Have you ever felt emotionally numb before? You don’t really feel sad or down, but you’re having trouble feeling anything at all. You can’t connect with people on a deeper level, you feel isolated from everyone around you, and you’re less expressive than you usually are. It’s harder for you to cry, to laugh, or to get upset because most of the time, you just feel…empty.
Feeling emotionally numb is difficult to imagine if you’ve never experienced it yourself, but many of us often do, especially at certain points in our lives. And while it comes and goes for a lot of people, some of us aren’t so lucky. The concerning absence of emotion, will, and motivation can be so unbearable that it’s often called the “unspoken mental illness.”
With that said, here are 7 reasons why you may be feeling emotionally numb:
1. You’re struggling with mental illness
Emotional numbness is one of the core features of mood disorders (like depression and bipolar disorder), dissociative disorders, and trauma-related disorders. It’s also a lesser-known symptom of panic attacks and extreme anxiety. So if you’ve been feeling really numb lately but don’t know why it may be because you are suffering from an undiagnosed psychiatric condition.
The most common cause would be clinical depression – which also features symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, low energy, and intense feelings of worthlessness – but dissociative disorders (like depersonalization and derealization disorder) may be a possible culprit as well. People who suffer from dissociative disorders often have out-of-body experiences and feel like they’re not in control of their speech or their movements. They frequently feel numb to their senses and emotionally disconnected from everyone around them (APA, 2013).
2. You’ve been through something traumatic
According to the American Psychological Association (2013), trauma is defined as any life-threatening situation where you either witnessed a loved one or you yourself experienced extreme risk to your life such as in a car accident, a natural calamity, a mugging, a kidnapping, or attempted assault.
When you’ve been through something as terrifying and overwhelming as trauma, it’s not uncommon for you to feel emotionally numb, especially as a way of coping with feelings of helplessness, shock, confusion, and anxiety. But while it may seem like a good way to protect yourself and gain some sense of emotional relief at first, it’s not healthy and not at all effective in dealing with the psychological damage trauma can bring.
3. You’re recovering from abuse
Are you a victim of abuse? Were you ever abused by your parents, your family, your friends, or your partner? Whether it’s physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological, abuse in any form can be very damaging to a person’s mental health. Not only does it ruin your self-image and dampen your outlook on life, but it can negatively impact your ability to regulate and understand your emotions as well (Jackson, & Harding, 2010).
It’s not easy to move on from an abusive relationship, especially if you were abused by someone you once considered to be so near and dear to your heart. A lot of us think that we need to guard ourselves against other people and build a wall around our hearts just to feel safe again.
4. You’re grieving an important loss
Maybe you’ve recently lost a loved one and have a hard time accepting that they’re gone. Maybe you’re grieving the loss of a dream you failed to make come true or a friendship that meant the world to you. Maybe you’re nursing a broken heart from a failed relationship you thought for sure was the one.
Whatever you may be grieving, it’s important to understand that emotional numbness is part of the process. In fact, research has found that denial is the very first stage of grief and that it’s an important step towards acceptance (Kubler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). You need time to come to terms with what you’ve lost and may not yet be ready to deal with all the painful emotions that come with it.
5. You’re stressed out all the time
Are you overwhelmed at work or at school? Do you always push yourself to do well and end up neglecting your self-care? Constant, long-term exposure to high levels of stress can lead to emotional burnout, a negative psychological state often associated with chronic fatigue, difficulty thinking and concentrating, and loss of interest and motivation (Leiter, Bakker, & Maslach, 2014). When you overwork yourself to the point of neglecting your own mental health, it’s harder for your mind to function as well as it used to. Heightened stress and anxiety can bring you to the verge of a psychological breakdown and make you feel emotionally numb to everything.
6. You’re on too much medication
Another reason why you might be feeling so numb lately maybe because of your medication. If you’re taking antidepressants, anxiolytics, mood stabilizers, pain killers, and other kinds downers (drugs that are meant to depress your central nervous system), emotional blunting, drowsiness, and feelings of apathy are common side effects, especially if it’s your first time taking it (Opbroek, et al, 2002).
Many people often report that they don’t feel like themselves when they start taking medication, which is why some patients eventually stop. But if your doctor or psychiatrist has prescribed you medication to help treat physical or mental illness, it’s important that you talk to them first instead of just deciding all on your own to quit taking it. They will likely adjust your dosage or change your medication to better suit your needs.
7. You’ve lost sight of yourself
Losing sight of who you are and where you want to go in life can easily leave you feeling like your world is spinning out of control. You may be feeling too many emotions all at once – like confusion, despair, frustration, loneliness, and disappointment – that you’re having difficulty processing it and end up feeling nothing at all. You’ve lost touch with your inner world and you don’t recognize yourself anymore. You may even start to feel like you dislike the person you’ve become and wonder what happened to you. You’ve forgotten your goals, your ideas, your passions, your values, and everything else that makes you who you are and now you’re not sure about anything anymore.
While you may be struggling with feelings of emptiness and apathy right now, it’s important to remember that it won’t last forever. The first step to feeling better and treating your emotional numbness is to understand why it happens and what you can do about it. Both treatment and professional help are readily available in most major cities, and some positive lifestyle changes can do a lot to help you get better. So reach out to someone today to start your journey towards emotional wellness.
- American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition. Washington, DC; APA Publishing.
- Burns, E. E., Jackson, J. L., & Harding, H. G. (2010). Child maltreatment, emotion regulation, and posttraumatic stress: The impact of emotional abuse. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 19(8), 801-819. Burns,
- Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2005). The Five Stages of Grief. In Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data (Ed.), On grief and grieving (pp. 7-30).
- Leiter, M. P., Bakker, A. B., & Maslach, C. (Eds.). (2014). Burnout at work: A psychological perspective. Psychology Press.
- Opbroek, A., Delgado, P. L., Laukes, C., McGahuey, C., Katsanis, J., Moreno, F. A., & Manber, R. (2002). Emotional blunting associated with SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction. Do SSRIs inhibit emotional responses?. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 5(2), 147-151.
- Glover, H. (1992). Emotional numbing: A possible endorphin‐mediated phenomenon associated with post‐traumatic stress disorders and other allied psychopathologic states. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 5(4), 643-675.