Have you ever looked into the mirror, saw a strange face, and whispered to yourself, “I feel nothing”?
It was like you weren’t happy or sad.
You weren’t depressed or excited, and sure you weren’t miserable or satisfied. You just felt nothing.
You look at all the people who complain about their emotions and how miserable they are. And you wonder what’s wrong with those people.
And you look at those who describe their emotions as euphoric feelings and you have no clue how that feels like.
You can’t relate to any of these groups of people. Your emotions are kind of numb.
It’s not a good to feel nothing at all.
Emotions are a form of human’s vulnerability. And this vulnerability is what helps you connect, on a deeper level, with people and yourself.
The inability to feel bad means the inability to feel good as well. Emotional numbness is not a blessing.
In this article, we will discuss what causes this emotional numbness in the first place. And then, what we can do in order to feel something again.
What Can Cause Emotional Numbness?
Of course, we can’t say that all people feel nothing because of one reason.
Usually, a lot of reasons and variables lead to the end result of emotional numbness.
However, there are reasons which are very common (particularly 2 reasons). We’re going to talk about these reasons in a second.
And while every case is different, those next scenarios apply to many people.
But before we talk about these 2 reasons, I would like to quickly answer an important question …
Is It Borderline Personality Disorder Or Other Psychological Disorder?
It’s a very tricky question.
And answering it incorrectly can kill any chance that you have to feel anything again.
For instance, ‘feelings of emptiness’ is one of the symptoms and signs of both borderline disorder and bipolar disorder as well. And usually many other symptoms of these disorders can match a wide range of situations.
So, those feelings of emptiness and “I feel nothing” emotions, along with other symptoms that you are experiencing at that moment, can be enough to diagnose yourself with such a mental disorder, right?
Here’s the thing: you should never diagnose yourself by yourself based on symptoms that you find online.
Those two disorders, among other disorders as well, have a wide range of symptoms and it’s pretty easy for the average individual to find some of these symptoms in their lives. However, symptoms are not everything and diagnose doesn’t work that way.
Real diagnosis must be made by experts who are able to read between the lines and connect the dots objectively.
And when you say to yourself that you feel nothing because you have a mental disorder, it doesn’t feel good.
That said, let’s look at how emotional numbness can happen.
Avoidance Strategy: I Feel Nothing Because It Hurts To Feel Something
It’s like going through a traumatic experience and as a result, your mind shuts off the feelings.
And it may sound like a good strategy to handle the bad emotions.
But as Brene Brown mentions in her book, Daring Greatly, you can’t selectively numb emotions. When you numb the bad you also numb the good.
This can happen early in your childhood after an intense experience.
Your brain felt too much pain. And it saw that the best way to prevent this from happening again was to shut down and make you feel nothing.
Or it can happen after an intense experience in your life. A breakup, a loss of loved one, a big failure/rejection or even a very stressful period in your life.
So many people say that emotional sensitivity can be the reason that you feel nothing at all.
It’s like going from an extreme to another extreme after getting hurt. From being sensitive to feeling nothing at all because being sensitive had hurt you.
It’s like treating everybody nicely and getting hurt or rejected. So, you start treating everybody in a bad way so that you don’t get hurt or rejected again.
No one wants to get hurt again. No one wants to be in pain again.
It’s better to be a cold bastard than a person who gets hurt every now and then. At least that’s how your mind sees it. Of course, that is not true but it works somehow in keeping you away from getting hurt (and also from feeling good).
Jim Rohn once said, “The walls that keep away the disappointment also keep away happiness.”
To elaborate on this point, you can Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. It goes deeper on concepts such as shame and vulnerability.
When you feel a certain emotion for a long period of time, it can become your norm.
For instance, depression and anxiety can become the norm to someone if this person feels depressed most of the time. It’s like getting adapted to this level of chaos that it becomes your norm.
And it may sound like a brilliant idea to get used to pain and hurt to the point of not being fazed by them anymore.
But in reality, it is still the same sad story.
It’s even worse because you settle and decide to stay in the chaos and give up.
But this strategy can’t work on its own. There is no switch to turn feelings on and off. You have to proactively step in and numb your emotions by yourself.
We do that using different means. Anything from distraction to actual addictions. The more extreme the means, the number it will leave us.
I would like to expand on this point and talk about one of the dangerous means we use to numb our emotions …
Arousal Addiction: When You Screw Up Your Dopamine System
This might surprise many of you, but it is something that we need to think seriously about.
When I say the word “addiction”, I’m not just talking about drugs or alcohol.
