what is emotional numbing

Coping mechanisms are tools used by individuals often during painful or traumatic times to try and protect themselves. Although useful for a time, if not dealt with they can provide serious consequences. One such coping mechanism, Emotional Numbing, involves someone shutting down their feelings mentally and emotionally. In other words, you stop expressing how you feel.

For a time, a person may think emotional numbing is beneficial, as it protects them from feeling emotional or mental pain, but when used to cope with difficult feelings long-term, it can severely decrease quality of life. With substance addiction, emotional numbing is not only a common coping mechanism but sometimes the first indicator that someone is struggling with an addiction.

 Symptoms of Emotional Numbing

At first glance, emotional numbing can closely resemble depression or anxiety and is even likely occurring alongside those mental illnesses. Feelings of numbness and detachment are present in both. For many, it can even be hard to acknowledge that they are experiencing emotional numbing, let alone recognize it in a family member or friend.

If you feel like you aren’t enjoying life anymore or can’t connect with others, you may be practicing emotional numbing without even realizing it. Additionally, there’s a chance you’re unconsciously using strategies to avoid your emotions by avoiding people or situations.

Below are symptoms that point to emotional numbness:

  • Not being able to access your feelings
  • Having a hard time experiencing positivize feelings day to day
  • Feeling detached and distant from others
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Preferring to isolate yourself instead of spending time with others
  • Experiencing feelings of flatness, emotionally and physically

Another common trait in emotional numbing is experiencing dissociation. This term means feeling disconnected from your feelings, thoughts, memories, and surroundings. Unlike daydreaming, it can affect your sense of time and even identity.

What Causes Emotional Numbness?

Similar to a trauma response, emotional numbness may begin to occur as a result of physical or emotional pain. This means that anyone and chances are most people do, can revert to emotional numbing at some point in their lives.

When the body is put under high levels of stress, from a personal relationship, job troubles, a traumatic event, or others, it often goes into what is referred to as “survival mode.” In survival mode, the brain and body shut down other functions they deem unnecessary to respond and survive whatever stressors its dealing with. While important and necessary in certain situations, no one is meant to live in survival mode forever. One function usually shut down in that state of being is handling emotions and feelings – enter emotional numbing. So, in short, many different circumstances can lead to emotional numbness.

Scenarios that can lead to emotional numbing include:

  • Grief
  • Intense physical or emotional pain
  • Trauma and PTSD
  • Ongoing stressful situations
  • Depression
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Other health conditions
  • Mental, physical, or emotional abuse
  • Alcohol and drug addiction

Emotional Numbing + Addiction

At Emerge Healing Center, we treat individuals with dual diagnoses, along with those who experience all ranges of symptoms, including emotional numbness. Emotional numbing is highly common in substance abuse, as many drugs make the user detached from their emotions and uninterested or motivated in any other area of life besides drug use.

Previously we’ve shared how emotional numbing is used to shut down one’s feelings to protect themselves. With drug use, it can sometimes be the opposite – an individual is using it in an attempt to feel something at all because they have been experiencing such intense feelings of numbness already. The danger comes when an individual’s body gets used to the substance they’re abusing, and they crave more of it to feel things such as happiness or euphoria again – leading to addiction or even an overdose.

Signs your emotional numbness is related to addiction:

  • You abuse substances in an attempt to not feel anything
  • You abuse substances in an attempt to feel anything at all

Either way, you look at it, addiction and emotional numbing go hand in hand.

How is Emotional Numbing Treated?

If you or a loved one are experiencing emotional numbness, the good news is that treatment options are available. No one should live forever in an emotionally numb state and whether you avoid, disengage, or try to escape your emotions, there are several different treatment options.

First, it’s recommended to find a therapist or psychologist to work with you. Treating emotional numbness can be hard, so find someone you feel safe with. Like most mental issues, getting to the root of the problem is the first step. With emotional numbing, you will likely begin to unpack whatever was the initial reason for the numbing. The goal is to treat the problem, not just the symptoms, so you can fully heal.

Many times that means reliving the traumatic event, so again, finding a therapist or Psychologist you feel safe with is imperative. Other forms of therapy can include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

Additionally, a healthy diet and daily exercise can improve the quality of life immensely, even for those suffering from emotional numbness.

Getting Help

If you resonate with any of the above, treatment is available. If you have questions or are ready to start your recovery journey, we’re here to help. Contact our skilled addiction and mental health professionals at Emerge Healing Center to learn more about our treatment and program options.