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20 Reasons People Feel Disconnected From Their Emotions

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People often talk about being overly emotional and feeling too much. However, many people find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum, feeling nothing at all.

Sometimes this is a direct result of a mental illness such as depression or bipolar disorder. Other times, it can be a trauma or survival response, a way to cope with extreme emotions by pushing them downward until you feel nothing at all. Some people may have intentionally conditioned themselves to suppress how they feel, while for others, the disconnect occurs independently of any conscious choice or action they make. There are times that emptiness stretches on and on, and others where it is sporadic, alternating between feeling too much and feeling nothing at all.

I personally have experienced that emotional disconnect frequently over the years, caused in part by years of trauma and in part to a lifelong struggle with mental illness. I often teeter between feeling far too much and feeling absolutely nothing at all. Those days filled with emptiness and nothingness I refer to as my blah days. I know there are things I should be doing and feeling, yet I feel trapped in that numbness, unable to care. It isn’t that I don’t want to feel anything. I’m stuck, frozen, unable to react, blankly going through the motions. In those moments, part of me wishes I could yell, scream, laugh, cry — something, anything. But there is just nothing there. I barely feel alive. 

Whatever the cause of that emotional disconnect, it can take a great toll on us both mentally and emotionally. It often leaves us feeling lost, broken, devoid of everything that makes us who we are, and numb to the world. There are times when we know we should be happy or angry or sad, yet there is nothing there, an empty void.

We recently asked The Mighty’s community about their own experiences with emotional disconnect and why they believed it happens for them.  Here is what they had to say: 

1.“It might have been a coping mechanism in my case, a survival instinct. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but these days I don’t feel anything. I don’t know if I’m dead or alive. It’s been like this for years. I don’t remember the last time I felt anything. I have zero emotions.” — Joanna S.

2. “I find it hard to focus and feel present whenever I’m around anyone, I feel as if I’ve completely lost how to even keep a simple conversation going because of how much I overthink and get paranoid that people think I’m ‘stupid,’ or have zero depth.” — Channelle A. 

3. “Growing up, I was not allowed to show my feelings because if I did, no matter what age or the circumstances, I was told ‘stop being silly.’ This went for any emotion — being sad, angry, even happy or excited. So my survival instinct is I have the ability to hide my emotions very well, because I still have the fear of being called silly if I show any of my emotions.” — Jessica A.

4. “I think for me, it’s disassociation being a common symptom of my BPD. It’s like a personal override switch when my emotions get too intense to deal with, they shut down completely. It means I live in two worlds, one where I’m completely controlled by intense emotions or the other where I can’t feel anything at all.” — Laura J.

5. “I was constantly forced to suppress my emotions as a survival mechanism. I had to please everyone, and wasn’t ever able to let anyone know if I was depressed or anxious, which made my disorders a lot worse.” — Jackson I. 

6. “Having bipolar disorder makes me question every emotion I have. I am always anxious I’m having a mood swing, being irrational, irritable or caught up in thought distortions. It gets overwhelming, exhausting, embarrassing and frustrating. It’s easier that I just push everything down and feel numb so I have no conflict in knowing whether or not my feelings are normal or making me look crazy. I’m already hard to be around with this disorder. I don’t want to be thought of as ‘crazy.’ Being numb is easier to live with… no surprises.” — Jennifer M. 

7. “I was bullied for years at school so to survive I learned to block out my emotions for the most part and rationalize the situation. I couldn’t have survived without suppressing my emotions, but it meant serious mental health problems for me in adulthood.” — Violet S. 

8. “Growing up I learned early to suppress or hide my ‘big’ emotions because it would set my mother off or would just be dismissed, so it is now triggering for me when I get angry or upset as I feel I’m doing something wrong so I go into my head and disassociate” — Kristen C. 

9. “My emotions are flat. In the past two years, both my parents have died and my husband left me and I’ve not shed a single tear. My first marriage ended in a rough divorce after 28 years. I started drinking at that time and was a serious alcoholic for eight years. I think all the trauma and suffering I went thru during those tough years took all the emotions I had. I just don’t have any left.” — Laurie S. 