I’m talking about anything that can mess up your dopamine system. I’m talking about anything that we use in an attempt to numb our emotions and feelings.
Right here I want to talk about arousal addiction specifically.
Arousal Addiction is a little bit different than the normal addiction.
And this difference is what screws us up even more.
It all can be boiled down to:
- Arousal addiction is not about getting more of the addictive substance. It’s about novelty and getting exposed to different dopamine-inducing sources.
- Too much dopamine is released. Why?
- Because novelty is not a problem. We have entire industries and businesses competing on providing novel content.
- The end result is easy access to behaviors that fuck up how we feel.
Let me explain.
When you release insane amounts of dopamine, you will surely feel good …
… for a while!
After that, no other activity will produce the same amount of dopamine and will, therefore, feel dull and empty.
Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who initially raised this issue, said that it is about being addicted to things like watching porn, gaming, and also internet to the point of doing them excessively.
Think of someone who watches porn 3 hours every day, plays video games 5 hours each day and spends the rest of the day browsing Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube.
That’s arousal addiction at its best.
While that can be an extreme example, still the concept is the same.
These behaviors over-stimulate dopamine and that can lead to missed up emotions.
And this is the whole point.
When dopamine is over-stimulated, your dopamine receptors will get desensitized because there is so much pressure on them. That is, they will get shut down because this dopamine is more than they can handle.
Therefore, they will not respond unless to activities that produce insanely huge amounts of dopamine.
Everything else will become boring and emotionless.
Now, what if it was extremely easy to over-stimulate dopamine?
Wouldn’t it be a disaster?
Unfortunately, it is easy. We are living in what I like to call, “a dopamine-oriented society.”
Not only porn and gaming. The limitless scroll down on social media sites and video sites. The constant engagement with messaging apps and the distracting notifications. Online (or offline) shopping.
(Note: if you are a male, or a female who cares about her mate/brother/son, then I recommend Dr. Zimbardo’s book Man, Interrupted: Why Young Men are Struggling & What We Can Do About It. It explains what is causing this demise, the reasons, and offers some solutions.)
In brief, technology.
Through technology, we can have unlimited, easy access to materials which can over-stimulate and abuse our healthy dopamine production.
When we access these materials and get those dopamine surges, we distract ourselves and numb our emotions.
And seriously, we usually binge on these things when we are sad or disappointed.
But sadly, the medium is addictive.
We come back again and again to get those dopamine surges. We get them easily and we get to numb the heavy feelings. We go deep as novelty is never a problem in today’s world.
In the end, we will reach the point where we are numb and sad. And we will attempt to numb this sadness by going deeper. We will succeed. But then there will be more sadness. We will again try to numb it and bury it. And the cycle is repeated.
Not only choosing to numb emotions is a bad decision, but also we have devilish methods to numb them and to shut them down.
So, when you hear “numbing emotions”, don’t assume it’s only about swallowing bills or junking your arms. It can be very subtle and it can go under your radar.
So, How To Start Feeling Again?
You don’t want to spend the rest of your life like a robot.
It’s better to feel pain than to feel nothing at all.
This pain will help you grow somehow. This pain is a proof that you’re a human.
You’re still a human and you can feel emotions.
Figure out what you’re afraid of. It might be unpleasant to admit, but it is important to give it a name.
In brief, drop this defense mechanism of not wanting to ever get hurt. Vulnerability is about risking being hurt, rejected, or risking failing.
It might not feel good, but it’s essential if you want to be your true self and connect with yourself and with the world around you authentically.
And, please, give your dopamine system a break and let it recover.
Learn more about arousal addiction. Stop these addictive behaviors that can numb you.
Indulging in these behaviors excessively will hurt you as much as drugs can hurt a junkie. Maybe not right away, but eventually the damage will be done. And the damage is already being done if you have read this article and some parts of it resonated with you.
I’ve said it twice and I’ll say it again and again: “The walls that are keeping away the disappointment also keep away happiness.” ~Jim Rohn.
As some of you have suggested, here are a few books that will help you ‘feel again’. They are books I have read/am reading and tried/trying to apply what is in it. I will be adding more as I red more (and update the entire article if my perspective was changed). Note that I will get a commission if you purchase any of these books, which goes to support this site and my work.
- More insights about being hurt and trying to avoid being vulnerable again, and generally a good read to come in touch with your emotions: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
- To elaborate on the idea of arousal addiction: Man, Interrupted: Why Young Men are Struggling & What We Can Do About It
- Addictions are numbing, addictions are meant to distract us from our emotions: Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions by Russel Brand