When You Feel Emotionally Numb, Do This To Feel More Alive

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When you feel emotionally numb, what can you do? Is there anything that can make you feel better?

There are many feelings that can make us human beings uncomfortable. Anger, sadness, hurt, anxiety, fear, loss or grief, for example. Most of us would not choose to feel any of these. In fact, we will often go to great lengths to escape and avoid feeling them.

But there is one feeling that can be more intolerable than any of those. It’s in its own category because it is not like the others.

I have seen this feeling drive people to do extreme things to escape it, like take risks, harm themselves, put themselves in dangerous situations, or even consider suicide. Many people feel this feeling, but few have words to describe it.

I call this feeling the “unfeeling feeling.” The best way to describe it is a deep sense of emptiness or emotional numbness.

Here are some important facts to know about emotional numbness.

5 Important Facts About Emotional Numbness

  1. You have the unfeeling feeling for a reason, and you are not alone. Other people feel this way too. But everyone does not feel this way.
  2. The emotional numbness you feel is a message from your body. Your body is trying to tell you something, and it is vital that you listen.
  3. This message from your body is one of the most valuable and important ones you will ever receive.
  4. The message is this: Your feelings are blocked off.
  5. The likely cause of your blocked-off feelings, and hence your emotional numbness, is Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) happens when your parents fail to notice, respond to, and validate your emotions enough as they raise you.

When you grow up with your feelings ignored or unwelcome, your young brain builds a wall to block them off. It’s an effective coping mechanism that helps you avoid being a “problem” in your childhood home.

But this effective coping mechanism backfires when you grow up. As you move into adulthood, you need your emotions. If you were a boat, your emotions would be your engine, anchor, and rudder. They should be not only grounding and rooting you but also motivating, directing and guiding you.

When your emotions are blocked off, your body feels it. Something vital is missing. You sense this deeply, and it does not feel good. Just as your body knows when you are hungry or thirsty, it also knows when your feelings are blocked. You are emotionally numb.

When You Feel Emotionally Numb, Do This To Feel More Alive

And now for the good news. If you feel emotionally numb, there is plenty of hope for you. I am going to give you answers.

There are two ways to address your emotional numbness. One is short-term coping, and the other is long-term solving. To truly address the problem it makes sense to do both. But in this article, we are going to talk about short-term coping. How do you manage the unfeeling feeling when you get it?

Trying to avoid or escape the unfeeling feeling will not work. It’s natural, when you feel numb, to try to escape it by using external or physical stimulation. That’s why so many people might go shopping, sky-dive, drink, use drugs, gamble or even harm themselves. When you’re feeling this, it seems like something extreme will solve it by making you feel something…anything seems better than nothing at that moment. 

But when you take any action like this to escape numbness, you are only setting yourself up for more numbness in the future. Plus the numbness can drive you too far, so you are at risk for overspending, over-drinking, or excessive risk that might harm you.

There are, however, a few far healthier and more effective things you can do. First, it’s very important to take note that you are feeling emotionally numb or empty. Second, you must do the opposite of escape or avoidance. The key to dealing with numbness in the moment is to go straight at it.

In other words, the best way to cope with numbness is to try to reach your blocked-off emotions. To do this, you must focus inward, not outward. You must reach out to your emotions.

4 Healthy Ways To Cope With Emotional Numbness

  1. Remember and reimagine a time when you felt a strong emotion: To do this, close your eyes. Think about a time in your life when you felt strong hurt, happiness, sadness, pain, loss or joy. Put yourself back there and try to relive it in your mind. As soon as you contact a feeling, allow yourself to feel it. Think about what you are feeling, and about why this was such an intense experience for you. Once you do this, you will find that your numbness has left you.
  2. Do The Identifying & Naming Exercise: I specially created this exercise to help you get in touch with your blocked-off feelings. To do it close your eyes, clear your mind, and focus your attention. Then ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Try as hard as you can to identify a feeling in your body. Any feeling at all. If you feel nothing, keep trying. If you become frustrated, congratulations. You are having a feeling. As soon as you have a feeling, your numbness will be replaced. (To learn more about how to do the Identifying & Naming Exercise, including additional helpful steps, see the book Running On Empty.
  3. Meditate: This is a way to not only focus inward but also to take control of your own mind. Meditation is the surest way to go straight at your numbness instead of escaping it. It may seem impossible, but just trying to do it is a way of proactively challenging your numbness.
  4. Reach out to someone you like or love: The feeling of numbness thrives on disconnection. You cannot feel numb when you are feeling connected to another person. Connecting, talking or laughing with someone is an excellent way to extinguish your emotional numbness.

When you feel emotionally numb, choose an option above and do it to feel more alive.

