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 it takes over their lives and make them miserable, and you really wonder what’s wrong with those people.
And you look at those who describe their emotions as euphoric feelings, you know tears of joy, and you have no clue how that feels like.
You just don’t belong to any of these groups of people. Your emotions are kind of numb.
It’s not a good thing 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.
We talked a lot about emotions and how to handle them, but I think that we missed something when we forgot to talk about emotional numbness.
In the article The Truth About Negative Emotions I said that bad emotions, such as depression or disappointment, are only messages from your brain. They tell you that something is wrong and something needs to change.
Well, some people don’t even feel these emotions. Or they’ve been through these emotions for a long amount of time that they no longer hurt.
In other words, those emotions don’t really affect them because they don’t even feel them.
You might think that this is a good thing not to feel those negative emotions, but it’s not. Bad emotions have a role too. And the inability to feel bad emotions also means the inability to feel good ones too.
Now, let’s dive in and understand why we sometimes feel nothing at all. What are the reasons that lead someone to feel nothing and feel empty or numb? Then, we’ll see come up with a solution based on these reasons.
What can cause emotional numbness?
Again, inability to feel bad means the inability to feel good as well. Emotional numbness is not a blessing.
Of course, there’s no one answer for this question. We can’t say that all people feel nothing because of one reason. Usually lots of reasons, and variables, lead to the end result of emotional numbness.
However, there are reasons which are very common (2 reasons particularly) . Most people suffer from emotional numbness because specific reasons. We’re going to talk about these reasons.
And while every case is different, I’m sure those next scenarios are going to make sense to you.
Is it borderline personality or other psychological disorder?
First of all, we need to answer this question: is it a psychological disorder? Maybe a mental illness?
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 can match your current situation.
Those feelings of emptiness and “I feel nothing” emotions, along with other symptoms that you experiencing them at that moment can be enough to diagnose yourself with such a mental disorder, right?
Feeling of emptiness, unstable relationships and rapidly shifting mood are enough signs for some people to say that they suffer from borderline personality disorder.
While we’re not here to discuss borderline personality disorder or bipolar, still it’s a bad idea to “assume” that you suffer from these disorders just because you feel nothing.
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 possess some of these traits.
And when you say to yourself that you have a mental disorder, it doesn’t feel good at all. First you might feel helpless as you don’t know how to treat it, second you might feel like there’s something wrong with you and you’re crazy or something.
Here’s what you need to do instead: first of all, don’t ever diagnose yourself with a mental disorder. Especially those two disorders that their symptoms include emptiness along with wide range symptoms.
Second, know that it’s really very common. These days many people are reporting feeling nothing at all, reporting emotional numbness. You’re not alone. A lot of people already feel numb and it’s more common problem than you think.
At least, almost everyone felt numb and empty once in his/her life, I can guarantee you that.
So, don’t put a label on yourself. Many people are having this same problem. Instead, learn about the below reasons. The reasons for your emotional numbness is, in almost all cases, one of the reasons below.
Here we go …
Avoidance strategy: I feel nothing not to get hurt again
As simple as it may sound, this could be the main reason that you don’t feel anything at all.
Our minds can deceive us. That, unfortunately, is a fact. And sometimes emotional numbness can be nothing but an avoidance strategy.
Your mind uses this avoidance strategy as a defense mechanism to protect you from feeling bad.
It’s like denying the existence of pain in the first place so that you don’t have to deal with it.
It’s like going through a traumatic experience, and as a result your mind shuts off the feelings (at least some feelings) so that you don’t feel these painful feelings once again.
This can happen early in your childhood after a really intense experience, your brain felt too much pain and saw that the best way to prevent this from happening again is to make you feel nothing.
Or it can happen after any 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 already say that emotional sensitivity can be the reason that you feel nothing at all. It’s like going from an extreme to another one after getting hurt. From the end of the spectrum to the other end. From being sensitive, to feeling nothing at all.
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.
I argue that this is the main psychological reason for emotional numbness. No one wants to get hurt again, no one wants to be in pain again.
It’s better to be a cold person than a person who gets hurt every now and then, at least that’s how your mind sees it (which is, of course, not true but it works somehow in keeping away the hurt, and also the good feelings).
Jim Rohn once said “The walls that keep away the disappointment also keep away happiness.”
In brief, the whole “I feel nothing” thing can be just a defense mechanism and an avoidance strategy. You’ve felt a lot of pain at some point in your life, and you decided, consciously or unconsciously, to prevent this from happening again by becoming emotionally numb.
