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Emotional Numbness Overview

What Is Emotional Numbing?

Emotional numbing is like a feeling of being emotionally “blank” or “distant.” It happens when someone finds it really hard to feel or show emotions, especially difficult emotions like sadness or anger.

People might experience this when they’re going through really tough times or have been through something really upsetting. Emotional numbing can act as a shield that helps them not feel overwhelmed by their emotions.

But, if it sticks around for a long time, it can make it tough to connect with others and handle emotions in a healthy way. It’s often linked to mental illnesses like PTSD and major depressive disorder.

Everyone experiences emotions differently. A certain movie might make some people cry and have no effect on others. This doesn’t mean those people are broken, just that they are unique. However, all humans should experience emotions in certain situations.

Emotional numbness is when you feel a strange lack of emotional reaction to situations that should affect you. Things that used to upset you don’t, and things that used to make you happy feel flat. This is what emotional numbing can do.

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What Does It Mean to Become Emotionally Numb?

People with healthy emotional and mental health experience a wide variety of emotions, when someone is numb, they may not feel those emotions or feel that they are muted.

When something upsetting happens, they may feel mad or sad. These feelings affect their mood, behavior, and sometimes physical experience. This is normal. Emotional numbness, however, is the lack of those feelings and reactions.

Because all people are unique, our emotions manifest in different ways. The same is true for emotional numbness. You may relate to some symptoms and not others. You may experience some emotions, but they may not be as intense as they would normally be.

If you have any signs of emotional numbing, it’s important that you reach out to mental health professionals for help.

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What Is the Difference Between Emotional Numbness and Depression?

There’s one main difference between depression and emotional numbness: depression is a mental health condition, while emotional numbness is a sign or symptom.

Emotional numbness is not a condition; it’s a sign of some other mental or environmental issue.

However, it’s common for people who have depression to experience emotional numbness. Some symptoms of depression that are related to emotional numbing include:

  • Feeling flat or empty
  • No longer enjoying activities that you used to enjoy
  • Lack of motivation to engage in anything
  • Disinterest in trying to connect with people and experience
  • Becoming withdrawn or detached 

Other circumstances or conditions can also cause emotional numbing, so talking to a professional about your feelings is important.

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What Are the Terms For Emotional Numbness?

Some other terms for emotional numbness include:

  • Emotional blunting
  • Anhedonia
  • Emotional dissociation
  • Alexithymia
  • Emotional detachment

These terms can be used to refer to a general lack of feeling and emotion.

Signs of Emotional Numbness

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Numbness?

Some signs and symptoms of emotional numbness include:

  • Feeling unconnected from friends and family
  • Inability to cry or laugh even when you want to
  • Lack of interest in sexual or romantic relationships (where it was previously present)
  • Difficulty talking about emotions
  • Feeling uncomfortable or disconnected when others show emotional responses
  • Being unaffected by upsetting or joyous events
  • Feeling flat or empty inside
  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies
  • Lack of excitement for the future
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How Do You Know if You’re Becoming Emotionally Numb?

Emotional numbness can feel different for everyone. If something feels off, it probably is. 

The bottom line is that you know yourself better than anyone else. It’s important to trust your instincts regarding your mental health. If you’re feeling mentally “off” in any way, contact a professional for help.

Other defense mechanisms are similar or linked to emotional numbness that professionals should also address. These include depersonalization and derealization.

Depersonalization is the feeling of being disconnected from yourself. This can go hand-in-hand with emotional numbness because emotions are a big part of the human experience. You may feel like you don’t know yourself or like you’re a stranger watching yourself from outside of your body.

Derealization is feeling disconnected from the world around you or reality. You might feel like you’re in a dream or that the things happening to you aren’t fully real. This is a dangerous feeling because it can lead you to make decisions without realizing the consequences.

If you are experiencing something like emotional numbness, depersonalization, or derealization, it’s vital that you reach out to your support network and get the help you need.


What Do Suppressed Emotions Look Like In Others?

Suppressed emotions can look different depending on the person, but here are some signs to look out for in others:

  • Holding back emotional responses such as crying
  • Becoming withdrawn, especially in upsetting situations
  • Avoiding talking about emotions
  • Becoming irritated when asked about emotions
  • Having a flat disposition
  • Feeling “fine” in situations where others are upset
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If someone you care about is presenting these signs, it’s important that they get help from professionals. Reaching out to them as a friend and offering your support could give them the push they need to get help.

Causes of Emotional Numbness

What Causes Emotional Numbness?

