Emotional Dissociation and How to Start Feeling Again
“I’m coming to terms with the fact that almost all of the time, I feel numb. This scares me. I feel that it’s not normal. Also, I feel that I won’t be able to continue my healing if I’m not in touch with my feelings. Any advice on this?”
A modern-day epidemic
So many people I had treated for anxiety or depression eventually come to realize that dissociation is an underlying issue. People normally don’t seek help for this issue. However, they should! Ignoring numbness is at the root of so many issues which develop later. There are various types and degrees, some more serious than others (depersonalization, derealization, identity confusion). However, I’m also talking about the common, everyday feeling of emptiness so many of us feel.
The solution is deceptively simple
This issue, however, is very treatable. When addressed, there is no need for concern. Here, I’ll talk about ways to start getting back in touch with emotion so that life starts to feel more engaging and joyful.
What numbness looks like:
1. Not being emotionally moved by beauty (nature, music, art, small children).
2. Remembering very few significant moments (from past week, month, year). Elizabeth Loftus proved how important emotion is to memory.
3. A feeling of emptiness, that you’re missing something that others have, that you’re on the outside looking in.
4. No real sense of excitement about goals.
5. Interactions with others are only done from a sense of obligation.
6. Occasionally you get a physical sensation (belly, chest or throat) that feels of emptiness.
7. You frequently question the meaning/purpose of your life.
8. You are a thrill-seeker (reckless behaviour, binges, provocation).
9. You use phrases like: I don’t know, I’m not sure, I don’t care, a lot of the time.
10. You get irritated being around people who are excited, playful or happy (fear of having to pretend).
11. You show few external emotional cues (not laughing out loud, narrow range of facial expressions).
Problems that come up
Numbness is a problem because emotions are vitally important. They act as a sort of guidance system. They tell you what to move towards and what to move away from. Problems that come from numbness might look like:
1. Your mother is emotionally abusive and manipulative. Change needs to take place. However, you start to numb out feelings and are now putting up with it, enabling it, or reinforcing it. The Martyr eventually become the feeler of nothing.
2. Your partner is feeling upset and disconnected. You feel that this should matter to you, and that you would like to change, but the real motivation to change isn’t there. You avoid difficult conversations and emotional intimacy due to lack of feeling.
3. You’ve disliked your job for years. Frustration and prolonged hopelessness have led to numbing or dissociation. The innate talent you have never gets to come forward as numbness is allowing you to tolerate the life that caused your negative feelings to begin with.