A common, yet underestimated problem that many of my clients face is learning to accept and experience emotions. Feeling “numb” is something that many people who enter into therapy discover as a problem. Often clients will say that not feeling or experiencing emotions is easier to deal with than the inconvenience of allowing themselves to feel their emotions. Because of many failed attempts at feeling happy or content, these individuals have taught themselves that avoiding feelings is the only way to live. However, when trying to establish relationships with other people, being numb creates an enormous barrier. Friendship and romantic relationships are built from an emotional level. Learning how to experience the joy that can come from emotions, and handle the occasional pain that comes from feelings, helps people learn how to enjoy their lives in a way that they had not before.
If you are someone who has felt numb for any period of time, you should first identify where you learned that lacking emotional responses was the safest way to behave. Was this based out of a painful experience? Is this reaction related to several painful experiences? What was the nature of these events? Asking yourself these tough questions can help you learn about why you react like you now do, and also help you identify trends in these events. This not only will give you insight into where this reactive behavior began, but also help you to deal with it in the future.
If you see trends in the certain kinds of events that once led you to feel emotional pain, ask yourself if the events were as severe as you initially thought. Try to scale them on a scale of 1-to-10, with 10 being the most horrible thing that could happen to you. It may be possible that this event was not as bad as you once thought. Then ask yourself, how could you react to such an event if it happened now for the first time. If it was an extremely negative circumstance, then you would likely benefit from thinking about what you had control of at that time. What could you have changed to avoid this? Maybe you could have avoided part of the situation, or maybe it was unavoidable. If it was unavoidable, is it probable that it will happen again? Most of these negative events that happen in our lives, which are completely out of our control, are also extremely rare. But maybe now you are left with the fear that this will return. In these types of situations, talking with a professional counselor or therapist, so that you can live your life without such anxiety will likely be beneficial.
There is also a hopelessness involved in allowing yourself to become numb. To overcome this, it is helpful to enter primarily into situations where you are more assured to walk away with a positive feeling. Give yourself time to reflect on the positives of events in your life. Ask yourself questions like, “what did I enjoy about today?” Learning to appreciate small events can go a long way in helping you experience all emotions, and especially appreciate the positive ones.
Keep in mind that there are benefits that come from allowing yourself to experience and move past negative emotions. Life is about trial and error. Wisdom comes from learning. Experiencing negative events most often leads to negative emotions, but if you can learn from the experience, you will not likely have to experience it again in the future. You will know better.
In those situations where you had little to no control and were exposed to a painful event, you can walk away learning about yourself. You can learn how resilient you can be. Smaller challenges may now not even seem challenging at all. Therefore, you can focus more of your attention on positive circumstances in your life, rather than hide from the negative ones.
Numbness is a learned behavior for many people who enter therapy. A lack of experiencing emotions is a viable short-term solution with too many long-term consequences to list. Without being open to possibly feeling sadness, anger, or anxiety, you will not find the joy of happiness. If you have felt numb for any period of time, challenge yourself to allow this vulnerability. You could change your life.