If you’ve ever felt emotionally numb before, you know it’s a feeling that’s difficult to put into words. “Numb” literally means “unable to think, feel, or react normally” — it’s not anger or confusion or even sadness, but simply a lack of emotion.
This numbness can be a symptom of a mental health condition like depression, or it can be a response to trauma. In some cases, it may also be an intentional reaction to unpleasant feelings.
Emotional numbness can hold you back from functioning as a healthy and happy human being, especially if it occurs on a regular basis. Not sure what to do about it? Not sure if you’re even experiencing it in the first place?
No worries (pun not intended). We put together this guide to help you understand what emotional numbness feels like, its potential causes, and how to get help if you need it.
Since numbness is described as “nothingness”— a pretty vague term that can be difficult to decipher — people tend to explain the sensation differently.
One Reddit user recalls that they’ll sometimes be “[sitting] on my couch and just feel the nothingness wash over.” Another emotional numbness quote from a Reddit user says, “When I have really bad panic attacks, I experience a period of emptiness afterward because I’ve been run dry, and that emotional exhaustion can feel like numbness.”
The numbness could be prompted by a particular event, such as a death of someone close to you or a recent traumatic experience. Or, it could come out of nowhere and overwhelm you during an otherwise normal day.
You may even feel like you’re looking at yourself from the third person rather than experiencing life in your own body. Or that you’re disconnected from your own thoughts and emotions — feeling unable to react to the people around you. It can be incredibly isolating and lonely, especially if you’re unsure why it’s happening to you.
Numbing your emotions can also be a short-term salve for the sadness and stress in your life. This tactic, whether you realize you’re doing it or not, may provide temporary relief, but it can ultimately prevent you from feeling real love, fulfillment, and joy.
“We cannot selectively numb emotions,” writes author and researcher Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection. “When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” And this holds people back from living full lives.
Thankfully, with the right tools, you can get some relief and feel more like yourself again. First, let’s look at the various causes of emotional numbness and disconnection.
- Depression. If you encounter emotional numbness on a regular basis, unprompted by any clear event or situation, it might be an underlying sign of depression.
When we think about the term “depressed,” we might picture someone who’s sad all the time. But this isn’t the whole story for many people. The Mayo Clinic and other studies list melancholic features and atypical features as signals of major depressive disorder, which means someone doesn’t react as they normally would to emotionally charged situations.
Rather than feeling joy when you get good news, you may feel nothing at all. Or, rather than feeling sad when you lose someone or something, you just feel empty.
- Depersonalization disorder. If you feel not only numb, but also physically disconnected from your body, you could have something called depersonalization/derealization disorder.
This condition occurs in less than 2 percent of the general population, and it’s thought to be caused by a combination of biological factors (neurological systems in your brain) and outside experiences of trauma or violence.
This can sometimes be a sign of other psychiatric conditions, so it’s helpful to see a mental health professional who might be able to help you understand your symptoms better. Typically, depersonalization can be treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
- PTSD. A past traumatic experience can cause your brain to shut down when it encounters emotions that bring back that memory. People with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may report feeling numb when they encounter some kind of trigger, whether that’s a place, person, or object associated with the traumatic event.
This can last for months or years after the event itself, and it can be a serious mental roadblock that prevents you from connecting with people or living an anxiety-free life. PTSD often requires the assistance of a therapist to be able to fully let go and heal.
- Emotional avoidance. In some cases, emotional numbness may indicate that you aren’t prepared to deal with negative emotions, so you push them away as a coping mechanism to avoid having to work through them.
This is also called emotional unavailability, and it can limit your ability to form close and meaningful relationships with others. There are many reasons someone might avoid facing their emotions, and it could also be connected to mental health disorders like depression and PTSD.
Regardless, working with a therapist can also help you in this case, by making you feel more equipped to process emotions head-on.
How you treat emotional numbness will likely depend on the severity of your symptoms and how much they’re affecting your day-to-day life.
To better understand your specific situation, consider booking an appointment with a psychiatrist trained to diagnose depressive conditions. Your doctor may suggest one or more of the following options.
- Medication. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can help lift the fog in your brain and get you feeling back to normal. The most common variety are SSRIs, which act on your body’s serotonin levels to increase the abundance of feel-good hormones — and just help you to experience life regularly again.
