Emotional Numbness

Comprehensive Guide to Emotional Numbness

Emotional deafness is extremely rarely diagnosed as an independent clinical picture. It often occurs as a minor symptom of an existing disease. Those affected express an inability to adequately perceive their emotional world. The chances of recovery depend on the underlying disease. Medicinal or psychotherapeutic treatment measures have not yet been adequately confirmed in terms of their effectiveness.

What is Emotional Numbness?

According to WHICHEVERHEALTH.COM, emotional numbness is a temporary or chronic inability to perceive, process, and adequately articulate one’s own feelings and sensations. In many cases, the lack of emotionality is compensated for by intense physical stimuli.

This can involve drastic measures to which the environment often reacts with alienation. Social isolation and self-alienation through to depersonalization can be the result of a pronounced emotional disorder.


Emotional numbness usually occurs in conjunction with another underlying condition. On a psychological level, it can arise as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. After traumatic experiences, those affected often consciously switch off the emotional world themselves in order to cope with everyday situations.

In order to avoid irrational states of panic in situations that remind predisposed people of past traumas, they inevitably go into a state of complete emotional coldness. Acute states of emotional numbness are not necessarily due to serious mental or neurological disorders.

Also, lack of sleep, PMS and stress may trigger a temporary emotional disturbance. Temporary numb states can be achieved through the use of certain hallucinogenic drugs or through intense meditation.

Neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis or schizophrenia can also trigger emotional numbness. Psychosomatic processes play less of a role here, but rather hormonal or functional disorders of certain areas of the brain.

Symptoms, ailments & signs

People who suffer from emotional numbness only perceive their feelings in a very weakened manner and feel strange and alone in their surroundings. Feelings such as fear, anger, love or lust no longer find an emotional basis and are consequently classified more as physical than psychological factors. Accordingly, those affected often try to compensate for an emotional state through physical activity or to activate it in the first place.

This becomes dangerous if a connection to the outside world can be established only through great physical sensations such as pain or relevant stimulants. An incipient emotional numbness is most clearly visible in the decline in social interaction and in a general neglect of former leisure activities.

With the increasing lack of understanding of their own emotional world, it is impossible for those affected to engage with interpersonal needs or to maintain a fundamental empathic understanding of the emotional world of others. Often such insensibility is met with incomprehension and sometimes unwillingness in other people. This reaction cannot be adequately compensated for by the sufferer, which can lead to further emotional withdrawal.

People who are forced to move in a pronounced emotional isolation, tend to general hopelessness as the disease progresses, an underlying inner emptiness. This manifests itself in severe depression, pronounced lack of drive and general joylessness. Not only social contacts suffer from this. The willingness to perform and learn at work and in everyday life is also severely weakened by the lack of internal motivation.

Diagnosis & course

Science is currently criticizing a far too little attention to the prevailing symptoms. Mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder or depression are often incorrectly diagnosed, with emotional numbness only being a sub-item. The disease can develop in different patterns.

If the onset is sudden or insidious, the symptoms can worsen gradually or continuously. Mixed forms are also possible – such as an inconspicuous beginning, creeping progress and, ultimately, an erratic progression of the disease that is completely incomprehensible to the environment.

When should you go to the doctor?

If it is difficult for the person concerned to develop emotions or to interpret them in a counterpart, he should have his observations clarified by a doctor. In the case of emotional numbness, the relatives often suffer more from the symptoms than the sick person himself.

Therefore, it is also recommended that a patient’s family members or partners consult a doctor. You need a comprehensive explanation of the symptoms of the disease. It can also be helpful if they seek emotional and spiritual support in dealing with the situation. Those affected often notice the lack of emotions very late.

Mostly they suffer from other diseases, the effect of which is emotional numbness. For this reason, a doctor should be visited as soon as the person concerned feels unwell, their participation in social life is low or they notice a lack of drive. Often he is pointed out by fellow human beings that his behavior is unusual.

