Emotions are an integral part of being human. Some people experience a full range of emotions while they are exposed to various ups and downs of life.
However, there are others who may find it hard to experience their emotions fully. This difficulty is referred to as emotional blunting. It manifests in a limited display of feelings in one’s daily life.
What is Emotional Blunting?
Emotional blunting means a limited display of one’s affect. It refers to a condition where the individual cannot feel their emotional processes in a way that they should. The person appears dull and numb. They may or may not feel any emotion at all.
We all experience emotions in different ways depending upon the life situation we are in. Thus, emotional expression is a subjective response and varies from one person to the other.
Most people will laugh or cry according to the stimulus that they are exposed to. But this doesn’t happen with everyone.
Some people cannot express emotions or feelings in a way that is appropriate in a situation. They are unable to feel positive and negative emotions.
Often, they appear dull, indifferent, and emotionally unresponsive. This particular affective state is known as emotional blunting.
People who had experienced emotional blunting showed a diminished or limited display of emotions even in situations that trigger intense emotions. Sometimes, this problem is also known as emotional numbing.
People who experience emotional blunting remain unresponsive to both good and bad news. Sometimes they may not react at all hearing about the death of a dear one.
On the flip side, a happy story of someone will not bring joy to their face. You may find these people totally elusive about their surroundings as if not interacting closely as they should be doing.
Emotional blunting can be a symptom of psychiatric diseases. It results in dull feelings of numbness where the person displays no immediate feeling after being exposed to a stimulus.
Their range and intensity of feelings are always low. People suffering from emotional blunting will not experience their feelings as strongly as others.
This condition can last for a few days, weeks, months, and even years depending upon the causes and risk factors associated with the condition.
26 Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Blunting
So now we know that emotional blunting is reduced reactivity to the stimulus that should otherwise elicit a strong emotional response. An unpleasant lack of feeling and numbness operates deep within these individuals.
The signs and symptoms vary in intensity depending upon the risk factors that have led to this problem. People with emotional blunting suffer from Anhedonia and blunted affect also.
Despite being in a place where happiness, good cheer, joy, or sorrow pervades, these people say that they don’t feel anything or much lesser than what is normal.
Some of the typical signs of emotional blunting include the following:
- Lack of ability to experience feelings and understanding of the range of emotions
- Would laugh or cry less often even in situations that demand such a behavior
- The person becomes less empathetic
- Poor concentration
- Difficulty in maintaining a deeper emotional connection with others
- Loss of interest in routine tasks
- Less empathy
- Lack of motivation to pursue something new
- Restless attitude
- Lack of sexual desire and pursuing intimacy with someone special
- Feels disconnected in mind and body
- Finds it difficult to show love and affection for others
- The person finds it hard to speak about their feelings
- Fatigue and tiredness is a common symptom
- Brain fog and mental clouding
- Self-harming behavior
- Poor decision-making ability
- Poor facial expressions
- No voice modulation while trying to express their emotions
- Appears numb, dull, and indifferent in emotional situations
- Inability to feel joy, anger, fear, jealousy, or regret
- Feels emotionally detached and aloof while interacting with others
- Appears cold and blunt as if not reacting to anything around
- No care about anything going on in life
- The person is emotionally unavailable in situations that demand some form of emotional reactivity.
Diagnosis of Emotional Blunting
Emotional blunting is a limited or restricted display of emotions. But it is not a standalone medical condition. This is a symptom associated with various mental illnesses such as major depression, Bipolar disorder, and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Some anti-depressants and psychiatric drugs prescribed for PTSD and bipolar disorders can contribute to muted affect.
In order to diagnose the exact reason for emotional blunting, you will be advised by your doctor for a detailed mental status examination.
Moreover, comorbid issues of depression or flat affect will also be considered before arriving at a conclusion.
Your doctor will suggest a treatment plan after ruling out the prevalence of psychological diseases. Your specific symptoms and past history of any illness will be considered before making the exact diagnosis or treatment.
If you are suffering from emotional blunting quite often, it is advisable to seek medical advice and talk to your health care provider.
You need to discuss in detail the issues bothering you so that they can know the exact reason for your problem and come up with appropriate solutions.
Causes of Emotional Blunting
As we have already discussed that emotional blunting is a symptom only and not a disorder by itself, we need to know the various causal factors that may give rise to such a problem.
Till now there is no single cause for emotional blunting. There are various causal elements that can give rise to emotional blunting. Several mental health conditions trigger symptoms of emotional blunting.
Some of the chief ones are as follows:
1. Major depressive disorder
If a person is already suffering from clinical depression, emotional blunting becomes a symptom of the disease itself. The person feels empty from within, as if devoid of any feelings at all.
Experiencing emotional blunting with other depressive symptoms can be highly disturbing.
Major depression also causes brain fog and the person may not connect with others at the same thought level. Thus, feelings become detached and aloof; leading to emotional blunting.
Research findings suggest that major depression is one of the major causes of emotional blunting. People suffering from depression cannot process emotions. They feel numb and dull from within. Thus, they can neither experience happiness nor sad feelings.
Higher doses of antidepressant drugs used to treat depression can also cause emotional blunting. The drug reduces their ability to feel emotions in the way it should be done.
Some other finding suggests a high prevalence rate for emotional blunting and depression. About 56% of patients reported emotional blunting due to their illness.
However, about 45% of patients reported that their emotional blunting is due to the side effect of drugs that they are taking to reduce depressive symptoms.
2. Post-traumatic stress disorder
PTSD can cause emotional blunting as per several research reports. People suffering trauma or abuse of some kind find it difficult to process emotions and as such cannot react to emotional situations.
