June 22, 2021

Emotional Numbness: What it is & How we Can Manage It.


View this post on Instagram

I am always amazed at the creativity that others have.

It seems to come easily to so many. I have friends in the arts who create absolutely amazing things. I stand in their presence in wonder and awe.

I try to create, but I fail. I took up photography because I wanted a creative outlet. I take good photos, but they are not creative. They are much like my thinking—steeped in what I know, factual, true to reality, linear feeling, and lacking richness. Beautiful scenery that was just there for the taking. No one would ever call them creative.

Creativity isn’t just in the arts. Being creative is required in many aspects of life (it sure makes parenting far easier). Those who are creative often fare better at work and are viewed as high performers. Education and learning in creative people is better adapted to real life than those who see the world in black and white.

Creative people connect with their world in a rich way. Are those of us without creativity just born without the creative gene? Are we doomed? That may not be the case!

So what exactly is numbing, and how does it happen?

Numbing is the blocking of emotions, and this happens at the subconscious level. Those who use numbing will often have very few emotions to draw from, and it usually includes anger as the go-to negative emotion.

For instance, instead of exhibiting the vulnerable emotions of hurt, jealousy, or fear, the emotional go-to is often anger. Numbing is self-protective and seen in those with high levels of stress, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress response, grief, and history of physical and emotional abuse.

When emotions are blocked, we may think that we feel safer. However, those who numb report having less enjoyment, fewer interpersonal connections, lack of intimacy, poor problem-solving, and, of course, diminished creativity.

Many women don’t even realize that their predominant coping mechanism is numbing of emotions. They may complain of other manifestations of numbing, such as lack of interest, troubles in relationships, or lack of energy. Everyone will encounter instances of numbing at some point or another in their life. When numbing becomes the way in which we engage in the world, it is destructive.

There are numerous ways in which we numb. In its purest form, we cut off any emotion that makes us vulnerable. We may seem strong, but inside we are fearful, unsure, and lack confidence. There are many methods of numbing that range from medically dangerous to mere nuisance. Alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, and self-injury are the most dangerous.

Other less obviously harmful ways of numbing include gambling, sex addiction, and compulsive shopping. These may not lead to immediate physical harm but can devastate lives nonetheless. Have you ever found yourself aimlessly clicking through television channels, scrolling through social media, or even repetitive actions that contain your focus and create a sense of time loss? These, too, are forms of numbing, albeit socially acceptable forms.

Women who have suffered trauma often are masters of numbing their feelings. This was definitely the case for me. Having suffered abuse as a child into adolescence and even into adulthood (many women who are targets of trauma are often revictimized until they receive the necessary treatment to heal), I became a master of numbing and I hadn’t even realized this as my coping mechanism!

“Yes, of course I have emotions! Well, at least one. Anger!” We use numbing for protection, and it does exceptionally well for cutting almost everything off. In fact, we can’t merely numb one aspect of our lives. Numbing transcends every waking moment. Numbing is the death of creativity. Women who numb and are not able to harness their creativity often feel that something is missing in their life. Could creativity be within our grasp? Yes, it sure is.

How can we manage emotional numbing?

In the most severe cases of numbing, for example dissociation, intensive therapy with professionals who have specialization in dissociative disorders is required. For those with moderate numbing, cognitive behavioral, dialectical behavioral, and emotional intelligence therapies can help women relearn how to attune to their emotions.

There are also strategies that women can use on their own to work toward better connecting with their emotions. (These should not supersede therapeutic intervention when necessary. Always seek the professional help you need.)

Awareness. Are you having feelings of emptiness, disconnection, lack of interest, low energy, or isolation? These may be signs that you are numbing. We cannot change what we are not aware of. Take the time to determine in what situations and with what triggers you are apt to numb emotions. Examine which methods of numbing are in your vulnerability arsenal. Keeping track with a diary or an app can help you discern your numbing tendency. I prefer the good old pen-to-paper method. It is cathartic.

Mindfully practice feeling emotions. When you notice that you are numbing, or better yet, when you predict you will revert to numbing, take an inventory of the emotions to which you are vulnerable. Attach the emotions that are appropriate for the situation and label them. For many of us, this is where the emotional door is completely shut. Using a tool to connect with emotions is useful to begin identifying the emotions that you have blocked for so long. I suggest using the Wheel of Emotions. This is an easy tool where you are able to identify a core emotion and drill down to a more distinct feeling.

Track your emotions at various times of the day. This will help further bring awareness to your increasing emotional ability and will allow you to identify a broader range of emotions. Set several times during the day to get in touch with your emotions in present time.

Enlist those you trust to support you through this journey toward emotional connection. As you work through the process, you may have an intense sense of vulnerability and emotional instability. You may find an increase in emotionality that sneaks up on you. Surround yourself with love and support. If at any time you feel an increase in symptoms of decreased mental health or have suicidal thoughts, seek medical assistance immediately.

Provide yourself with compassion and self-love. Slow down. Take time. Be present. Give yourself a break. Lean into the process with personal growth as a goal. Forget perfection and comparison. This is all about you!

As you become more astute at noticing, feeling, and labeling your emotions, you will develop a higher level of emotional agility, which in turn will allow you the ability to find that creative streak you have been missing. Now you can attend that art class you’ve always wanted to try, write that article, poem, or story you have been thinking of, play that guitar or piano, dance, or plan that party you’ve been wanting to hold. This is when you can start living your creative life!



Read 4 Comments and Reply

Read 4 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Tanya Joyce  |  Contribution: 105

author: Tanya Joyce

Image: josiesillustrations/Instagram

Editor: Elyane Youssef

Relephant Reads:

See relevant Elephant Video