with your physical body and engaging in exercises such as swimming, running, or yoga can awaken your feelings and remind you what it is like to feel alive.
2. Visualize the barrier between you and the world
Think deeply about how you are feeling and try to visualize the barrier that you feel between you and the external world. Imi Lo suggests asking yourself the following questions to gain more insight on how you are feeling:
- How thick is the barrier?
- What is it made of? Is it cold metal? Plastic? Or maybe cotton wool?
- Does it feel cold or warm? Does it move around?
- Has it remained static or grown in thickness over time?
- Do you see that it now has cracks in it?
- If your barrier has a personality and a voice, what is it saying to you?
- Are you ready to let it go?
Acknowledge that the walls you’ve built have served a purpose and recognize that you do not need them any longer. Imi Lo stresses the importance of positive affirmations as they write that you might consider repeating the following phrase when visualizing the wall you’ve built: “Thank you for protecting me all these years. Without you, couldn’t live through those hard times. However, I am stronger now, and I no longer need you. I promise you, I will take care of myself. It is safe for us to say goodbye.”
While these three points are helpful to many, some will find that they may need to seek professional help to get a better idea of how they can learn to feel again. At the end of the day, the important thing to remember is that you have all it takes to overcome the state you’re in.