Emotions are complex. Yet, it is crucial to our existence. For quality and meaning of our existence are deeply rooted in emotions. Our actions and decisions are usually based on the emotional connect-how one makes us feel. They are what make life worth living and sometimes, worth ending too. To understand emotional numbness, we need to look at emotions first.
Emotions are salient responses to significant events. It triggers behavioral as well as bodily changes. Emotions involve different components such as subjective experience, cognitive processes, expressive behavior, psychophysiological changes, and instrumental behavior. The word emotion dates back to 1579 when it was adapted from the French word émouvoir which means to stir up.
Psychologist Paul Eckman identified 6 basic emotions during the 1970s. He suggested that these six emotions-happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger were universally experienced in all human cultures. His list was later expanded to include few more prominent emotions such as pride, shame, embarrassment, and excitement. However, Robert Plutchik gave us a wheel of emotions that suggests that emotions can be combined to form different feelings, like a color wheel where color can be mixed to create other shades.
The choices we make, the decisions we take, the actions we get involved in, all are influenced by the emotions we are experiencing at any given moment. However, imagine what might happen if you do not feel anything?
You may say-I feel Numb when you have trouble identifying your emotions. Due to this, you may struggle to connect with others around you.
Avoidance, feeling flat, denial, detachment come to our minds when we talk about emotional numbness. It is also known as affective blunting. When overwhelmed, we turn to emotional numbness as it provides a protective defense shield. It leads to temporary restrictions in the capacity to feel or express emotions. However, for some of us, feeling emotionally numb becomes a way of life to protect ourselves from further emotional and physical pain.
It not only blocks our negative feelings but also shuts down our ability to experience pleasure. It is used as a coping mechanism to prevent more pain from entering the psyche. It means creating a strong wall around us to protect ourselves from getting emotionally hurt. When we build a wall around ourselves-a wall of being indifferent, emotionless, feeling flat. It takes a lot of effort to bring back the real self-alive-self that used to feel and experience emotions earlier.
Is it appropriate to use emotional avoidance as a coping mechanism? Once you probe yourself deeply, you might need to confront yourself with a question-who are you protecting yourself from? Once you unravel another layer, you might understand that you may be protecting yourself from no one else but you. Because of the inability to handle emotions adequately, we are forced to choose avoidance as a coping style (without our conscious awareness at that moment) that may provide short-term relief but will not prove effective in the long run.
How to identify that you are feeling numb?
- You are feeling detached from others
- You are losing interest in things once used to enjoy
- You are feeling flat-physically as well as emotionally
- You are having difficulty in experiencing positive emotions such as happiness
- You are preferring isolation
- You are unable to access your own feelings
- You are experiencing an inability to fully participate in life
- You feel like an outsider in your own life
Why do we become emotionally numb?
It can happen as a result of physical or emotional pain. When we detach and disconnect to protect ourselves from getting hurt again, mostly it is temporary and with time, we can reconnect with ourselves and the world around us. Nevertheless, it’s not the same if the issue is long-term. In such cases, chronic emotional numbness is indicative of persistent mental health conditions.
It is found among those who may have experienced traumatic event hence, coping with PTSD where we try to avoid thoughts, feelings, and conversations about the traumatic events and places or people that bring the event to the mind, those in the grieving phase may experience such numbness if in depression, victims of physical and emotional abuse, extreme stress, substance abuse, those suffering from depersonalization and derealization disorder.
How should we come out of numbness?
As mentioned earlier, it can be a symptom of severe stress too leading to a temporary feeling of dissociation and disconnection from ourselves and the outside world. It’s difficult to describe numbness feeling but I am sure, you will know it if you have felt it ever in your life. Let’s look at few pointers to help ourselves in such a state of mind.
1)Engage in physical activity– Numbness seems like a state of frozen so, it may help to defrost oneself by moving our body. It is a known fact that physical activity has immense benefits for our mental well-being. For an optimal level of health, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 30 minutes of physical exercise at least 5 days a week.
2)Take enough rest-Sip a cup of hot coffee while watching something you like or listening to music, reading a book, spending time with your plants, or just lying down on the sofa curling yourself in blanket-whatever is your way of resting and feeling relaxed-do that. There is no right or wrong way here as every next person is different. Enjoy your way of resting without guilt.
3)Develop a support system-We being a social animal, it is always a good idea to have a strong social support system in form of family and friends on whom you can rely when you are in need. Whenever we are in a situation when we don’t have anyone to share with, we tend to push our unmanageable emotions-more we do so, easier for us to end up feeling nothing. So, it’s always good to talk out-say everything whatever is bottled inside.
4)Educate yourself-More you know about something, the more you will be in a better position to handle it. So, learn about emotions-reading books about the same may help.
5)Create a mood diary-Jot down your emotional state on day-to-day basis and how you can regulate various shades of emotions.
6)Minimize stress by imbibing mindfulness-It may be particularly helpful in reducing emotional numbing and increasing emotional strength and competencies to manage stressful experiences.
In case of long-term emotional numbness, one may seek help from a professional working in the field of mental health-Psychologist/Therapist.
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