- Psychotherapy. Working with a licensed therapist can be extremely beneficial to your long-term mental health. You’ll learn about any underlying emotional hang-ups and triggers, and develop tools to help you handle difficult life situations while maintaining a healthy mental state.
- Exercise. When you feel empty inside, it’s not easy to force yourself to get up and get moving at the gym or go for a run. But exercise can help get you out of a slump and literally make your brain feel better (endorphins, baby!). Try to establish a regular workout routine to keep you physically and mentally alert.
- Sleep. Consistent, restful sleep is crucial to being able to function at your best. Set a schedule for yourself to ensure you get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep as often as you possibly can.
- Diet. Another great way to nourish your body is by eating a diet rich in plants and whole foods. These nutrients can help regulate your hormones and stabilize your mood throughout the day.
The tips above can help you in the long term, but it’s also important to have day-to-day coping mechanisms when you start to feel yourself shutting down.
If you notice the numbness creeping up at any point, try to counteract it by getting up and moving, or by spending time with others doing things you love.
The people in your life can help you feel less alone in your tough moments. Your therapist may also suggest some daily exercises to help with prevention.
- When you’re emotionally numb, you may experience a feeling of emptiness and an inability to experience and process your feelings. It may dull negative emotions, but it also limits positive ones.
- This can be a signal of an underlying mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD.
- It can also be a sign of emotional avoidance, which means you’ve learned to deal with emotions by pushing them away instead of acknowledging them. This can prevent you from getting close to other people.
- Emotional numbness can be treated with a variety of approaches, and it’s best to see a mental health professional who can help you decide what’s best for you. Treatment options include medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes such as exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet.
- By surrounding yourself with the support you need, you don’t have to feel alone. People who deal with emotional numbness can go on to live fulfilling and happy lives when they enact a long-term prevention plan. Ask for help and remember that this will get better with time.
In general, people describe emotional numbness as feeling empty or dead inside, not caring about anything, and feeling disconnected from oneself and from the people around you. What is the cause of feeling numb?What happens after being emotionally numb? ›
Feeling numb can make it hard to connect with others, which creates loneliness or a sense of isolation in your experience. Emotional numbness, also called “affective blunting,” is most commonly associated with depression. It can also occur with other mental health conditions and medications.How does emotional numbness physical affect the body? ›
"While emotional numbing blocks or shuts down negative feelings and experiences," Dr. Mendez says, "it also shuts down the ability to experience pleasure, positive interactions and social activities, and intimacy."How long does emotional numbing last? ›
Emotional blunting can be temporary, lasting from a few minutes to a few hours at a time. It can also occur over the long term, from months to years. It all depends on the underlying cause. Experiencing emotional blunting may affect your relationships and how you feel about yourself and the world.What does emotional detachment look like? ›
Symptoms of emotional detachment
a lack of attention, or appearing preoccupied when around others. difficulty being loving or affectionate with a family member. avoiding people, activities, or places because they're associated with past trauma. reduced ability to express emotion.
a feeling of being disconnected from yourself and others. inability to emotionally connect or relate to those around you. seeking sensations through behaviors that may jeopardize your safety or via self-harming experiences. loss of interest in things you once enjoyed.What happens when you suppress your emotions for too long? ›
Suppressed emotions stay in the body. The effects of suppressed emotions include anxiety, depression, and other stress-related illnesses. Such suppression can lead to alcohol and substance abuse. (Read more about the link between childhood trauma and addiction here.)Can you come back from being emotionally numb? ›
Emotional numbness can be treated both through lifestyle changes that you can make on your own and getting help from a mental health professional.Can you be emotionally numb forever? ›
Emotional numbness can result from severe stress, the use of some medications, or a condition such as depersonalization-derealization disorder. It often passes with time, but if it persists and is severe, a person should see a doctor.What are the benefits of being emotionally numb? ›
Numbing means that we don't feel as much and we are more likely to be able to get through it. Similarly, being numb when we undergo stressful or traumatic times such as when a loved one has a serious illness or if we have experienced a serious crime means that we can get on with life and do the things we need to do.
