Emotional numbness is an often-misunderstood phenomenon. As a form of dissociation, it can be a symptom of mental health challenges or a warning sign that you have too much stress in your life. What is emotional numbness, why can it be problematic, and how can you overcome it?

Dissociation – a Double-Edged Sword

You may have experienced a mild form of dissociation if you’ve ever caught yourself daydreaming at work or arrived at your destination with no memory of driving there. While these examples of zoning out are harmless, emotional numbness is a more severe disconnection from your thoughts, actions, and sense of self.

In response to physical or emotional pain or trauma, our sympathetic nervous system activates one of three responses – fight, flight, or freeze. Emotional numbing is part of your freeze response, which is your brain shutting down as a protective mechanism.

Mental Health Conditions Linked to Emotional Numbness

Several mental health disorders can contribute to feelings of emotional numbness or dissociation.

  • Depression: Often associated with profound sadness, depression can also manifest as a lack of feeling, leaving you hollow or empty.
  • Anxiety disorders: Chronic anxiety can sometimes lead to emotional exhaustion, where you frequently feel drained and detached.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: PTSD can cause people to dissociate from their emotions as a coping mechanism against traumatic memories.
  • Borderline personality disorder: Those living with BPD might experience periods of emotional numbness, particularly after intense emotional episodes.
  • Dissociative disorders: These involve a disconnection and lack of continuity between your thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions, and identity.

Identifying and Overcoming Emotional Detachment

While initially helpful in calming an overwhelmed mind, long-term emotional numbness can become troublesome. It may lead to behaviors with far-reaching consequences for your emotional and physical well-being, as the ability to process and express your feelings is crucial for your overall health.

If you frequently dissociate, you may experience strained relationships, impaired decision-making skills, and apathy that robs life of its vitality and meaning. Try using these strategies to reconnect with your emotions.

  • Mindfulness and meditation: Practicing mindfulness helps you stay present and aware of your feelings and thoughts.
  • Journaling: Keeping a written record of your daily ups and downs can help you process them more effectively and identify patterns or triggers of numbness.
  • Physical activity: Regular exercise can help you reconnect with your body and mind. Practices like yoga and tai chi are especially beneficial because they require you to remain in touch with your breathing and form. 
  • Volunteering: Contributing to something larger than yourself can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment, helping ignite emotional engagement with the world.
  • Therapy: A mental health professional can help you explore the root causes of your emotional numbness and develop strategies to address them.
  • Art and creative expression: Painting, music, photography, and writing can be a healthy outlet for your emotions.
  • Building a support network: Surrounding yourself with supportive friends or family members can provide a safe space to express yourself.

Reconnect With Your Emotions

Detachment can be a barrier to living a full and enriching life, but it’s possible to overcome this state. At Palm Springs Behavioral Health, we are here to help you rediscover the vibrancy of emotional experiences. If feelings of numbness or dissociation are prevalent in your life, we encourage you to reach out and begin making your way back to holistic wellness.