What is emotional numbness and how to get in touch with your emotions

Our feelings are a precious and powerful life navigation system because they point us to what we need, what brings fulfillment and aliveness as well as what is harmful or draining. When we listen to our emotions we can more easily recognize what is important to us, what we are called to, and what we need to let go of. 

We are always in touch with our emotions, only that some of us have become experts at numbing ourselves to the experience of our feelings.

What is emotional numbness?

People who suffer from emotional numbness often report that they “can’t feel anything.” Their numbness can be partial, meaning that it touches on one emotion. This may be the case for people who have one emotion they seldom or never experience. It may seem to them that they can’t seem to feel joy anymore, for example. There can also be an overall sense of numbness. What used to cause excitement or a sense of aliveness now appears neutral or uninteresting. There may seem to be a sense of disconnection or disassociation from life itself.
Emotional numbness is the opposite of feeling. When we think about our physical health, numbness is usually a great cause of concern. If you can’t feel your leg, then you’re certainly going to go to the doctor. Even when we go to the dentist and are voluntarily numbed, we get a weird sensation that is usually unenjoyable. Similarly, not being able to experience emotions can be highly uncomfortable.

Types of Emotional Numbness 
    • conscious (or purposeful) numbing: addictions (drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, porn, work, overeating), distractions (television, social media), obsessions (shopping, unhealthy relationships, fetishes)
    •  unconscious numbing (I’ve ignored my pain for so long that I can no longer feel it)
What Causes Emotional Numbness
  • the most common reasons people become numb emotionally are
    •  overexposure to pain: when we are exposed to high levels of emotional pain for an extended period of time, one way our psyche protects us is to make us numb.
    • overwhelm by the intensity of a particular emotion. Because very few of us have been taught how to maintain emotional balance, we often come out of balance when dealing with intense emotions. When we are out of psychic balance, we may be tempted to actively begin numbing ourselves through distractions, addictions, or obsessions as a way to give ourselves a sense of normalcy.

The most common symptoms of emotional numbness are:

  • dissociation, disconnection, isolation
  • appearing closed off
  • feeling drained
  • self-sabotage
  • inner tension
  • physical illness/energetic blockage

How to get in touch with your emotions:

If you have been numbing yourself for a while you may be unaware of how much pain you’re actually in. I use the metaphor of an overstuffed closet for this: if you have been putting your unfelt emotions in bags and stuffing them in your closet, once you decide to open the closet doors you may be overwhelmed by the mountain of bags that may start to fall over. A certain amount of anxiety is normal during this process. Here are a few steps to prepare you for getting back in touch with your emotions:

  1. create a strategy for “cleaning the house”- emotionally speaking. Arm yourself with emotional cleaning, clearing and calming tools: tissues, journal, incense, candles, soft music, guided meditations.
  2. create a support system that can assist you during your task: a close friend that is emotionally balanced, an emotional health coach or life coach that can hold the space for you as you work with your feelings
  3. create a “safe corner” where you can go and offer yourself comfort and safety as you go into your emotions. Have blankets and pillows around as well as images and symbols of being held, protected, loved. Create a collage with photos of people who have guided you, supported you and have always been there. Add it to the corner. Also add any reminder of times when people or situations were helpful and nurturing to you.
  4. don’t add anymore “bags”-start paying attention to your temptation to go back to the habit of running away from uncomfortable emotions. Instead of going on a food or alcohol binge, call a friend and ask for them to hold space for you as you experience whatever emotion you are uncomfortable with.
  5. increase your stress relief activities. Sometimes we can “process” certain emotions without consciously trying to. For example chopping wood can help release anger,  doing yoga can help release worry and anxiety, a walk in nature can bring perspective and reduce fear. Get good at stress relief. Find your own ways that best suit your life style and hobbies.
  6. let go of shame: feeling your feelings and being “emotional” is a very natural, human and healthy thing. Very few of us are taught how to deal with our emotions. Many of us don’t know how to nurture and support ourselves when dealing with deep emotional pain. The opposite of self criticism is self compassion. (Click here to read more about self love and self compassion)

Additional Resources:

“Emotional sobriety is something that all women in recovery should strive to achieve, regardless of what they are in recovery from. Quite simply, having emotional sobriety means having the ability to feel one’s feelings … Recognizing and then feeling the emotions that we have stored for so long takes great effort, and we don’t have to do it alone. Importantly, there’s no timeline or finish line for becoming emotionally sober. It’s our life’s work.”

—Dawn Nickel
She Recovers Every Day

Using the tool of writing to process emotions: What You Feel, You Can Heal: A Guide for Enriching Relationships by John Gray

emotional health life coachDiana Deaver is an emotional health life coach practicing since 2015. Her work is based on Jungian and archetypal psychology and it strongly takes into consideration the unconscious. Her emotional healing work encourages a process of gradual integration of all aspects of the person. She offers one on one life coaching sessions via phone, zoom or Facebook messenger. Email her at dianadeaver@gmail.com to schedule your session centered on you and your emotional healing.