Yeah, yeah, it’s been a while. Are you still there?
As promised, I’m here to continue the conversation about communication, emotions, and our ability to express them in a healthy way. Today I want to focus on emotional numbing and how it affects the psyche.
In my last post I highlighted the ways in which all humans have a tendency to ignore or discount their own feelings and emotions. For maturing teens, this is especially difficult. Bottling up emotions can lead to violent outbursts and feelings of confusion and pain. When we express our emotions in a healthy way, we are able to let go of the need to bottle them up. Letting go of this natural tendency will allow more energy to flow through your heart, body and mind.
During transitional phases in our lives, bottling up emotions can seem like the only way to get through it. It’s not always possible to express our emotions constructively and many people don’t know how to start. Some people suppress their emotions, while others ignore them entirely. When an individual becomes overwhelmed with stimuli, a natural response is to shut down. Like a computer running multiple programs that hasn’t been restarted in weeks, the human brain becomes slow and bogged down.
You may wonder what the difference is between bottling up emotions and becoming numb to them.
When you bottle up an emotion, there is an air of secrecy. Maybe you think your feelings are unjustified, unimportant or that no one will care how you feel. In these situations, you keep your feelings and thoughts to yourself and ignore the emotions connected to them.
Emotional numbing is when we become closed off and unable to feel deep emotion altogether. Sometimes this is in defense against pain or injustice from our past, but there are innumerable reasons. When we feel overwhelmed by our constant flood of emotions and thoughts, we can become overstimulated and unsure of where to start when it comes to figuring out “what’s wrong.” Instead, we might just close ourselves off to emotion entirely.
Common phrases to hear from someone who is emotionally numb are “It’s too much to handle” or “I don’t know how I feel.”
Emotional numbing is a natural way of protecting oneself. When we have suffered a wrong, it can feel easier to just block everyone and everything out rather than facing the pain head-on. Compared to bottling our feelings which leads to outbursts, emotional numbing can seem like the “healthier” way to deal with problems. But in reality, it is even harder to recover from emotional numbing than emotional outbursts.
Emotional numbing can be incredibly damaging on the brain and heart. It’s not the freezing of the heart that hurts. It’s the thawing out that shocks our system. You might ask why not just stay frozen? After all, it’s comfortable there. You feel protected there. It’s easy to stay safe and avoid all the bad feelings if you look at life from far away. I’ll tell you why…
When you close yourself off from emotion, you not only block out the bad feelings, but you simultaneously eliminate the chance for good feelings as well. I’m not just talking about happy and sad though. I’m talking about a general sense of feeling alive, moving your body and exercising your muscles, feeling loved and excited and getting worked up about something that moves you. These are the feelings you eliminate by closing yourself off to emotion.
And the biggest part of it is that no matter how hard you try to block out those negative feelings (anger, sadness, loneliness, insecurity) it won’t really matter because you’ll probably still feel them anyway. Instead, you’ll feel them inside. You’ll have conversations in your head with yourself reminding you of how you didn’t do well enough or that someone else could do better than you. This is called self-doubt. Self-doubt is a truly crippling type of hell. Plagued by ideas in your own head of what others must think of you, you avoid contact with people. Those who are most closed-off are often the most self conscious and insecure.
But let me ask you a question.
What’s the worst that could happen if someone says something rude to you or judges your character?
Teenagers are so driven by community and a sense of fitting in that they would do just about anything not to be made fun of for being different. Being the “weird” kid isn’t a title many kids sign up for willingly. The craving for community is what leads many teens to drug abuse, gangs, and dangerous behavior. It also leads them to bullying and an overall rejection of kids who are different from themselves.
This fear of rejection leaves a kid with few social options. Sometimes the choice is limited to only two options: be made fun of or make fun of others.
If you ask a teenager the question I posed above, the answer is likely to be radically different from that of an adult and also quite different from the answer of a child. During transitional phases in life, we experience a heavily opinionated inner critic who contributes to our self-doubt and self limiting beliefs. Much like a childhood bully, this critic picks apart the aspects of ourselves that we see as “flawed.”
The best way of preparing a child for the onslaught of confusing emotions, conflicting beliefs and uncontrollable desires that come with puberty is acceptance. Teaching children to respect, accept, and honor their feelings, even if they don’t know what these feelings mean, will give the child a greater sense of calm when faced with bigger issues.
Reminding kids to BE KIND to everyone they meet is the most important lesson of all- for every person is going through his or her own battle that we know nothing about. Every outward reaction is a mere reflection of one’s own relationship with the self. When someone is hurtful, they are usually hurting even more on the inside. Teach compassion, empathy, and an overall sense of care for others’ wellbeing.
This reminder to be kind no matter the situation reiterates the importance of honoring our emotions instead of ignoring them. It’s okay to feel. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be honest with others about what you’re going through. It’s okay because we’ve all been there. The collective human experience is filled with pain and hardship, but at the turn of every corner, you will find a reward worth every ounce of pain. Just keep going. Just be kind. First to yourself, and the rest will follow ❤
Always with love