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Emotional Numbing Can Stand in the Way of Happiness

By Linda S. Pucci, Ph.D.


As a coach, I find that people often struggle with their emotions. One version is that people have trouble feeling their emotions at all–they have numbed themselves so completely that they neither feel particularly good nor particularly bad.

This is a problem because they don’t know what they feel. There isn’t enough intensity to register the emotion. Unfortunately, they don’t have the experience of feeling great joy and happiness. They have difficulty in relationships, especially expressing their love for a partner.

While numbing emotions may have once made sense to help them survive intense or repeated negatively emotional experiences, many people carry the numbness forward when it no longer is necessary or useful.

For example, people who experience trauma in childhood may learn to numb their reactions. This is a survival tool which helps them survive an emotional experience that is far too intense to manage given the resources they have available to them at the time. They may not fully understand what is happening, and don’t have the tools to cope with it at a young age. They dissociate themselves from the pain and intensity by numbing their emotions or anger, fear, sadness or hurt.

They survive, sometimes amazingly well. When they learn to numb their emotions often, or if the situation in which they have learned to numb themselves repeats, they begin to develop a pattern of numbing in response to these emotional events. Again, this is a survival mechanism.

Done repeatedly, the numbing becomes a habit. It may become so automatic that it is carried over into all emotional situations. This can cause problems because it blunts the ability to feel all emotions—good and bad.

Individuals who want to change their emotional response are often concerned that it has become impossible. They have built walls and despair that the walls they’ve erected to protect themselves can’t ever been breached. The problem is that emotional numbing as become an unconscious process that operates automatically, like a computer virus, below awareness.

The good news is that this habit of numbing emotions can be changed. It IS a habit. When you are willing to let it go, you can begin to lower those walls and allow in emotion in manageable amounts.

It is helpful to have support while you are learning new emotional habits and how to cope. You’ll be learning new ways to navigate emotional waters, and having a guide in the process can be very useful.

While numbing your emotions may have had survival value in other situations, it isn’t always useful now. Learning to overcome this habit and manage emotions doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Learning to cope and actually feel those emotions of joy, happiness and even anger, can definitely be worth the effort.

© 2012 Linda S. Pucci, Ph.D.

Linda Pucci, Ph.D. is a life coach, trainer and owner of Inner Resource Center, LLC in Maryville, TN. She has more than 34 years of experience helping people overcome obstacles and self-sabotage by using her solution focused approach. She is dedicated to helping people find the resources they need to create happy, meaningful lives. For more information and free resources, go to InnerResourceCenter.com.