Emotional numbness can be caused by various issues, including serious mental health conditions. Some causes of emotional numbness include:

  • Traumatic experiences, such as physical or emotional abuse
  • Prolonged stress
  • Chronic mental health issues
  • Certain medications
  • Mental fatigue or burnout
  • Substance misuse

Past trauma is a common cause of emotional numbing. When you experience a traumatic event, it’s not unusual for the memories of the event to haunt you. You might experience flashbacks, which are intense memories that can make you feel like you’re reliving what happened. Flashbacks and other upsetting experiences are tell-tale signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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Working Through Trauma

In order to deal with these scary and unwanted feelings, your brain may develop defense mechanisms, like emotional numbing. Defense mechanisms are behaviors and thought patterns that you use to help ease internal stress. Usually, you aren’t even aware that you are using them. This is different from coping mechanisms, which are conscious behaviors you use to manage a situation that is causing stress.

Emotional numbing is a defense mechanism against negative emotions. The negative feelings can be caused by serious mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or schizophrenia.

You may also develop emotional numbness from prolonged stress in your personal or work life. Certain medications, such as selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), could also lead to emotional numbness.


What Causes Emotional Numbness In A Relationship?

Emotional numbness in a relationship can be caused by issues within the relationship or issues unrelated to the relationship. 

Feeling a disconnection from your partner could be due to a variety of issues. You may be suffering from a mental health disorder or have trauma from a past experience. This can be particularly true if you have endured abuse in a previous relationship.

If the current relationship is physically, mentally, or emotionally abusive, this can also lead to feeling emotionally numb. Please contact someone you trust or the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help. You don’t have to suffer in silence.


What Are Drugs That Numb Emotional Pain?

Substance use or misuse can cause or contribute to emotional numbness. Drugs that can be used to numb emotional pain include: 

  • Antidepressants such as SSRIs
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Opioids (such as Oxycontin and heroin)
  • Marijuana
  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines
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When substances are used to cope with negative emotions or lessen emotional pain, they’re only providing temporary relief. It isn’t a cure for feeling bad. This behavior can easily lead to dependence and substance use disorder (SUD).


Is Emotional Numbness Part Of Anxiety?

Emotional numbness can be a symptom of an anxiety disorder.

When you have an anxiety disorder, you’re experiencing scary and intense emotions frequently. You might feel a sense of impending doom, a feeling of being in danger, or a constant gnawing worry that you can’t get rid of. These feelings can do a number on your mental well-being.

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Anxiety Signs and Symptoms

Because anxiety preys on your emotions so much, you may try to suppress those emotions, consciously or unconsciously. This means that you try to ignore them or push them down. When you do that, you’re teaching your brain that not feeling is better than feeling.

This is how emotional numbness can develop out of an anxiety disorder. After a while, you’ll naturally avoid feeling emotions to protect yourself from the anxiety symptoms. While it may alleviate your anxiety, it can present a whole new problem that is just as harmful.

Effects of Emotional Numbing

How Does Emotional Numbness Affect The Victim?

Emotional numbing is not a pleasant experience. Some effects that emotional numbness can have on the victim include:

  • Feeling alienated from friends, family, and peers
  • Using substances to cope with emotional numbness
  • Feeling broken or abnormal
  • Self-harming
  • Suicidal thoughts/ideation
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed of their lack of reactivity
  • Becoming socially isolated
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What Happens When You Suppress Your Emotions for Too Long?

Suppressing your emotions for an extended period of time can lead to emotional numbness. 

This is why embracing your emotions is important, even if it’s painful. Suppression can harm your emotional processing abilities, leading to feeling numbness. Using methods to build emotional resilience can help you cope with difficult feelings without suppressing them.


How Long Does Emotional Numbing Last? Is It Permanent?

Emotional numbing can last hours to years, depending on the cause, severity, and if you receive treatment.

In some situations, emotional numbness may be a short-term response to a particularly stressful event. Sometimes the human brain needs extra time to process what has just happened; during that time, emotions may feel blunted or nonexistent. This is normal and may not be cause for alarm.

In other circumstances, emotional blunting can last weeks, months, or even years. This is usually due to a more serious cause like severe trauma or a mental health disorder. If you experience this, the best way to get back to normal is to seek mental health treatment options.

Unfortunately, some people may feel emotionally numb their entire lives, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always permanent. Permanent emotional numbness is rare. With the help of mental health professionals, emotional numbness can be treated and overcome.

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Coping Strategies for Emotional Numbness

Can Emotional Blunting Be Fixed? If So, How?

Getting rid of emotional numbness can be difficult, but it is certainly possible with professional mental health services. 

Therapy is a powerful tool that is often used to overcome emotional numbness. The type of therapy is dependent on the individual case and the underlying cause. With the help of a professional, you should be able to make a treatment plan that works best for you.

One commonly used therapeutic intervention is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). TCBT aims to help you approach stressful problems with a healthier mindset. This can reduce stress and build your emotional resilience.

