I'm an author who writes about real-life topics. Often in life, there's a way to improve a complex situation if trying to do so.
Feeling Emotionally Blank?
Observing people's emotions is one way to get a feel for what an individual is going through. That's what certain facial expressions can tell us.
But what about those who seem emotionless? Many things can change people's facial expressions from identifiable to mysterious, including disappointment, fear, neglect, or abuse. People going through these things can have ambiguous facial expressions. A change in demeanor from obvious to subtle could be because the person is protecting themselves emotionally.
A person could seem emotionless for several reasons. Maybe they feel held back after being taken advantage of in many different situations, and they don't feel they can trust anyone for that reason. Or maybe they are coping with the loss of a loved one due to illness; it is a painful process for people, and grieving can last for years. The point is, it's okay to feel emotionally numb. In this article I discuss:
- Emotions in Everyday Life
- Why People Become Emotionally Numb
- Trauma and Emotional Numbness
- 11 Things I Do to Shake Up My Routine
- Emotional Honesty in Society
Emotions in Everyday Life
Every person is different and life is full of twists and turns. Work, home, and friendships all play a part in one's ability to maintain happiness. As much as someone can try to "live their best life" when life becomes unpredictable moods shift like changing tides.
Being happy all the time isn’t going to happen for people who are continuously going through common personal issues. Sometimes, when the unpredictable happens, we're forced to come to terms with our new realities, and one of the most difficult things to accept about this is that it is okay.
Why Is Expressing Emotions Taboo?
Hard work is rewarded, but what about emotional resilience? In school, we're taught to work our way to the top by being dedicated and consistent. We're taught we'll be rewarded for steadfastness. This mentality doesn't leave much room for dynamic responses to problems. Sometimes, expressing emotion is misinterpreted as a weakness. I (and emotional intelligence coaches at Forbes) believe expressing how you feel is healthy so you don't hold on to baggage, and it can establish stronger relationships.
The Toll of Emotional Baggage on Your Body
Working hard is a responsible thing to do, however, life experiences can affect the body if you're stressed out at work, and additional health issues can arise. Happiness doesn’t always exist for someone who is only trying to live, laugh, and love for this reason. The emotions that people have and hold in are expressed physiologically—meaning in their bodies. Facial expressions attest to long-waged fights for well-being, but I believe holding in what you feel can add to your stress over time. The body map below shows where emotions arise—and are stored—in the body.
Why Do People Become Emotionally Numb?
There are endless reasons someone can seem emotionless. Many people have a family but some aren’t close to them. They prefer to be left alone because of having a dysfunctional family life. That doesn't necessarily mean people who like doing things alone had a good or bad upbringing. Daily concerns such as finances or an upcoming medical exam might inspire someone to seek alone time.
Unfortunately, most people can't just opt out of the trials life throws at us. It's impossible to be happy all the time. And that's okay. You may know someone close to you who has felt numb recently; this is their reality, and if they want to shift it, rising above it all is the answer to see changes. Every individual's life is completely different than the other. The following are two common reasons I've seen people become sad and tired over time.
Working Too Much
If you work all the time, you may have become a workaholic. While this is socially acceptable, it takes a toll on your happiness, sociability, and ability to feel. Addiction to progress and routine can have real, negative effects on your happiness.
Being stuck at work and in a routine, all day can make you emotionless. It can make you feel like this is the only thing there is to do while you wait to die. Depression is a serious threat to your health, and a lack of livelihood and staunch reliance on work will also chip away at your spirit. Workaholism has negative effects on job satisfaction, family functioning, life satisfaction, physical health, and emotional/mental health.
The word "traumatic" is defined as something "emotionally disturbing or distressing" (Oxford Dictionary). Many issues can make someone feel numb or depressed. Included are the loss of many family members, a loss of a friend or a decrease in physical ability. A divorce, losing a loved one due to gun violence, or seeing a friend or family member go through mental illness are all considered traumatic. Never accomplishing a dream, goal, or acquiring an education is frustrating, too.
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After going through years of trauma, and/or working all day, it can be stressful for someone to do anything but cook dinner, take a shower, watch TV, and go to sleep.
Trauma and Feeling Numb
Trauma can, over time, can create a callous, numb emotional response. Expressing how you feel when you feel nothing is nearly impossible. Symptoms of emotional numbness are the following:
- Feeling distant from friends or family
- A loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Feeling physically and emotionally flat
- Feeling unable to fully participate in life
- Not feeling positive feelings like happiness
Feeling numb is common for people who have experienced a lot of trauma. As I've mentioned above, things like grief, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress (from work or otherwise), and abuse can all contribute to emotional numbness.
Being a workaholic is normalized in many parts of the world. Not being interested in anything is accepted, and numbness from trauma is normalized as well. Disinterest in things most people consider enjoyable goes unnoticed.
The Difference Between Emotional Numbness and Introversion
Remember that being stoic and silent can mean anything, and as a friend or loved one it's important not to misinterpret someone's silence. Sometimes silence is a choice. Be supportive. Introversion is mislabelled as depression and can be confused for emotional numbness. It's okay to want to be alone but talk to your doctor if you feel depressed or are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
11 Things I Do to Shake Up My Routine
The following are ways I try to wake myself up from numbness when I'm ready to shake things up.
- Go outdoors to take nature photographs
- Ride a bike with a friend
- Have a picnic or a cookout with family and friends
- Jog with a friend
- Take a long walk
- Have a conversation with a friend
- Read before going to bed or when you have leisure time
- Call a friend on the phone to talk about what matters to you
- Watch a good movie by yourself (or with a friend!)
- Get a full body massage to relax
- Avoid argumentative people
Emotional Honesty in Society
Many people stay busy going to family gatherings, weddings, birthday parties, clubs, bars, concerts, basketball games, baseball games, and going out with friends or co-workers. Still, many people aren’t the happiest doing activities with others and prefer being alone often. If you ordinarily enjoy social outings it can be unbearable to be away, but simultaneously difficult to go out. Maybe you fill the void by keeping busy by doing what has to be done every day. If you feel down and are normally extroverted, try doing some of the things I mentioned above, like taking photos of nature or going for a walk.
Happiness and Choosing Introversion
Keeping to oneself, whether being happy, or sad, are characteristics of an introverted individual who enjoys being left alone. Everyone is unique and people want to be happy and have fun in their way. People value living, laughing, and loving life to the fullest, and for others (introverted folks or those who feel numb) living life by oneself is beneficial and doesn't look like stereotypical happiness.
Emotional Suppression and Social Pressure
Keeping up with life's demands to live comfortably is a necessity for most everyone. Having a place to live, paying bills, and figuring out what the next opportunity is are all external pressures. You might suppress your emotions because you are afraid. It takes a fearless person to honestly express their emotions. If you're afraid, know this: the many emotions people feel shouldn’t be the ultimate determining factor for one's success. How you feel is okay, whether it be numb or ecstatic; it doesn't determine the quality of the person you are.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Jacqueline L Smith