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 complain about 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 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.
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 (particularly 2 reasons). Most people suffer from emotional numbness because of 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 are experiencing 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 have 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 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. 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 because it hurts to feel something
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).
This can happen early in your childhood after an 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 extreme 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 from getting hurt but also from feeling good).
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 nothing but 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 and he no 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 too much, and also 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 activities, 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 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 a 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 colorless and you can’t feel good emotions anymore, 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 a 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 through intensity and novelty. Behaviors like: watching porn, too much video games, and too much 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 to numb any pain that they have in their lives. But 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 breakup, 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 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.
Second, 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.
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