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18 Signs You Grew Up Emotionally 'Numb'

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When we talk about mental health, we often focus on feelings that seem “too much.” Overwhelming anxiety, crushing depression, debilitating emotional reactions. But sometimes those who struggle with their mental health don’t feel too much. Instead, they actually struggle to feel anything at all.

Emotional numbness can sometimes start as a coping mechanism. Maybe you were taught from an early age your emotions were “wrong,” or starting numbing your emotions to cope with trauma. Maybe it was actually a symptom of depression you didn’t recognize, because you thought depression just meant being “sad.” Regardless, when you grow up suppressing your emotions, it can affect your mental health as an adult.

We wanted to know what “signs” let people know they grew up numbing their emotions, so we reached out to our mental health community. If you can relate, you’re not alone. You deserve to feel your feelings, no matter how intense or inconvenient they are. 

Here’s what our community shared with us: 

  1. “A cat I adored died recently. I thought it didn’t affect me, until I saw him and then let it all out. I realized after that unless I am confronted with an uncomfortable emotion and physically have to process it, I won’t. I will ignore it and blame others and pretend it’s not happening until I have to, and even then I’ll try as hard as I can to ignore the problem. Healthy AF right?” — Alyx P.
  2. “Numbing emotions from early teens led to being incredibly indifferent in my emotional responses. I barely ever mention feeling physical pain. Maybe because I never wanted things to seem like a big deal. So it’s very difficult expressing pleasant emotions to others too since it feels like I’m overstepping and then anxiety kicks in. It’s like my brain resists being vulnerable/’soft’ (both good things and how I really am) by being indifferent instead. Anger (sometimes misplaced) is my first response in most situations and other negative emotions like sadness are overwhelming, which makes me feel like a 10-year-old. Overall, I constantly struggle between expressing myself in a healthy way and not expressing at all.” — Suzette R.
  3. “I find myself just not feeling right. Not happy, not mad, not sad. Not feeling anything. Now I can’t feel negative emotions because I numbed them for so long.” — Liz T.
  4. “I go into what I call my ‘zombie mode’ where I’m just going through the motions without really thinking about anything or processing. I shut down emotionally and I’ll automatically do all the things I would do on a normal day, but without actively trying to do them.” — Yoeli R.
  5. “Random full-blown meltdowns. I don’t have them very often so when they ‘visit,’ they’re excruciating. It takes me days to recover afterwards.” — Aniela G.
  6. “When my friends at school and family stopped listening or interrupted me too many times to count when I would talk, I eventually just stopped talking. I felt like there were more interesting things than what I was talking about. I wasn’t hurt after a while. I thought it was just ‘normal.’ That’s why I don’t talk about my feelings very often now. Or when I do talk, I constantly apologize for it being too boring or about me.” — Kayla-Ann M.  
  7. “Pleasing others. If I can help everyone around me I don’t have time to deal with my own emotions. Or my other favorite one is I hide behind humor because that emotion is easy to portray. When all of my responses become jokes, I know I’m numbing my feelings the way I know how.” — Courtney H.
  8. “I dissociate… Dad told me once he knew I was ‘done’ with mom’s drama when I would get a drink and sit in my chair and stare at the wall for an hour or so. I still ‘go on vacation’ when I visit if she starts getting dramatic.” — Nikki M.
  9. “Absolutely no talking. My jaw locks shut, and I stoically freeze to let all of the emotions pass me by, like a hurricane.” — Yael Y.
  10. “Not being able to express emotions as an adult. Something that ‘normal’ people would react to, I wouldn’t react to at all.” — KayLee B
  11. “‘Functioning’ but doing everything absent-mindedly because you can’t really function. You just try to because you are trying to distract emotions.” — Mahnal V.
  12. “Dissociate. I just sit not speaking. I just go on autopilot so I’ll go to the toilet if I need to or if I’m eating I’ll eat, but I won’t feel anything from it. I’ll come back to my room and it’s like I didn’t move. I could be scrolling through my phone but not notice what’s on there. I just blank out completely like I’ve just switched my brain off.” — Zara C.
  13. “Getting the shakes when I feel emotional. It’s like they’ve been inside me so long without a release, they shake out of me.” — Kristy G.
  14. “I am completely numb to everything. Emotions were [treated like] bad and immature things from a very young age. I was taught to be seen and not heard. Now I will be numb until something major happens or I’ve been so numb for so long that I just burst. I release by cutting, although, I have been working on other forms of release. I’m getting there.” — Meredith S.
  15. “I’m still afraid to say how I feel and I try to avoid my feelings. I get mad at myself when I can’t make them go away.” — Tina B.
  16. “‘Random’ bouts of crying.” — Yoeli R.
  17. “Anger that follows every emotion whether it’s happiness, sadness, fear, etc.” — Phylecia O.
  18. “Being taken off guard when I experience a feeling. I still feel like a novice in dealing with emotions because I didn’t grow up feeling them. Unfortunately that can mean handling emotions, good and bad, like a toddler would. They can feel more extreme than they would otherwise because they are still very unfamiliar. And it can take me longer to process seemingly less significant feelings because it’s not yet automatic. It still takes effort.” – Clara S.

If you struggle with feeling emotionally numb,  check out this great piece by Annie Wright, LMFT, “What You’ve Learned About Feelings May Be Wrong.”

What would you add? Tell us in the comments below.

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

Originally published: October 4, 2018
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