Emotional Numbness and How to Overcome It
What does emotional numbness feel like and how to overcome it?
Emotional numbness is a rather complex phenomenon, with a multitude of causes and factors that lead to its development. Most often, it’s manifested in a person’s inability to feel and experience emotions, both psychologically and emotionally. Usually, it’s connected with dissociation, a disconnect from one's memories, body, senses, environment, and a general sense of self.
It’s a defense mechanism that the mind uses so that we can avoid intense negative emotions—emotions like hatred, jealousy, grief, fear, anger… This is especially prevalent in societies and cultures that value false stoicism, societies that repress emotions, presenting them as signs of weakness, things to be shunned. Trauma, both physical and emotional, is also a common cause.
Seeking professional help
Now let’s get one thing straight—if this is severely hindering your life, and if you have the means and the time, nothing beats seeing a specialist. A trained psychologist or psychiatrist can help you deal with these issues, and set you on the right path. A professional therapist will use meds only as a last result, and will most likely approach your issue through a range of techniques (like talk therapy, or CBT variations).
With that being said, below you can find some ways you can try and work on this issue yourself.
A disconnect between our bodies and our minds is a very common symptom of emotional numbness. We feel like we’re not really inside our own bodies, but rather, just observing everything like we're in a movie. Grounding yourself within your own body again will help you snap out of this. Try to become mindful of your body, of the physical sensations that are out there, that it actually exists. Perhaps trying a body scan meditation technique can help you become more mindful. However, simply hugging yourself, gently holding certain areas of your body, maybe exercising a bit, all of these activities can get you outside of your head, and into your body.
Get a pet
Now, there are a couple of caveats that need to be pointed out here. A dog or a cat is not a guarantee that you will become better. Furthermore, if you are overwhelmed, if your numbness is caused by an excess of obligations, then getting a pet might not be that smart of a choice. Taking care of an animal can almost seem like a full-time job by itself. You will need to do some research, find advice on specialized websites (like Totally Goldens if you want a Golden Retriever, or Catster Magazine if you’re looking for a cat). Speaking to pet owners, to vets, breeders, shelters, setting up your apartment properly, getting the right toys, food…
However, these same obligations can actually help you. Taking care of something can assist you in taking your mind off of things, it can basically force you to get up and have some kind of responsibility. Couple that with the fact that a pet will provide you with undivided attention and love, a living creature that unconditionally cares about you.
Because suppressing our emotions is one of the most common factors that influence the occurrence of emotional numbness, letting it all out might be the cure we need. For this, we want to achieve some sort of catharsis. Try to tap out of all those negative emotions that you are suppressing, enter them, don’t be ashamed of these emotions, but rather, accept them, embrace them. Then, let them all out.
Find a safe space, perhaps a place where you can be all alone, and a place where you know you won’t be disturbed. Relax, and then just raise the flood gates. Scream into a pillow, or punch it, cry, yell, don’t think, just dive into your emotions. Maybe you just need to dance, to jump around the room, to pound your chest like a gorilla, it doesn’t matter. Express what you feel without shame or guilt.
While this is a form of catharsis, it’s a bit different than our previous point of being much more mental and thought out. You do let out your emotions through creativity as well, but you do have more structure, more balance and control. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re not good or creative. Strum that guitar like there’s no tomorrow, scribble on a notepad, write whatever comes to mind, get a canvas and splatter it with paint… Don’t concern yourself about whether what you’re doing has any artistic merit. Just get your emotions out.
Emotional numbness is a normal, natural response to life’s troubles. Sometimes shutting down is what we need to do to deal with difficult emotions and overwhelming issues. However, if there comes a point where it severely interferes with your life, and where it seems like it's there to stay, then you need to work on it. So, try to express yourself, try to release all those pent up emotions. Find an outlet, let it all out, and try to reconnect with your body and your emotions. Or maybe you need to just have someone or something to take care of, a little furry friend that will get your spark going again.