Emotional Numbness: Causes & Symptoms

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  • 0:02 What is Emotional Numbness?
  • 1:05 Symptoms of Emotional Numbness
  • 2:30 Causes of Emotional Numbness
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that emotional numbness can be caused by traumatic events? Learn more about emotional numbness in this lesson. You'll discover its causes as well as its symptoms.

What is Emotional Numbness?

Jill is a 24-year-old scientist who lives alone in her apartment with two pet cats. One Friday evening after going to bed, a man broke into Jill's house and physically assaulted her. This encounter was extremely traumatic for Jill and caused her to move out of her apartment. Jill also became suspicious of strangers and refused to develop new relationships with people. Two weeks later, Jill's father died in a car accident. Jill found it difficult to get through the funeral arrangements. She became emotionally detached to the situation, did not show any signs of grief, and refused to acknowledge or share what she was feeling, even to her own family members. As time passed, Jill found it impossible to connect with other individuals on an emotional level. When one of her friend's father died, Jill was unable to empathize with him. As Jill became more closed off emotionally, her close relationships also began to suffer. After months of living this way, Jill decided to visit a psychologist, where it was discovered that Jill was experiencing emotional numbness. So, what is emotional numbness?

Symptoms of Emotional Numbness

Our emotions play an important role in our daily lives. They influence our thoughts and behaviors. Emotions promote biological responses, such as when fear leads to the fight or flight response. Emotions inform our decision-making process, such as when we decide not to watch a particular movie because it makes us feel scared. Emotions also inform us that an important goal or need may be advanced or hindered in a situation, such as when children know that if they run to their parents after getting hurt, they will be taken care of. When we experience emotional numbness, it in turn influences several areas of our lives.

People experiencing emotional numbness are essentially cut off from their emotions. This includes both positive and negative emotions. For example, an emotionally-detached person might not be able to feel grief at the passing of a loved one, like in Jill's case, but also might not be able to feel joy when they receive a promotion at work. An emotionally detached person may find it difficult or impossible to connect with other individuals on an emotional level, similar to how Jill was unable to empathize with a friend.

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