A therapist explains why emotional numbness isn’t the same as feeling nothing

Do you struggle with emotional numbness? Here, a therapist explains what could be causing it – and how to overcome this often misunderstood state.

Despite how big a role our emotions play in our day-to-day lives, many of us are unaware of the complex ways in which our feelings work. 

From the wonderful world of ‘meta-emotions’ (aka feelings about our feelings) to our ability to ‘catch’ other people’s emotions, there’s a lot to learn.

That’s especially true when it comes to emotional numbness. While you might presume that feeling flat, disconnected or plain old empty means your emotions are broken or absent, the opposite is actually true – and understanding that can make it easier to overcome these feelings in the long run.

Indeed, as integrative therapist Abby Rawlinson pointed out in a recent Instagram post, emotional numbness is something our brains do to cope with being overwhelmed by too many emotions at once.

“At its core, emotional numbness is a coping mechanism,” she writes. “It’s a way of shutting ourselves off from something painful or overwhelming, and is closely linked with the nervous system’s ‘freeze’ response.”

While emotional numbness is often a temporary state you might experience in times of high stress or emotional turmoil, Rawlinson explains that for some it can become a default state.

This can lead people to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms (such as drugs and alcohol) in order to feel more ‘alive’.

However, understanding that emotional numbness is the result of emotional overwhelm – and taking steps to help yourself process and deal with those emotions – can help you to feel less empty over time.

One way to do this is by giving yourself time to try and understand your feelings. “It might feel scary at first to feel your feelings, but emotions are like tunnels,” Rawlinson says. “You need to go all the way through them to get to the light at the end.”

While there are plenty of ways to release pent-up emotions, Rawlinson also suggests using coping techniques such as exercise, journaling and talking to a friend to help the process along.

“Being vulnerable isn’t always easy but opening up to someone you trust can help you process your feelings and move into a more open, present and connected space,” she adds.

Dealing with your emotions is never easy, but as Rawlinson’s post highlights, learning more about our emotions and how to handle them can be really beneficial in the long run.     

Image: Getty

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