But overall, the best way to not only manage but extinguish, emotional numbness from your life is to heal the Childhood Emotional Neglect you’ve been living with all these years.

To find out how to remove Emotional Neglect from your relationships, and banish numbness from your life by replacing it with connections to others, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see my first book Running on Empty


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Abhimanyu Singh - April 6, 2024 Reply

Thank you for sharing this beneficial post. It’s become essential in today’s time to spread awareness about emotional numbness as not many know about it and how to deal with it. It is a mental condition which may appear to be helpful for coping with trauma and one’s emotions in the short run , but can impact health adversely in the long run, making timely help essential.

Hailey - October 18, 2022 Reply

Hi Jonice,

I have recently been broken up with and it’s my first real relationship. I have been in it for ten months, and he all of a sudden tells me that he lost feelings. I seemed to be fine over the weekend; enjoying homecoming and family time, but yesterday, I had a sudden feeling of emotional numbness. I laugh at stuff as a habitual reaction, but in reality, I feel no enjoyment at all. I feel no happiness or sadness. I can’t even cry. My appetite hasn’t been great either, so that certainly doesn’t help. But the stuff that would usually send me off doesn’t even bother me much anymore. There are some people in my class who throw stuff around the classroom and play high-pitched sounds my teacher can’t hear that hurts everyone else’s ears. I also can’t seem to focus or find motivation for my school work and being a perfectionist and someone who used to really stress about my grades, this doesn’t seem healthy. I have people who are telling me that it will pass, but what happens if it doesn’t pass soon enough? What should I do?

Clare - June 24, 2021 Reply

Hi, what if you can’t remember or reimagine emotions at all. I realised I have been emotionally disconnected with family and friends for a very long time, although I can’t remember a lot of memories, I can’t recall if I have ever felt love for anyone.

Audra - June 21, 2021 Reply

Severe trauma in one’s childhood or at any stage can cause that as well. The numbness can be also because feeling at all is too overwhelming. It really can be engaged when you run into a living environment and relationships after having lived in severely unhealthy ones. It’s very hard to dial down and listen to those feelings for a season as the body has blocked them as it has determined feeling them is to much and will shut you down from doing what you must to keep going. This can also be experienced for neurodivergent people’s as there senses are overwhelming and literally are painful. It is a string to layers and layers of experiences and circumstances and relationship wounds. With love n time and living in safe places with loved ones it can heal over time. Always remember the one going thru this isn’t being difficult… they are deeply wounded and hurting and having a very difficult time. Lots of presence, loving and just being there… They may go thru a very large range of extreme highs and lows when this breaks.. love em thru it . The person on the other side of it will be worth all you go thru.

Kriste - January 15, 2021 Reply

Dr. Jonice,
I have a teen boy who is a part of our family. He has been emotionally neglected, diagnosed adhd but not medicated for years. He has cycles where he says he feels nothing for anyone or anything. He claims to be dead inside, he sees not future for himself. He attempts to attach meaning to these loss of feelings and starts blowing up and ending his close relationships believing that he has lost feelings only to later discover he does care deeply and he made a huge mistake. He experienced a death two days after Christmas and he has again transitioned to emotional numbness, anger and rage outbursts.
His family has not made getting him the tools to deal with the adhd a priority, and they attempt to discipline the behavior and acting-out out of him.
They also have made his relationship with our family a source of contention. Which has been a huge source of pain for him. He has tried to walk away from our family several times to make his family happy only to be miserable and he comes back.
We are trying to help him the best we can but our options and ability to intervene are limited. We know we are the main source of emotional support for him and when he has been out of our life he spirals out of control and goes down a bad path. How can we help him recognize when this is happening? What tools can we give him to get reconnected to his feelings and emotions when this happens? What does he need to say to himself when his feelings turn off to keep him from destroying his relationships? I read somewhere the feelings in this state are not the truth they are simply misdirections from a brain that is not functioning correctly. Is this true? I told him any sudden shift or departure from your long standing feelings can not be trusted. So don’t start making rash decisions in that state. Any direction you can give me would be very helpful. Thanks

    Jonice - January 17, 2021 Reply

    Dear Kriste, this boy is fortunate to have you as family. It’s so great how you’re trying to help him. I encourage you to see if you can get him an appointment with a therapist. This is more than you’ll be able to sort out on your own. Other than that, overall, being accepting and validating and caring and available are the best things you can do for him.

Yotha - July 18, 2020 Reply

Dr. Jonice, I read your 2 books and felt that I understand a lot about my past and myself. I answered yes to all your CEN questions. I loved your books so much because I can identified myself with Zachs, William, Tyrone, Josh and found the Fatal flaw to be very true about me.