10. “My father taught me from an early age to ‘separate business from emotion.’ Feelings and emotions were inconvenient to him; as a narcissist, he had the starring role in the family and anything that took away from that was a burden. My feelings were minimized and invalidated so much that it was easier for me to stop having any, rather than deal with the repercussions that came from his dismissals and my mother’s rage and martyrdom.” — Murphy V.

11. “I am disconnected from my emotions due to them not being validated when I was growing up. I learned to hide them and show a fake smile to not have others worry or be concerned about how I was actually feeling.” — Adah J. 

12. “I have trouble connecting with my feelings, my head shuts down and I can’t recognize the different feelings from each other. It’s like my head and body are two different things. I am almost incapable of feeling anger, it shows as anxiety instead. Through four years of cognitive therapy, my anger has shown as anger two times. It is explosive and intense and I don’t know how to regulate it yet, which makes me uncomfortable and scared. And so I shut down the feeling for long periods of time.” — Sanne V. 

13. “When I feel anything at all my brain says it’s bad. If I’m angry I’m a terrible person, if I’m sad I deserve to drown in grief, if I’m happy my brain robs it away and says people like me don’t deserve happiness. When you were raised to feel like everything about you is wrong, it’s hard to reprogram yourself to think you have a right to feel. I can’t tell anyone what I want or feel because I’m not really even sure myself.” — Kiya C.

14. “I think one reason is that my emotions have been so painful for years that I just didn’t want to feel them anymore, I didn’t want to get side tracked by them anymore. Just to finally live and get everything done I need to get done.” — Heidi W.

15. “My father used to tell me ‘pain is in the mind.’ And crying or even laughing too much with my siblings was yelled at to stop or I would be punished usually by getting spanked be it a belt, spoon, paddle or hand. When I getting yelled at, I would usually shut down and not speak because I was afraid I’d say the wrong thing and get spanked more. Crying wasn’t allowed either because then they ‘give me a real reason to cry.’ I bury my feelings to the point that I have an emotional meltdown crying so hard that I have to choke back tears or I vomit.” – Brianna G.

16. “Too many close family members passed away too close together and as I began sliding back into a deep depression I lost job after job. Too much loss and too much trauma too close together. I completely shutdown… I’m pretty much afraid when I think of the future, I can’t picture anything in that future.” — Cathy P. 

17. “I think it’s a culmination of multiple traumatic events in my early childhood that contribute to my disassociation tendencies. I can actually function pretty well most of the time now, despite being half numb on most days. But there were times in childhood I was completely checked out. Like my surroundings weren’t even there. Like I wasn’t there.” — Han I.

18. “I’m usually quite in touch with my feelings, but since the loss of my daughter to suicide not two months ago, I’ve been disassociating more often than not. It’s not a choice I made, it just kind of happened. I was in shock the first few days, and poured myself into handling everything. Then I just never got the chance to just feel how I felt. I have four surviving children who are 10 and under, loads of stressors, and in recent weeks, when I was finally starting to grieve… I’ve been forced to keep it together. It’s not convenient for me to break right now I guess.” – Samantha F.

19. “When I am upset and overwhelmed (during an argument, when I am stressed or panicked) I often disassociate — I can’t think straight, I can barely talk (I can maybe say “I don’t know”), I can’t breathe properly and I just cry. It is most likely to happen when I am in situations where I want to leave (my ‘fight or flight’ instinct has kicked in) but can’t (I’m in a work meeting) or I think I should stay in the conversation to work things out with my boyfriend. This coping mechanism came from traumatic situations where I was being physically and/or emotionally harmed but I was physically unable to leave so my mind learned to check out temporarily” — Mel T.

20. “I used to feel this way growing up and I think it was because of neglect… You can’t know yourself until you know your emotions. I’m 41 and I still rely on my partner to tell me when my expectations are abnormal, but I think I’m about as ‘normal’ as most people.” — Misty C. 

Have you experienced your own emotional disconnect? Let me know in the comments below.

Getty image via Jorm Sangsorn

Originally published: October 13, 2020
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