Emotional numbness or dissociation is often thought to be a void. It’s perceived as an absence of something. Here, I’d like to shed some light on this misconception.
In fact, far from being a void, emotional numbness is an experience which requires an enormous amount of energy to sustain.
Think of it like this. The freezer in your home is currently keeping the food inside it cold. That food could be described as ‘rock solid’ or ‘frozen’. Now imagine if you yourself were to be trapped inside a large walk-in freeze much like those found in restaurants. Certainly, you’d feel cold. Eventually, you’d start to experience numbness. It might start in your hands and feet. After a while, your entire body would feel numb.
In that experience, what is required to create and sustain the sensation of numbness? In a word, it’s ENERGY. If the power sully going to the freezer were to cut off, anything contained within it starts to thaw.
Much like with physical numbness, emotional numbness requires energy to be sustained.
When we are not feeling numb or dissociated from our feelings, emotions flow freely throughout the body. Emotion, or ‘energy in motion’, constantly flows so long as it is not impeded.
So, when we experience numbness, something has impeded the movement or flow of emotion. Notice that this is different from there not being an emotion at all.
It’s so important that we realize that emotional numbness is not an absence or a void. That’s because if we see it as such, we’ll believe that there is a void that needs to be filled.
We’ll reach out for an emotion (even a negative one) so that we can fill this ‘void’. But, to reiterate, there is no void to be filled. Thus, all efforts to fill it are either frustrating or undermining (to the emotion already in place).
In truth, emotional numbness is not even a problem. It can seem as if the body has stopped working properly or that something inside of us is broken. But dissociation of this kind is actually a sign that the body or nervous system is functioning properly.
Emotional numbness is simply a mechanism the body has developed to deal with overwhelming emotions. If we are faced with prolonged exposure to difficult emotions, without a way to resolve or process them, the body determines that it’s time to shut things down.
Now, nothing is really ‘turned off’ as such. Rather, energy is diverted into repressing or suppressing the difficult emotions. As emotion (painful) comes up, an opposing (repressing) force acts to divert it back down. The result is perceived as nothing. But the entire process is really an energy intense operation.
The practical strategies we can take from this information are:
Don’t try to fill the ‘void’ of dissociation with other feelings.
See dissociation as an experience to be respected rather than the absence of an experience.
Don’t try to force emotions (trying to feel happy or positive undermines what’s already there).
Feel into the experience of numbness. Start to see if you can feel two opposing forces at play. Don’t try to fix anything. Just notice these forces without picking sides.
Hope this was helpful.