Emotional health is important. God is an emotional Being and created us in His image as emotional beings. All of our emotions in their proper intensity and context are created good. Our emotions provide us the full range of what it means to be uniquely human.
Growing up, however, many of us learned that there were times when it was necessary to hide our feelings – to protect ourselves or others, to show respect, or to generally keep the peace. We became accustomed and skilled at hiding and not showing our feelings.
What happens when we become so skilled and familiar with feeling numb that it becomes our normal mode of operation? What if thoughts like “I feel numb” have become a personal concern? If this describes you, then read on to know about how to begin to restore your emotional health.
The Experience of Emotional Numbness
Almost all of us have experienced a time of numbness. This may occur after a particularly stressful or tiring day when we just do not feel like doing anything at all. Even when presented with something generally enjoyable, such as a funny movie or favorite food, we may find ourselves not interested at all, preferring to just stare blankly into space or go to sleep. Fortunately, after some time and rest, our emotions do return and leisurely activities are fun once more.
But for those undergoing constant emotional numbness, this state of feeling numb continues for weeks on end. If you have experienced this you likely have felt empty inside as if life has become meaningless. Because of this, you may feel detached from others, not caring anymore about what happens to loved ones or to your school or work environment.
You may even feel disconnected from yourself as if your own life belongs to somebody else. Time may also become distorted causing you to lose track of time which can cause problems with personal, school, or work schedules. Memory loss or a lack of focus is another effect of emotional numbness.
Where Have All the Feelings Gone?
While there are some in this world who are not able to express themselves properly due to severe personality disorders (e.g. schizoid personality disorder); generally, a healthy display of emotions should be the norm for youngsters and adults alike.
But if you are one that is experiencing prolonged numbness, there are some possible causes. One is the result of medication. Some drugs, particularly those meant for anxiety or depression treatment, can affect the brain’s processes, diminishing a person’s ability to feel emotions.
High levels of daily stress can also cause numbness as stress hormones can overload a person’s limbic system, the part of the brain that controls the emotions. Stress can also negatively affect the body’s hormones which can also wreak havoc on one’s emotional health.
Then there’s the case of emotional defense. Because of past events, you may have learned to set aside your emotions. Severe trauma is one reason (e.g. loss of a loved one, romantic separation) that can lead people to become numb. Because the resulting emotions were so overwhelming, the individual coped by shutting themselves down emotionally as feeling numb was a more preferable state to crying all day.
Another possible cause could be your childhood circumstances. If your parents/guardians, were either indifferent to you or were very strict and demanded stoicism, your emotions were likely viewed as a hindrance, a sign of emotional weakness; hence, you learned to repress your feelings.
The Bible’s Take on Emotions
For those who have experienced a painful past, the idea of having no feelings may seem ideal. But this is not how things are meant to be. As beings created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27), emotions are an important part of the human package as God also has emotions. Throughout the Old Testament, God the Father displays emotions of joy, love, compassion, grief, and righteous anger.
In the New Testament that there is a clear picture of emotional health as seen in the life of Jesus. Scripture shows that Jesus wanted to establish strong loving relationships with the people around Him, even if it led to instances of ridicule and rejection (e.g. Matthew 8:34, Mark 6:3, Luke 4:28-29).
Jesus experienced joy when He pleased His Father (John 15:10-11). He enjoyed companionship with the disciples, despite times of frustration at their slowness and lack of faith (Matthew 17:14-20). Jesus wept at the death of His friend Lazarus (John 11:32-36); felt compassion for the sick and the lost (e.g. Matthew 9:12-13, 20-22; John 8:1-11); and anger towards oppressors and hypocrites (e.g. Matthew 23:13-33, John 2:13-17).
The healthy expression of emotions is necessary to connect with others so it is important that we learn how properly express ourselves. Thankfully, it is possible to get the feelings back.
Regaining What Has Been Lost
If medication is the main culprit for having no feelings, you should consult with your doctor first. There may be alternatives available that will not hurt you emotionally. Never try to self-medicate.
If acute stress is the likely source, then it is necessary to de-stress. Though the stressful problem may not be easy to solve, at least you can proactively take steps to reduce the effects of stress. Self-care is at least something you can control. Find time to exercise as this will help reduce tension in both the body and mind.
Maintaining a proper diet and getting enough sleep will ensure that your body does not succumb to sickness which will further complicate the situation. And most importantly, you should pray, knowing that God is bigger than any worldly concern.
Re-engaging the Emotions through the Body
In his book, Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation, Dr. Dan Siegel recommends some helpful steps that can help you tune into your feelings, even if your heart is seemingly silent.
Note the hidden feelings
1. Find a quiet location where you can comfortably sit or lay still alone.
2. Beginning with the feet, mentally note how each part of your body feels. Is there any heaviness, discomfort, or tension? If there is, think about the possible causes according to what you felt. Chest heaviness may mean sadness, discomfort of the stomach could indicate anxiety, and muscle tension could be anger.
Re-learn how to feel
3. Aside from the emotions your body may currently be experiencing, write down any other images or memories that these physical sensations may trigger (e.g. past memories of anger, sadness, or even joy). Pouring over these later on may help access the feelings.
4. Observe people’s emotional reactions, so that you can “remember” what it is like to feel. This is done by listening to loved ones’ or colleagues’ stories, taking note of how they reacted to the situation. Consider then how you may react when faced with a similar situation.
5. Watch TV without any sound. This relaxes the analytical part of the mind, better allowing the emotions to be engaged as you focus on the emotions of the characters on TV.
Together, these activities may allow your heart and mind to recall what it is like to feel again.
Seek Christian Counseling for Emotional Numbness
We were not meant to live emotionally numbed out from our feelings which is why it would be good for you to try the above-mentioned methods to reconnect with your feelings. But sometimes self-help is not enough. When feelings have been shut down, it becomes harder to even care about getting better. This is when outside help is necessary.
In such a situation, it is best to seek Christian counseling. Similar to other secular therapists, the faith-based counselor will use the latest therapeutic methods to help you reflect and reconnect to your buried feelings. This is particularly key when trauma, especially childhood trauma, is the main cause of feeling numb.
But most importantly, your relationship with God will be made a priority during the counseling sessions, inviting Jesus into your emotional numbness and allowing him to restore life and feeling in your heart and body.
As well, clarifying your identity in Christ and purpose on earth, as discussed in the Bible, helps you view your past circumstances in a healthier perspective. Strengthening your relationship with Christ will help you maintain strong emotional health even after the current problem is over.
Feelings are a natural part of being human. If you have lost touch with your emotions, get professional help soon.
“Eyes”, Courtesy of Alexandru Zdrobău, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Victim”, Courtesy of Zach Guinta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Deja Vu”, Courtesy of Emile Séguin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Blindfolded”, Courtesy of Oscar Keys, Unsplash.com, CC0 License