Other therapies may be suggested by your treatment team, such as mindfulness therapy, experiential therapy, or group therapy. Any of these can help treat emotional numbness. Keep an open mind and treat yourself gently through the process.

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Can Online Therapy Like Betterhelp and Talkspace Help With Emotional Numbness?

Online therapy can be an excellent tool for treating emotional numbness.

A common misconception is that online therapy isn’t as effective as in-person talk therapy. This isn’t the case. A 2020 study published in the European Journal of Educational Research found that, in university students, online psychotherapy was just as effective as in-person options.

Online treatment options such as Betterhelp and Talkspace are great platforms for people who feel more comfortable doing therapy in their homes. The therapists are trained professionals who know how to treat various conditions that may be the underlying cause of your emotional numbness.

Building Emotional Resilience, Why Do I Lack Emotional Resilience?

A lack of emotional resilience can have many causes. Genetics, childhood experiences, and your current environment all play a role.

When you’re stressed out or overwhelmed, it’s easy to feel weak or lacking resilience. Remember, emotions are not a sign of weakness. Emotions are a normal part of life and a sign that you are alive and human. Embracing your emotions is always healthier than suppressing them.

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If you’re feeling emotionally hypersensitive or overly reactive, and it’s affecting your health, it might be a good idea to talk to a counselor or therapist. They can help you shift your mindset and approach emotional experiences from a healthier point of view.


What Are the Five Pillars of Emotional Resilience?

The five pillars of the resilience model can help you build emotional resilience and handle stressful experiences better. The five pillars of emotional resilience are:

  • Self-awareness
    This means taking note of your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and motivations to understand yourself better. Being self-aware can help build a stronger sense of identity and self-esteem.
  • Mindfulness
    Being mindful means being fully present at the moment. You should focus your attention on your emotions and sensations and observe them without judgment. This practice can help you stay grounded.
  • Self-care
    Self-care practices are things you do to nurture your mind and body. It can look different for everyone, depending on what you enjoy or find relaxing. This might mean taking time every day to read, journal, exercise, or watch your favorite show. Self-care nourishes positive emotions, especially in a life full of stressors.
  • Positive relationships
    This pillar is especially crucial to building resilience. As social creatures, we draw our strength from our sense of belonging and community. Having strong, supportive, and loving relationships will give you a shoulder to lean on when you need it most.
  • Purpose
    Having a sense of purpose in life drives you forward and keeps you focused on progress. It can give you a feeling of serving something bigger than yourself. This can be religion, but it doesn’t have to be. Your purpose could simply be to nourish your health and wellness.
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What Are the Seven C’s of Emotional Resilience?

The Seven C’s of emotional resilience are:

  • Competence: the ability to know how to handle stressful situations effectively.
  • Confidence: the belief in one’s abilities.
  • Connection: a sense of security and belonging.
  • Character: a sense of self-worth, identity, and beliefs.
  • Contribution: making a difference in the world around you.
  • Coping: skills that build resilience
  • Control: knowing that you are in charge of your decisions and actions

Having these seven things can put you on the path to being more emotionally resilient and having overall better mental health.


You Have Questions, We Have Answers.

Our goal is to provide the most helpful information. Please reach out to us if you have any additional questions. We are here to help in any way we can.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about emotional numbness. Some people may seek it out or think it’s a good alternative to emotional pain.

This is usually because the person is experiencing a lot of intense, negative emotions. They might feel like it would be easier if they couldn’t feel at all. However, emotional numbness is usually an unpleasant and negative experience as well.

Instead of seeking out numbness to cure your pain, you should reach out to mental health professionals or someone you trust for help. Therapy and medication can help you cope with negative feelings and improve your mental wellness.

Feeling emotionally numb can lead people to do dangerous things to feel something.

Emotionally numb people may self-harm in an attempt to induce emotions or pain. They may also seek to punish themselves for being “broken.” Self-harm is dangerous, mentally and physically. If you’re having thoughts of self-harm, please contact someone you trust for help.

Extreme highs and lows between strong emotions and numbness could be a sign of bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or schizophrenia.

These are sometimes called mood swings or “peaks and valleys.” You might experience intense joy, sadness, anger, or surges of energy, followed by extreme drops into feeling flat and empty.

This experience can be confusing and upsetting to the victim. Professional help is required to diagnose the underlying cause of these episodes and make a treatment plan that can work for you. It is important to remember that living without these highs and lows. is possible

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Let’s Take the Next Steps Together

Emotional numbness is a symptom of many mental health disorders, substance abuse, or could be a side effect of medication. Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy can help you start to feel your emotions again and improve your well-being. Sandstone Care supports teens and young adults with mental health and substance use disorders.