Feeling empty and detached? You could be suffering from emotional numbness. Feeling numb may result from emotional detachment or a syndrome known as depersonalisation.
It is, in essence, the experience of feeling disconnected, surreal, and unable to identify emotions. When you are feeling numb, you are also feeling empty and detached, as if you are an outside observer of your own life. You see your life without living in it. You may also feel that you are losing control over your thoughts or actions.
- Do you feel nothing?
- Do you feel emotionally empty?
- Do you feel detached from your family and friends?
- Do you look into the mirror and feel like you see a different person?
- Do you feel like a robot, operating life on auto-pilot?
- Do you feel that there is no joy in your life?
- Do you have a surreal feeling as you go through your daily life?
If you identify with the above, you might be struggling with or a form of dissociation known as depersonalization. Emotional numbness is prevalent in our emotion-phobic modern society- yet it is one of the most underestimated and unaccounted for conditions.
“Louise often feels like part of her is “acting.” At the same time, “there is another part ‘inside’ that is not connecting with the me that is talking to you,” she says. When the depersonalization is at its most intense, she feels like she just doesn’t exist. These experiences leave her confused about who she really is, and quite often, she feels like an “actress” or simply, “a fake.” ― Daphne Simeon, Feeling Unreal
Feeling Numb: How We Become Emotionally Detached And Depersonalised
On the surface, it might seem strange that intense people who feel so much would struggle with numbness. However, your sensitivity and intensity could be precisely why you had turned to numbness as an armor to protect yourself.
It might be that you were overwhelmed by too many and too strong emotions from a young age so that you have found numbing as a way to cope. It might be that your childhood environment was violent and precarious, so you had no choice but to detach from what was happening.
In the wild, self-defense is essential for survival. When faced with life-threatening danger, animals will either retreat, attack, assume threatening poses, spout poison, or camouflage themselves. What do we humans do when confronted with physical danger or emotional trauma? We might verbally or physically retaliate, we might run away. If neither is an option, we detach from ourselves, hide our true feelings by disappearing into a zone where our minds could live in denial of reality.
Once we have experienced a physically or emotionally painful situation, such as childhood abuse, neglect, or other forms of trauma, we will do all we can to defend against ever being hurt again. We do so by building a wall against the outside world.
Like a protective mechanism in an electric circuit, numbness and emptiness’ kicks in when we are unable to bear the weight of the truth.
Unfortunately, for some of us, the oppressive sense of abandonment, rejection, terror, or shame persists beyond the traumatic event, and the numbness becomes an auto-pilot response. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we become hard-wired to respond to life in a certain way.
Research has shown that childhood trauma emanating from separation (e.g., death of a parent), physical neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse, witnessing of violence, and sexual abuse has a strong bearing on their tendency to develop depersonalization.
Of the above factors listed, emotional maltreatment by a parent or parents were found to be the most significant trigger for emotional numbness. Since emotional maltreatment by a parent does not carry any visible signs, its impact on the child often goes undetected until much later in life when he/she exhibits an inability to self-regulate emotions.