Low mood doesn't always involve sadness and tears. Sometimes, you just start feeling empty, and emotional detachment.
Social events that used to excite you might leave you cold, and you can begin to feel distant and disconnected from relationships that usually bring you joy.
This happens to everyone at some point in their lives, and it's often fleeting. But when this numbness drags on for weeks or months – or when it has characterized your whole life.
It can begin to dramatically undermine your mood when it comes to figuring out how to be happy. So why does this happen, and what can you do if it's happening to you right now?
We'll explore emotional detachment and feelings of emptiness in considerable depth. We'll start by canvassing the causes of this pervasive numbness, before looking at the major warning signs to look out for.
Next, we'll consider exactly why emptiness and detachment have a deeply negative impact on well-being, before finally offering some techniques that can help you begin to feel good again.
Emotional detachment is subtly different for everyone, but there are certain features that most people will experience.
In the simplest terms, it involves being either unable or unwilling to make emotional connections with others.
It often comes alongside feelings of emptiness. In other words, you may feel flat, pessimistic, and numb.
There are some benefits to being detached in this way. After all, if you don't connect with others on a deep level then they can't hurt you on a deep level.
Similarly, you never get caught up in anyone's drama of stress. However, the negatives outweigh the positives – humans are inherently social animals, and you're unlikely to feel happy or whole without connection.
So, why might you be feeling emotionally detached right now? Let's look at the most common causes.
There are many different experiences that can have the knock-on effect of causing an emotional detachment. Crucially, this disconnection and numbness can be voluntary or involuntary.
In other words, you may decide that detachment is for the best, or you may sincerely want to connect and yet find yourself unable to do so. We'll start with cases in which emotional detachment is a conscious choice.
Some people make the deliberate decision to cut themselves off from at least some of their emotions. Often, this is context-specific – you may choose to step back from a particular emotionally volatile relationship.
For example, you might know that one of your parents is narcissistic and make the conscious choice to refuse to engage with the person. This can preserve your mental health and your energy.
If this describes your situation, then your emotional detachment is playing a protective role. However, it's important to monitor whether generalized numbness sets in and whether your detachment begins to extend to other relationships.
In rare cases, people also choose to cut themselves off from all their emotions. Perhaps you've been through something so incredibly painful that you'd rather be numb than go through this distress again.
You may make this choice if you've been betrayed by an unfaithful partner or a back-stabbing friend, for example.
In other cases, you might involuntarily detach from your emotions because of traumatic experiences in your past.
For example, you might become numb and distant from others because you simply don't have space to consider their feelings.
You might be overwhelmed by the task of processing your own trauma, and therefore be unable to sympathize with anyone else.
On an intellectual level, you may recognize the pain of others, and yet find that you're numb when faced with it.
In other words, you just don't have the emotional resources or the energy to connect with others at this time.
Traumatic experiences can also reshape your expectations, making you view others in a negative light.
For example, suppose you trusted your primary caregiver in early life, and they let you down in a major way. You may assume that others will also be untrustworthy, and find yourself genuinely unable to let them in.
In this sort of case, numbness and emotional distance are again playing a protective function – it's just that it's involuntary rather than a deliberate choice.
Emotional detachment due to past experiences can be especially distressing, because you may feel pulled in two directions at once.
One part of you may truly want to let others in and connect with them. However, another part of you may sincerely believe that others cannot be trusted and that it is always unsafe to make yourself feel vulnerable.
In the next section, we'll look at ways you can slowly begin to retrain yourself to connect with others.
It's always worth considering physiological reasons for a lack of emotional connection. There are both medical conditions and medicines that can make you feel numb.
Frustratingly, some drugs that are intended to treat anxiety and depression end up blunting your emotional responses.
For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such a Prozac and Lexapro can leave you feeling numb, effectively “switching off” some of your feelings.
While some people struggle with these side effects for only the first few weeks or months of taking the drug, others feel emotionally numbed for as long as they take the medication.
Some painkillers or sedatives also have a similar impact, reducing your discomfort at the expense of inhibiting your emotions.
In particular, you may feel at a distance from everything you do, as though you're merely observing rather than participating. Again, this can reduce once you build up a degree of tolerance to the drug, but for others, it continues as long as they continue taking the medication.
Consequently, always make sure you know the possible and likely side effects of any new medicine you begin to take.
If you think a drug is blunting your emotions and making you feel empty, talk to your doctor and explore other options for effective treatment.
However, it's vital that you never stop taking any prescribed medication without the oversight and approval of your doctor.
Now that you have a better understanding of the causes of emotional detachment, let's quickly summarize the major warning signs that you're becoming numb or disconnected.
If you experience two or more of the following, you may be experiencing emotional emptiness:
So, you know what emotional detachment and emptiness involve, and where they might come from. And from experience, you might know that this is a particularly unhappy place to be.