I am really grateful for your books and especially this article. I felt so alive. So painful. It never occured to me that I heavily relied on instant snacks, videogames, movies, travelling as a coping throughout my childhood and never realized that they were unhealthy for me, because my family gave me the money or stuffs (whenever I get good grades, results) specifically to solve my emotional problems this way. Most of my friends at school were doing the same thing, and so I thought this was the only way to go.

Fortunately, I found your books and fortunately there is a mentor I can reached out for and she really listens and understand me, to a level my parents cannot. I’m working my way through all my CEN problems. Thank you very much. Thank you.

I have one question though, will I ever get to that new me? Currently I felt like I’m in progress, like every day is a constant battle with all these programming. Sometimes when I happen to live a really good day I’m proud of (very aware of my emotions, having a good mood throughout the day, doing all the self care and exercising) I just thought that that’s the end. I’ve accomplished a recovery. At least I’ve lived one good day exactly the way non CEN people live. But I wonder to myself, do I have to do this again tomorrow and throughout all of my life?


    Jonice - July 19, 2020 Reply

    Dear Yotha, you’re doing great things toward your recovery. Just keep doing them! Healing is a step by step process and requires commitment. Maybe think less about the “end results” and more about the process as you are going through it.

Yvonne - April 25, 2020 Reply

Funny you’re mentioning drinking, self-harm and suicide. All things I have been thinking about lately. I’ve been feeling numb and empty, well basically dead inside, for so long. It’s scaring me and it’s exhausting to keep a brave face for the outside world.

    Jonice - April 25, 2020 Reply

    Dear Yvonne, I strongly encourage you to talk with a therapist about this. Check the Find A CEN Therapist List on this website. It’s important!

Lauren - March 10, 2020 Reply

I’ve been dissociating for 2 weeks now while being under severe stress due to circumstances outside my control. It wasnt until yesterday while walking outside did I recognize how severely emotionally and physically detached I was from my body. I’ve been searching google for 2 hours on how to FEEL through emotional detachment because, believe me, I felt like I was going to lose my mind from the anxiety of needing to release but being unable to connect no matter what coping skills have always successfully worked in the past. Thank you for posting this; I was able to turn inward, connect with a memory, and start sobbing. It just felt so good. Hopefully I can rest tonight. Again, thank you.

    Jonice - March 12, 2020 Reply

    Dear Lauren, it sounds like you used my suggestions very well. Good job! And I hope you’ll continue it going forward so that it will prevent you reaching the point of being numb again.

    Geraldine - March 15, 2020 Reply

    Also, read tina gilbertson’s excellent book on how feel and so heal painful feelings, called, constructive wallowing, its excellent.

Taha - October 3, 2019 Reply

I need to know ways to get rid of this numbness, like 1 2 3 4.
Does it heal by time or you need to make things work out?
Please do tell me.

    Jonice - October 4, 2019 Reply

    Dear Taha, healing takes work. You can follow the 4 Steps of CEN Recovery that I have developed. You can find them in my books and my Fuel UP For Life Program.

April - September 14, 2019 Reply

Thank you. I’ve been feeling numb for the past few months. I’ve been going through alot tho. And I cant afford therapy. I read the article and then as soon as I closed my eyes and “looked inward” I just started uncontrollably sobbing. I couldn’t even see anything or stop. Then I started laughing and couldnt stop doing that either because of how easy that felt and how ridiculous it is that I usually cant just cry. I feel much better now tho, so thank you ✌

    Jonice - September 16, 2019 Reply

    April! Congratulations. You have accessed and honored your feelings. You can, and should, do much more of the same.

Adiffdiagnosis - September 12, 2019 Reply

Your diagnosis doesn’t work for me because I had a loving home and attentive parents. We went on vacation together to our cottage each Summer. My dad taught me all I know today, I hung with him as he worked around our home and he never refused me time to answered my petty questions.
My issue started when I was married to an abusive guy. After divorcing him I was diagnosed with PTSD from Intimate partner abuse. I have been numb inside, finding it difficult to love others since.
Oh, I can say, ‘I love you’, hug someone , but I just don’t feel it.
My mom is 93 and lives with me now. I love her dearly, she and I tell each other so every day. But I want to FEEL the feeling of that love. I don’t want any regrets.
Can you help? Please?

    Jonice - September 12, 2019 Reply

    I’m not able to answer this without know you. Please see a CEN Therapist from the Find A CEN Therapist Page so you can get some answers to this.