One more thing that’s worth to be mentioned is: conditioning.
It’s when you feel a certain emotion for a long period of time that it becomes your norm.
For instance, depression and anxiety can become the norm to someone. This person felt depressed and anxious for a very long period of time, maybe years, and he longer recognizes the existence of these emotions.
He had been in the darkness for a long period of time that he thinks that this is all the light that can ever see. He thinks that those emotions are part of who he is.
This will surely lead to emotional numbness. Because you can’t recognize the existence of the emotion, you’ve felt it for so long that you no longer get affected that much by it.
Arousal addiction: it has something to do with the dopamine system
This might surprise many of you, but it’s something that we need to think seriously about.
In the article What is Arousal Addiction and Why You Should Care I explained arousal addiction in details. It’s a little bit different than the normal addiction.
Basically, it’s about being addicted to things like watching porn, playing video games excessively and way too much internet.
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.
Like any addiction, dopamine will be released in massive amounts when you do the addictive behavior.
And when you go and do other stuffs, like seeing your friends or pursuing a goal, dopamine will get released as well but not nearly as much as the amount released from those addictive behaviors.
So you go back to them to get more dopamine, but how do you get more dopamine out of them? One word: novelty.
It’s said that with substance addiction (drugs, alcohol …etc) you simply want more, but with arousal addiction you want different. And it’s not that difficult to find novelty in today’s internet world.
That’s as simple as developing a twisted taste in watching porn (watching weird and disgusting things). It’s as simple as picking a new game or browsing new site (or browsing new things on the same site).
Like that, you get your surge of dopamine and develop resistance to any less amount of dopamine than this one. As a result, the other activities won’t give you much pleasure (dopamine is the hormone of happiness).
After a while, you’ll feel numb. You’ll feel like life is just colorless and you can’t feel good emotions any more, and sure no bad emotions because you numb them using this addiction.
Of course that’s true with every type of addiction, but I mentioned arousal addiction because it usually goes under the radar. It’s subtle and seemingly harmless.
From my own experience, and from many men’s experiences around the world, I can confidently say that this shit numbs you. Yes it has the power to numb the bad emotions and provide an escapement, but it also numbs the good ones and numbs everything.
In brief, addictions in general miss up the dopamine system in your brain. The dopamine is the hormone responsible for pleasure and enjoyment.
With the addictive behavior, a huge amount of dopamine is released. Next time you’ll need huger amount of dopamine. And as a result, other activities like seeing friends or listening to music will become less pleasurable because they won’t give you a similar amount of dopamine.
That’s the same with almost all types of addictions. But here arousal addiction is very subtle and less talked about even though it has the same effects.
Arousal addiction is about being addicted to behaviors that stimulate dopamine though intensity and novelty. Behaviors like: watching porn, excessively video gaming and excessively aimlessly internet browsing.
They can stimulate large amounts of dopamine and do the same damages, and eventually one of these damages is emotional numbness.
Read the article about arousal addiction right here to learn more about it. it’s not one of my own claims, it’s the conclusions of many researchers including Dr. Philip Zimbardo, the famous psychologist.
Interestingly, some people indulge in these behaviors because they already feel numbed, and these behaviors don’t actually solve the problem, they make it worse.
And some people do it, mostly unconsciously, on purpose in order to numb any pain that they have in their lives. But eventually it backfires by numbing everything and leaving them with creeping emptiness.
What to Do?
First of all, get rid of the fear of getting hurt again. Figure out what had happened in your past and made you become emotionally numb. It could be a break up, a big failure …etc.
Then, pick yourself up again. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life like a robot. Realize that 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.
Remember that the walls that are keeping the disappointment away also keep the happiness away.
You’re still a human and you can feel emotions.
Figure out what you’re afraid of, it might be unpleasant to admit it, but it helps.
In brief, drop this defense mechanism. Being aware of it will help you do that. Vulnerability is risking being hurt, rejected or simply 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.
Secondly, give your dopamine system a break and let it recover. Learn more about arousal addiction. Stop these addictive behaviors that can numb you even if you’re not afraid of getting hurt.
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.
Was that helpful? You can read more:
- How to Be Confident: 25 In-depth Tips That do Work
- 77 Thought Provoking Questions to Shake Your World (In a Good Way)
- 5 Psychological Forces to Turn Your Life Around
- How to Get Your Shit Together: 7 Proven Steps
- I Hate My Life: A Brief Guide on Dissatisfaction