• Samantha Fogel, Student Therapist

Coping With Emotional Numbness

Have you ever felt as though you are moving through your life on autopilot? Nothing seems to make you feel any particular way? You feel like you’re just passively existing? You feel empty and detached from yourself and your surroundings? If you answered yes to these questions, then you are probably experiencing emotional numbness.

Emotional numbness means that you feel disconnected from your emotions and your inner world. You may have a hard time labelling what you are feeling, or you may feel nothing at all, and this can be a really difficult, confusing, and isolating experience. However, know that you are not alone in feeling this way.

Emotional numbness is most commonly seen in people who experience depression or depressive episodes; however, it can also occur in people with various mental health challenges such as trauma, anxiety, or general stress.

What is interesting about emotional numbness is that it can actually come about from having a consistent and relentless surplus of difficult or painful emotions happening all at the same time that simply become too overpowering for our mind and bodies to handle, leading to emotional burnout. Emotional burnout can turn into emotional numbness if the burnout persists and the emotions are not addressed and processed early on. This surplus of emotions could be the result of a traumatic experience, or simply feeling overwhelmed. As such, in response, our emotional processing system essentially shuts down in an effort to help us cope, and acts as a protective mechanism, shielding us from the intensity of our emotional pain. At this point, we might begin to feel like we are just drifting through life, or as if we are out of touch with ourselves and our surroundings. In psychological terms, this is called derealization and depersonalization.

Derealization and depersonalization are forms of dissociation. Derealization is a mental state in which your surroundings, including objects and people, might feel surreal to you. This may also include feeling like you are in a dream-like state. Depersonalization, on the other hand, can make you feel as though you are having an out-of-body experience where you are watching yourself live your life from outside of your body. Your mind and body may feel separate from each other.

If you are reading this post and feel like you connect with the above information or know someone who may be feeling this way, do not panic. There are things you can do, and signs to look out for to help you understand your situation better, and reconnect with your emotions.

Here are some signs to look out for that indicate you may be experiencing emotional numbness:

1. You are unable to experience both positive emotions, like happiness or joy, and negative emotions, like sadness or fear

2. You gain zero pleasure from any activities you used to take part in, and struggle to feel motivated

3. You frequently feel fatigued, and may not be receiving signals that our bodies typically receive, such as hunger or thirst signals

4. The memories of your life start to feel like somebody else’s stories

5. You’ve lost touch with your own interests, passions, and dreams

6. You constantly feel bored but don’t have the energy or can’t think of anything to do to change it

7. You have lost interest in interacting with others and feel detached from family and friends

If you feel like these warning signs ring true, there are several things you can do!

1. Look through an old photo album or pictures on your phone.

Try to notice if anything comes up for you emotionally. This could be anything from feeling nostalgic or wistful, to noticing yourself smiling as you reminisce. Try to remember how you felt in those moments when the pictures were being taken. Additionally, you can try to take pictures of places or objects you encounter throughout your day. They may not prompt any feelings right off the bat, but over time if this is done consistently, you may be able to see a pattern or theme developing that could be tied back to your emotions and how you are feeling. In doing this consistently, you can begin to reactivate your emotions and reduce derealization and depersonalization.

2. Find songs that bring back emotions you had previous to experiencing emotional numbness, and preferably songs that are emotionally charged.

These songs could evoke happy emotions, or sadder, deeper emotions. It may even be helpful to create specific playlists for a particular mood or emotion. When you are listening to the music, try to notice if anything changes or feels different in your body. Many people don’t know this, but emotions can actually live inside our bodies, so if you feel something happening as you are listening to your music, this is a good sign that you are being present and starting to re-establish your mind-body connection.