But why exactly does feeling empty wear you down so much? What is it about disconnection that so powerfully undermines your well-being?
Firstly, if you feel empty and no longer connect with others, it's easy to lose your sense of purpose in life.
More specifically, without relationships and connections to anchor you.
It's likely that you'll start to feel like you're just floating through life with no control.
You can also lose the drive to achieve, no longer feeling motivated to pursue old goals and ambitions.
It's easy to underestimate just how important human connection is until we no longer have it.
In reality, it plays a huge role in pushing us to develop and succeed.
In addition, feeling empty and disconnected is rarely just about our connections with others.
It's also common to lose our responsiveness to hobbies and passions. So, the things that used to boost our mood, excite us, and keep us striving for success begin to leave us cold.
And when we know that nothing we do will make us feel good, we often stop doing most things altogether.
There's also a spiritual cost to being disconnected from your emotions and from your relationships with other people.
Some people describe it as a kind of soul loss or soul disconnection. In simplest terms, this means having a profound sense that something is missing from your life.
It manifests as a kind of grief for the missing thing and often results in a perpetual attempt to replace the soul with something else.
For example, some may turn to drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, or other short-term fixes in order to try and ease the pain of something being missing.
In the longer term, it's common to experience profound depression and hopelessness.
The far-reaching impacts of soul loss emphasize just how important it is to take active steps to address your feelings of emptiness and disconnection.
Even if you have deliberately chosen to disconnect from your emotions in the name of self-preservation, you should now see why this isn't healthy in the longer term.
It's important, then, to start making a plan to reconnect with your feelings and move out of this place of numbness. While it can be intimidating to do so, making such a plan opens the door to a full, fulfilling life.
That idea, it's important to start out by recognizing that addressing emotional disconnection and emptiness isn't an easy task, and it's not one that can be completed overnight.
Rather, this is a slow journey, and it may take a long time to feel emotions to their fullest extent. You may see incremental improvements, however, and you should take these as encouraging signs that you can in fact be happy again.
Here are three significant steps you can take to move toward that happiness.
Arguably the most important thing you can to combat emotional detachment and emptiness is to seek self-fulfillment.
You can pursue this self-fulfillment along several dimensions: personal, professional, and relational.
Firstly, personal fulfillment is about finding and pursuing hobbies that make you feel engaged with the world. Creative pursuits are especially helpful here.
Don't be afraid to try new things – you're not aiming to be perfect at what you're doing, simply to elicit and engage with feelings.
You can also think of this is a kind of spiritual fulfillment. Secondly, professional fulfillment means taking steps toward making a living doing something that really matters to you.
This may mean keeping a job you like less while pursuing qualifications at the same time, or accepting the need to commit some volunteer hours first.
Thirdly, relational fulfillment involves letting at least some people into your heart – begin by being authentic with just one person, and notice how it feels.
It's crucial that you stop shutting your emotions out, no matter what they are.
In other words, let your feelings in, even if they're unpleasant or intimidating.
One technique you can use here is keeping a daily journal. Write about at least one feeling you had that day, and do so in a completely unfiltered way.
Don't judge or sensor yourself.
This process helps you begin to verbalize and make sense of your feelings again.
Meditation can also be incredibly helpful here.
Spend 5-10 minutes just breathing deeply, and notice the different feelings that flow through you. Again, don't judge them – simply observe them.
This exercise normalizes the full spectrum of emotions you might feel, and also helps you practice not blocking them out.
Both journaling and meditation show you that you can in fact handle your emotional life – even when it's unpleasant, it isn't too overwhelming to bear.
And you may be surprised by how much your feelings teach you.
Finally, the only way to really start living a positive, fulfilling life again is to believe in yourself. One thing you can do here is to fully engage with why you don't believe in yourself.
Conduct an inventory of the negative thoughts you have, and analyze them. Where did they come from? More importantly, what evidence can you find for rejecting these thoughts?
Try to come up with positive affirmations that reflect the new increased level of self-believe you want to have, and recite these into the mirror.
For example, if you struggle to be confident in relationships, reciting an affirmation like “I deserve love, respect, and happiness' can help.
Ultimately, building self-belief is often best done at least in part in therapy.
Consider trying to find a counselor who has the experience and training to understand your unique situation, and be honest about your emptiness.
This is something you can work on understanding and changing together.
Now that you're in the process of taking back control over your life, there's so much more you can learn.
The Law of Attraction teaches us that we attract what we give out, so by developing a positive, productive mindset we can bring a limitless amount of positivity into our lives.
So, join us today in using the Law of Attraction to manifest what you desire and deserve.
We all have blocks and outdated beliefs holding us back, but with the right techniques, you can find and reject these, making space for a better life.