"Why Do I Feel so Numb Inside?"
by Harley Therapy | Psychological Issues
When others talk about their emotions, do you worry what they’d think if if they knew that you felt…. nothing? Empty? Are you left to secretly wonder, "What is wrong with me? Why do I feel so numb?"
Feeling numb - good or bad?
Yes, sometimes we feel numb because our body is trying to protect us. If we experience a very stressful event, our brain triggers our ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ mode. Chemicals flood our body, numbing our thoughts and feelings so our instincts can kick in and save us.
But if our numbness is not in the face of an emergency but just a daily occurence, it’s not so helpful.
We might tell ourselves we like feeling numb. Or boast we don't need feelings, and continue a life where we sleepwalk through our days, unable to think clearly or feel that anything has meaning. We can even lose physical sensation, or feel like our body is not our own, but we are watching it from a disance.
The cost of a numbed out existence
Living our life this emotionally numbed out can mean that we:
- upset friends or partners who think we don't care
- miss out on opportunities
- are unable to focus and always procrastinating
- can't manage good self-care
- start to feel we don't even have an identity anymore
Why do I feel so numb?
So what has left you feeling blank? There are several issues that can be at play here.
High levels of stress and/or anxiety.
Stress and anxiety trigger our fight or flight response. We end up on such a rollercoaster of cortisol highs followed by crashing lows it can block our emotions. And stress and anxiety is all consuming, there is no brain bandwidth left for feelings.
Repressed emotions and memories.
Think of a beach ball that you have to keep underwater. All your focus has to go onto it. Keeping unwanted thoughts and feelings pushed down in our brain is similar. It takes all our energy and focus, and leaves us feeling tired and disconnected.
As adults, if someone is hurting us, we can walk away. But as children we are trapped. Many children are left to navigate things like abuse or neglect by using a coping mechanism called ‘dissociation’. This is where you disconnect from what’s happening, as if you are floating outside of yourself and watching your life happen to someone else.
PTSD can start after a shocking and overwhelming experience, like a car crash or witnessing violence. If you have PTSD your body easily triggers into fight or flight, leaving you on edgy cortisol ‘highs’ and numbed out lows. And your brain can dissociate to avoid memories of your traumatic experience.
Finally, it is possible although not common to be born with a brain that simply isn't geared to grasp emotions. This is a personality trait known as ‘alexithymia’. People who have it tend to be very logical, struggle to use their imagination, and don't have nuanced feelings or understand emotions well.
How NOT to deal with emotional numbness
Things that actually hurt you physically or emotionally don't help.
How to stop feeling dead inside
To stop feeling numb we have to get to know ourselves and stop running away from ourselves. It’s a journey we have to commit to, and not always an easy one.
But often, it’s our fear of ‘the monster in the closet’ which is worse than the actual monster itself. Turning and facing difficult past experiences can be challenging and emotional, but also a relief.
There are many self help techniques that can help you get started. This can include journalling and mindfulness, as well as learning how to ask yourself good questions. Self-care can also help. work on getting quality sleep, stay away from drugs and alcohol, and develop an exercise routine.
Support is highly recommended. Trying to process past experiences can be a Pandora's box. We can discover more than we bargained for, and feel mired in shame and self-blame. A talk therapist can help you maintain perspective. They'll help you stay on track and moving forward, and gently point out where you are being too hard on yourself or making decisions to hurt instead of heal yourself.