Emotional numbness means shutting down one’s emotions, usually in response to extreme physical or emotional pain. It’s a defense mechanism of the mind that tries to protect us from further pain.
Emotional numbness can be seen as a form of dissociation– a response to trauma. When people experience a traumatic event, they may dissociate from:
- their reality (derealization)
- themselves (depersonalization)
- their emotions (emotional numbness)
Emotional numbness is similar to emotional detachment, but there’s an important difference. You can emotionally detach from something while being emotionally attached to something else.
Emotional numbness, however, is a generic shutting down of emotions.
While emotional numbness is usually temporary, it can become a long-term coping mechanism and get ingrained into one’s personality.
What causes emotional numbness?
Emotional numbness is a response to severe physical, mental, or emotional pain. Negative emotions are the main culprit. Some personality disorders also contribute to emotional numbness.
Common causes of emotional numbness include:
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
- Abuse (all kinds)
- Childhood emotional neglect
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Substance abuse
- Some medications (anti-depressants)
Negative emotions are designed to be painful so we can pay attention to them and get rid of them. People have a tendency to get rid of their negative emotions through pleasurable short-cuts (unhealthy coping mechanisms).
Solving the problems that give rise to negative emotions is the healthy way to get rid of them.
Unhealthy coping mechanisms are tempting because the pain of negative emotions can become unbearable. That pain was designed to get your attention, but if it becomes too intense, the mind decides it’s better to shut down emotions altogether to prevent further pain.
Consequences of emotional numbness
When you don’t feel anything, you don’t express anything. When you don’t express your emotions, you find it hard to connect with others.
Emotional numbness shuts down all kinds of emotions- positive and negative. You may no longer feel pain, but you also won’t feel joy or happiness. Your entire emotional life is dimmed.
Taking the emotional numbness test
The following emotional numbness test is based on the common symptoms of emotional numbness. It consists of 18 items with five choices ranging from Strongly agree to Strongly disagree. Answer each item based on what most applies to you.
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