    Notmyself - October 12, 2019 Reply

    This is exactly the same for me. I was normal, happy and sensitive. I had attentive parents. After a relationship with a narcissist I have been numb for years. At first I figured things would normalize. I know cognitively I love my cats, child, family. I remember the feeling. But I can’t feel it now. It’s like a wire has been disconnected. I haven’t been able to get help. I can’t afford long term counselling and the few sessions I went to, they didn’t seem to understand fully and offered canned advice. I need specific steps to move past the numbness. I feel like time is passing with my son and I am missing out on feeling.

Elizabeth - August 20, 2019 Reply

I used to feel extreme emotions, usually negative. Then one night I had a panic attack and I stopped feeling. I want my feelings bad, even the negative. What can I do about it? It’s terrifying. I feel like I’m losing my mind, everything around me seems fake, like I’m living in a dream.

    Jonice - August 21, 2019 Reply

    Dear Elizabeth, please get the book Running On Empty and practice the Identifying & Naming Technique every single day. Eventually you’ll reach through to your feelings again.

Tiffany - August 14, 2019 Reply

Hey ever since I was 11 people used to tell me that I’m not good enough for them. Everyone from my family, relatives to those I thought were my friends and after a year of crying myself to sleep and wondering what I did wrong it all stopped. I was OK with it but now I’m 18 and people keep telling me what I feel, or don’t feel, is unnatural. I’ve gone skydiving and bungee jumping and that feeling of excitement or happiness always lasts for about a minute before it’s all gone. I don’t know how to get out of this. So my question is do you think I’m too far gone?

    Jonice - August 18, 2019 Reply

    You are not too far gone Tiffany. Not at all. Keep learning everything you can about CEN!

J - August 1, 2019 Reply

Will it go away?

    Jonice - August 3, 2019 Reply

    If you commit to feeling your feelings and learning the skills to manage your feelings, then yes. It will go away. It does take work and time and it is worth it.

Stephanie - July 17, 2019 Reply

I got a numb feeling when i go to sleep at night.I’m also getting axiety because of it.Then i’m awake and cant sleep for hours my mind cant switch of because of the numb feeling.Thats only on the right side from my feet to my face. I scared the numb feeling will never goes away.Please help i cant deal with it anymore.Its been going on for 2weeks now.If got sleeples nights

    Jonice - July 17, 2019 Reply

    Assuming this numbness is not the result of a medical problem, I would say that the uncomfortable feelings come up at night when your guard is down. It’s a sign that you’re not addressing your feelings enough during the day. I think that’s the thing for you to address first. Please see a CEN therapist.

Rose - June 27, 2019 Reply

I’m going through a breakup right now, it’s been 3 weeks. My ex tells me that he feel’s numb right now and doesn’t think we will be getting back together. My ex is the one that did the breakup. I’m kind of confused because the day before we broke up everything was great, we were telling each other “I love you” and being very affectionate. The day we broke up, we had an argument, he got really upset and broke if off. So I can’t understand how he can love me one day then become numb after that since the breakup. I don’t know whether just to give him the space and let him figure things out, or if he is using “feeling numb” as a coping mechanism. Hope you can help me. Thank you.

Husayn - October 12, 2018 Reply

Sometime’s I kind of forget things, or don’t understand things. I have read your both books, skipped the chapters on parenting as I have never been one, but can I ask for a reminder about long-term treatments?

    Jonice - October 13, 2018 Reply

    Dear Husayn, for help with CEN you can contact a therapist from the Find A CEN Therapist List on this website or you can consider taking my online CEN Recovery Program, Fuel Up For Life.

James Lindsay - August 13, 2018 Reply

Thanks for describing and explaining so well.It’s all new and relieving of some tension and pain.

    Jonice - August 16, 2018 Reply

    I’m so glad James.

R - August 13, 2018 Reply

This observation about emotional numbness is perfectly described. Thank you for publicly sharing this information.

    Jonice - August 16, 2018 Reply

    You’re so welcome R. I’m glad to be of help to you.

Tillie - August 13, 2018 Reply

I have long believed that my emotional numbness was a desired state of being. I have been in therapy and my goal was to feel the positive emotions and continue to be numb to the “negative” ones. One therapist commented that when I was upset I would “burst into tear”, as only one tear would fall.
I read with iñterest your posts. I can relate to so much.
Thank you

    Jonice - August 16, 2018 Reply

    Dear Tillie, your “negative” emotions are just as valuable as your positive ones. I’m glad you are realizing that. Now you can practice listening to their messages.

Rose - August 12, 2018 Reply

Dr. Jonice thank you so much for all your insights and methods of coping. Question: does emotional numbness come up in stages? Meaning that once a certain hoop is achieved , could there be more behind it that needs to be worked on?

    Jonice - August 16, 2018 Reply

    Hi Rose, yes definitely. Almost all emotional healing happens in stages, or layers. Take care!

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