If the hints appear repeatedly, it is advisable to consult a doctor and describe the situation. The emotional numbness can occur as a consequence of trauma. After experiencing a fateful event, it is generally advisable to consult a doctor or therapist. This can be helpful in processing what happened.

Treatment & Therapy

Since emotional numbness per se is not counted as an illness, the underlying illness is primarily treated. Relevant methods have so far not been able to establish themselves. At the drug level, there are great hopes for antidepressants and neuroleptics.

These are supposed to influence the perception of one’s own feelings through the targeted stimulation or inhibition of certain hormone releases. So far there are no relevant psychosomatic therapy methods either.

In the field of traumatology, there are great hopes for behavioral therapy. The targeted processing of the traumatic experiences should enable the person affected to move about without fear in everyday life and thus make a conscious restriction of the emotional world superfluous.

Outlook & forecast

Temporary emotional numbness has a good prognosis. It is often triggered by phases of emotional overload, hectic rush, the occurrence of life crises or traumatic events. Once these emotional challenges have been processed, the emotions return and the numbness goes away.

With psychological support, a shortening of the suffering phase or a relief of the symptoms can be determined in many patients. In minor crises, a therapist is not always needed to achieve a cure. If the person concerned is confronted with an intense emotional problem or several emotionally disturbing events, further complaints and thus a worsening of the prognosis can arise. This is especially true when no medical treatment is sought.

If the emotional numbness is not an independent clinical picture, the underlying disease must be diagnosed in order to make a prognosis. If this can be treated or treated, the emotional numbness is also healed.

If there is a disorder that cannot be cured with current medical options, the emotional numbness will persist over the long term. A very frequent criterion for the improvement of the symptoms is the patient’s insight into the disease. If this is not given or if there is a lack of cooperation from the person concerned in a therapy, the prognosis is unfavorable.


In the course of an already known underlying disease, a regular psychological assessment of emotional sensitivity is advisable. Appropriate medication should be taken as directed by a doctor.

Temporary states can be avoided by a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Avoiding stimulants such as alcohol and nicotine also promotes a healthy relationship with one’s own emotional world and the emotional absorption and processing of environmental stimuli.


Depending on the cause, emotional numbness requires more or less intensive follow-up care. The isolation of the soul from attacks or stimuli can indicate autism in children or adults, but it can also indicate psychological abuse. In the first case, follow-up care is difficult, but quite feasible.

Autistic people also benefit from intensive care over a longer period of time. In the case of sexual or psychological abuse, psychotherapy or behavioral therapy is the appropriate approach to track down emotional numbness. In addition, emotional numbness can indicate post-traumatic stress disorder.

In this case, the stress disorder needs therapeutic treatment after diagnosis. The emotional numbness can appear months or years later after a stressful experience. But emotional numbness can also be a component of mental illness. Depression, for example, is an option. These often require long-term drug therapy. In some cases, however, psychotherapy can also be an effective therapeutic approach against emotional numbness.

In most cases, emotional numbness is considered a symptom rather than being recognized and treated as a problem in its own right. It usually represents one of several disorders, for example self-destructive behavior such as scratching, alcoholism and similar attempts at relief. Follow-up care is therefore based on the underlying problem.

You can do that yourself

The possibilities of self-help with emotional numbness are very limited. Even if empathy can basically be learned equally by both sexes, those affected by emotional numbness are usually unable to access this ability due to an emotionally stressful event.

In most cases, relatives also perceive the illness as troublesome. For this reason, it is important that partners and family members are fully informed about the person’s complaints. They often need psychological support so that they can deal with the symptoms on a day-to-day basis. The sick often experience fewer or no emotions at all. They lack the competence to develop access to their own feelings. At the same time, it is often not possible for them to perceive other people’s feelings and inner states of experience and to respond to them.

Tolerance and understanding are required from everyone involved. In everyday life it is helpful to talk openly about the events and perceptions of all those affected in the environment. Explanations about a certain behavior are just as important as the reflection of behavioral patterns. Changes can be achieved together on the basis of mutual trust and the exchange of wishes and needs. The aim should be to avoid conflicts and to improve coexistence.

Emotional Numbness

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