What is Emotional Numbness?

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  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2018
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Emotional numbness is a layperson’s term for psychological symptoms that might better be termed as detachment. When a person is emotionally numb he may feel cut off from emotional response, even if one is warranted. This symptom can arise after an extreme shock or loss. It also may be a persistent symptom with conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar disorders. Sometimes the symptom is a side effect of certain medications, or the term may be more loosely used to exaggeratedly describe people who seem to have difficulty getting in touch with their emotions.

There are many definitions of what the condition feels like. People may say they can’t feel, the things that would ordinarily make them happy or sad have no effect, or that they just have a strange sensation of detachment, as though part of the self holds back and does not participate in ordinary living. The reaction is quite common in times of grief or loss, and in a way, at first it may be an adaptation that is useful. For example, someone making funeral arrangements for a loved one may feel numb or detached, and not feeling the extent of grief at that time may make it possible to get through the early days after a loved one has died.


If the feeling persists, problems are created. It may be important to not feel when the first shock for loss occurs, but it becomes very important to feel the extent of that loss, so that people can mourn and move on. Persistent emotional numbness arrests the grieving process, though it may seem that remaining numb keeps away the full emotional extent of the loss, which is very hard to bear. People don’t usually choose to stay numb consciously, but with grief, some may remain unconsciously detached to protect themselves from the reality of a loss.

In most cases, people have no direct or indirect choice in their feeling of emotional numbness. In conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder, this detachment is part of the symptoms that make up the disorder. Breaking through that barrier is elemental to successful treatment.

Some other conditions like schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and personality disorders like schizoid, are also associated with detachment or numbness during certain phases. In particular, schizophrenia is often associated with what is called flat affect, or very little emotional response. The voice may sound monotonal and devoid of emotion, and facial expressions or gestures may also seem uninterested on emotionless, too. Occasionally, medications used to treat psychiatric disorders actually cause a degree of emotional numbness, and if possible these medications need to be changed.

Ultimately, humans are not meant to remain emotionally numb, and if this state exists for any substantial period of time, a person requires help. Medical examination should rule out possible drug causes. Then therapy, plus possibly medication for psychiatric conditions, can help restore patients to a more attached feeling to themselves and the world.


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Post 6

Me too, for about five years. I no longer feel any deep connection with other people even if I did, I know that it will be severed quite easily. Thing is, I just accept it like it is the most natural thing in the world. I always think that people come and go in our lives because we need to learn things that we do not know. For me, i don't really mind if a person has forgotten about me. I just think that that person has moved to a new chapter in life and it's time for me to move forward too. Still, I'm hoping to find that special connection with other people.

Post 5

After losing my Grandmother in 2010, I went through a period of emotional numbness, but I was able to get myself back on track.

In 2011, 13 months after losing my Grandma, I lost my dad suddenly. I instantly went into a period of numbness. Seven months later I found out I was pregnant. Since the passing of my dad (three years) I have been emotionally numb and I hate it more than anything. My fiance has stuck by me but it has put so much pressure on our relationship and has caused him to confront me almost every night (for the last two years) about my lack of emotions towards him. Our sex life is almost nonexistent and communication

is hardly there.

I am currently seeing a therapist, but I am close to leaving because I no longer feel like talking to her. I just wish there was something I could do to help. My life has been hell. The only emotions I can honestly say I have are towards my daughter, but all other emotions towards anything and anyone else are gone!

Post 4

I am saddened to read some of these posts. My numbness has just started at age 57, and others have been battling it for years. I feel foolish for thinking I have it so bad.

My numbness came about from losing my dearest love. He passed away last spring. I threw my energies into my grandson. I am used to her mother having meltdowns and not allowing me to see my grandson, but since the death of my loved one, it had hit me harder than ever. I have no energy. My love for life is gone.

Post 3

I've been like this for about seven years (I'm 20 now). My guess is that it started after I was bullied in school but can't say that for sure. Good thing is that almost nothing can faze me now. The negative is that I can't really enjoy anything anymore or at least I couldn't.

When I wanted to start martial arts five years ago, I was really excited that time, but I had to postpone that for a few years due to a back injury I got while playing football. I tried out several martial arts but I did not enjoy any of them so I quit. Just to get some good exercise I started boxing and since then I'm slowly starting to enjoy things again.

Post 2

I've been like this for about six or seven years (I'm 20 now) and I think it is a blessing in disguise. It gives you the ability to trust someone completely, and let go when they burn you, or even if they simply drift away. It gives you the ability to enjoy the little things in life too. It's a difficult first few years but there are many positive things that come from it if you look for them. Many people go through their lives searching for a way to detach themselves, and we already have. It's incredible in its own sense.

Post 1

I've been like this for almost two years now. I'm so miserable. I try to get out of it and climb out of my depression, but I can feel it creeping back on me, waiting to grab me and drag me back down into the dark. I hate the feeling of not being able to feel anything, of not getting attached to people or pets or anything anymore. I don't enjoy anything I do.

It's the worst thing I've ever experienced. I'm fourteen, but I feel like there's no hope for me. Sigh. I keep dragging my feet through every day.

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