As a condition marked by lack of feelings, it can be difficult to recognize the symptoms of alexithymia. Since this condition is associated with an inability to express feelings, an affected person might come across as being out of touch or apathetic.What causes a person to shut down emotionally? ›
Why People Emotionally Shut Down. Trauma, prolonged stress, anxiety, depression and grief all contribute to feeling emotionally shut down. Nemmers says medication, while lifesaving for many, can also trigger a side effect of emotional numbness.What is the fastest way to feel emotionally numb? ›
The easiest way for you to numb your emotional response is to control your surroundings. Make sure that you are not triggering extreme emotional responses in the first place. If you know that certain people, places, and activities bring out the worst in you, try to stay away from them as much as possible.How do I stop emotional numbness? ›
- Name the feeling. ...
- Carve out time to feel. ...
- Accept that the experience may be confusing. ...
- Acknowledge that your feelings are worthy. ...
- Notice if you're taking on other people's feelings. ...
- Get curious about your feelings. ...
- Talk about your feelings.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD).
BPD is a personality disorder marked by intense changes in mood. However, in moments of severe stress, people with this disorder sometimes experience dissociation, emotional numbness, or detachment from their mind and body.
- Difficulty showing empathy to others.
- Difficulty sharing emotions or opening up to others.
- Difficulty committing to a relationship or person.
- Feeling disconnected from others.
- Losing touch with people or problems maintaining connections.
- Feeling “numb”
Emotional detachment is when a person is unable to engage fully with their own or other people's feelings. It can occur as part of an attachment disorder or in response to a temporary situation. Emotional detachment can affect a person's physical, psychological, emotional, and social development.Is it possible to shut off emotions? ›
Let me start by telling you what you already know: shutting off your emotions effectively and entirely is nearly impossible. And in those rare occasions that it is possible, it does not come without severe and disastrous consequences.What drugs turn off emotions? ›
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) escitalopram (Lexapro) paroxetine (Paxil) fluoxetine (Prozac) sertraline (Zoloft)
- serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) duloxetine (Cymbalta) venlafaxine (Effexor XR) desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
Alexithymia is when a person has difficulty experiencing, identifying, and expressing emotions.
- How to Get in Touch With Your Feelings. ...
- Name the emotions you experience. ...
- Learn to identify your feelings correctly. ...
- Track a particular emotion throughout the day. ...
- Push through and seek support when it seems difficult. ...
- Express emotions in healthy ways. ...
- Pay attention to your body.
Bottling up negative emotions like anxiety and anger can disrupt the normal function of your stress hormones called cortisol. This results in lowered immune function and an increased risk of developing a chronic illness. Not expressing your emotions is also a gateway to developing mental health conditions.How do you unlock repressed emotions? ›
Take time to slow down and be alone, get out into nature, make art, listen to music while you cook your favorite dinner, meditate to cleanse your mind and relax your body, take a bubble bath or a nap to restore.How do you release trapped emotions? ›
- acknowledging your feelings.
- working through trauma.
- trying shadow work.
- making intentional movement.
- practicing stillness.
Feeling empty is a complex emotion often caused by physical, psychological, and social factors. These may include the loss of a loved one, a major life change, depression, anxiety, unresolved trauma, and poor relationships. Feeling empty may also be caused by disconnection, loneliness, and boredom.Why do I go mute when I'm upset? ›
Selective mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder in which a person who is otherwise capable of speech becomes unable to speak when exposed to specific situations, specific places, or to specific people, one or multiple of which serving as triggers. This is caused by the freeze response.Can an emotionless person love? ›
Some people don't find it easy to recognize or express key emotions, like anger or love. But that doesn't mean they don't experience those emotions at all. Emotionally unavailable people can certainly fall in love. They just might have a harder time recognizing when it happens and putting their feelings into words.What is the longest lasting emotion? ›
Out of 27 emotions in total, the researchers found that sadness was the longest-lasting emotion; shame, surprise, fear, disgust, boredom, being touched, irritation and relief, however, were the shortest-lasting emotions.Is emotional numbness curable? ›
Despite how it may feel, emotional numbness is not permanent. Treatment is available to provide both immediate relief and long-term remission. The first step in treating emotional numbness is to identify and treat the underlying cause.What causes not being able to cry? ›
The inability to cry can have numerous possible causes. Antidepressants, depression, trauma, personality factors, social stigma, and certain medical conditions can all inhibit us from tearing up. Fortunately, many of the reasons we can't cry can be successfully treated and reversed.
What is Schizoid Personality Disorder? Schizoid personality disorder is one of many personality disorders. It can cause individuals to seem distant and emotionless, rarely engaging in social situations or pursuing relationships with other people.Why can't I feel love or empathy? ›
Parents, teachers, peers, society, and culture affect how people feel about kindness, empathy, compassion, and helping behaviors. Some conditions may play a role in a lack of empathy such as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder (BPD).Why can't I talk about my feelings without crying? ›
Crying is a normal response to deep emotion. When we are hurt, frustrated, or angry, it's common to get teary-eyed and experience that familiar lump in the throat, making it difficult to talk. Crying can convey to others how deeply we feel or that we need extra care, which can be helpful.What is emotional flatlining? ›
Anhedonia or emotional flatlining is the inability to feel joy. Most of the time its a symptom of Major Depressive Disorder. But, it can also occur in the first 2-12 months of sobriety when recovering from drug and alcohol abuse.What is an emotional shutdown? ›
When our sympathetic nervous system has kicked into overdrive, and we still can't escape and feel impending death the dorsal vagal parasympathetic nervous system takes control. It causes freezing or shutdown, as a form of self preservation. (Think of someone who passes out under extreme stress.)Why do I not care anymore? ›
Feeling as if you don't care about anything anymore may be related to anhedonia or apathy. Anhedonia is a mental state in which people have an inability to feel pleasure. It is often a symptom of mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, and substance use.Is emotional numbness part of anxiety? ›
Emotional Numbness and Anxiety
Emotional numbness is essentially a lack of emotion, or a feeling of being distanced and detached from what's happening in your life. It's a common experience amongst those with depression, but it occurs also in those with bouts of severe stress, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Someone with Quiet BPD 'implodes' rather than 'explodes'. You put yourself down when bad things happen, and when you feel rage, you hurt yourself rather than lash out at others. The emotional pain you suffer is not any less than someone with other forms of BPD, but you do all that you can to hide it.What is a quiet BPD episode like? ›
If you have quiet BPD, you direct moods and behaviors inward, so other people don't see. Your emotions and behaviors may feel like a roller coaster with many ups and downs. You may have difficulty in your relationships due to fear of abandonment.How painful is quiet BPD? ›
Living with quiet borderline personality disorder can be exhausting and incredibly debilitating. It can stop a person from being able to enjoy their everyday life, as they struggle to cope with the intense thoughts and emotions that they experience.
Numbness describes a loss of feeling in a part of the body. It also is often used to describe other changes in sensation, such as burning or a pins-and-needles feeling. Numbness can occur along a single nerve on one side of the body. Or numbness may occur on both sides of the body.What is something between emotional and emotionless? ›
Sarcasm - Somewhere between emotional and emotionless,I... | Facebook.What is the opposite of emotional numbness? ›
The opposite of emotional numbness is hyperarousal – feeling a sense of heightened, exaggerated or intense emotions.What are the 4 types of numbness? ›
- Paresthesia – feelings of pins and needles, tingling, buzzing, or crawling sensation.
- Dysesthesia – a burning sensation along a nerve; changes in perceptions of touch or pressure; nonpainful contact becomes painful.
- Hyperpathia – increased sensitivity to pain.
Can emotionally unavailable people fall in love? Some people don't find it easy to recognize or express key emotions, like anger or love. But that doesn't mean they don't experience those emotions at all. Emotionally unavailable people can certainly fall in love.What mental disorder is emotionless? ›
What is Schizoid Personality Disorder? Schizoid personality disorder is one of many personality disorders. It can cause individuals to seem distant and emotionless, rarely engaging in social situations or pursuing relationships with other people.Can an emotional person become emotionless? ›
Feeling emotionless can often be a symptom of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic disorder so it's not something to dismiss or downplay. In these cases, seeking the help of a professional is crucial. So remember you don't have to work through this alone.