They also feel disconnected from their surroundings because of their preoccupation with traumatic thoughts.
They become less aware of their surrounding environment. Thus, emotional blunting becomes a usual adaptive response in situations that demands an appropriate emotional response.
3. Antidepressant treatment
Antidepressant medications have long-term side effects on mood and emotional responsiveness.
These drugs are used to reduce depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation in major depression. Patients taking these drugs reported difficulty relating to the feelings of others. They feel numb and empty from within.
Research done in this regard has shown that about 46% to 71% of patients treated with antidepressants showed signs of emotional blunting.
Patients of schizophrenia cannot understand and process a wide variety of emotional responses as shown by others. They may appear dull and blank and cannot connect with the thoughts and feelings of others.
Emotional blunting and flat affect are symptoms of acute psychosis and schizophrenics show these signs quite often.
A potential link has been found between schizophrenia and clinical depression. Studies done in this regard have shown that about 25% of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia also suffer from moderate to severe depression.
5. Alcohol and drug abuse
If the patient is into alcohol or drug abuse, the chances of experiencing dull or narrowed emotions are common. Alcohol acts as a depressant in the Central Nervous System and affects the person’s mood badly.
People suffering from various substance abuse disorders also suffer from emotional blunting. They have reduced emotional responsiveness because of the impact of drugs.
Some typical drugs such as heroin or cannabis lower emotional expressions and the patient find it difficult to relate with others both verbally and through gestures and facial expressions.
6. Borderline personality disorder
People with BPD have intense mood swings. Thus, there are times when these patients suffer from dull affect. They neither show positive nor negative emotions.
Several pieces of research have confirmed that emotional blunting accompanies borderline personality disorder. They experience dissociation and detachment from reality and thereby cannot connect with others emotionally.
How to fix emotional blunting by itself? (7 self-help strategies to do it right)
If you are trying to fix your emotional problem all by itself by following a few self-help strategies, just remember that the task will be daunting and time-consuming.
Since emotional blunting is caused by a number of psychiatric conditions, one will always have to seek support from a certified therapist or a psychiatrist for treatment and symptom management.
If emotional blunting is temporary, the person can manage the symptoms by using certain self-help strategies such as the following:
1. Sensory Stimulation
If you are suffering from emotional numbness, you can start by stimulating your senses. Sensory stimulation can remind you of situations that either trigger positive or negative emotions.
Your emotional responsiveness will improve if the thought strain related to the emotion is activated. You may try out the following thing.
- Touch and play with soft toys
- Cuddle your furry friend
- Take a nature walk and experience birds chirping
- Smell flowers
- Eat flavored food
- Take a warm shower
- Hold ice cubes in your palm
- Walk barefoot on grass
2. Support groups
You can join support groups comprising of people who have suffered similar problems. You will be able to understand their struggles and what they did to overcome the problem.
Moreover, support groups are a handy tool that can guide you through a systematic process of healing and recovery by giving the emotional comfort that you may need.
Access to a wider community gives you an opportunity to connect with people and improve your emotional reactivity in return.
3. Avoid living alone and socialize
Living alone is daunting if you are struggling to regulate your emotions and improve your emotional responsiveness. You should relate with others whenever you have a chance.
It might not be partying every night but occasional friends’ meet-up or a game night with family and friends can improve your emotional responses.
You will find yourself more connected and in tune with the feelings of others.
4. Participate in enjoyable activities
You can participate in activities that are enjoyable and triggers positive emotions so that you can feel what you are really experiencing inside.
Try doing activities that you loved doing before. Maybe a sport or a fun-filled hobby will feel different now. This attempt improves your mood and you will be able to re-connect with your innermost feelings all over again.
The body releases Oxytocin that reduces dampened mood and increases emotional reactivity.
5. Maintain a journal
Journaling is the best way to connect with your inner ‘self’. When you write your thoughts and feelings as explicitly as possible, you will be able to understand the issues leading to emotional blunting.
Your mood and emotional reactivity may not improve in one go, but you will slowly gain access to your unconscious elements that are causing a dull mood.
Writing is a cathartic release and you will be able to track down all those thoughts and feelings that need a revisit all over again. Sometimes, the symptoms of emotional blunting reduce and responses feel connected with self and others.
6. Avoid abusing substances
If you are suffering from dull and flat affect, it is important to avoid taking alcohol and drugs. These substances act as a depressant and directly lower your emotional responsiveness.
Thus, avoiding these can lower numbness and your reactivity to surrounding stimuli improves to a great extent.
7. Don’t push yourself to be perfect
Sometimes you may think that your dampened mood and flat affect are because of you. But in reality, it could be something out of your control.
Thus stop expecting too much from yourself. Seek help whenever needed.
You should keep in mind that you are not supposed to feel in a particular way always. There would be times when your feelings will not match the situation or the people around you.
Most importantly, you should feel the way you are feeling at the moment. Accept and validate your feelings as they are.
Never dwell on how you should be feeling, rather focus on stimulating your senses and improving responsiveness to various stimuli that you come across in your daily life.
Emotional Blunting Treatment
If your symptoms are unmanageable even after following the above-mentioned self-help hacks, you should think about visiting a psychotherapist or a mental health professional for further guidance.
Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms by a thorough mental status examination. You will be advised of a treatment plan that is tailor-made only for you.
In most cases, doctors suggest a combination of both psychotherapy and medication to improve the condition and manage symptoms.
The various treatment options are as follows:
If emotional blunting is a symptom of a psychiatric illness, then it can be treated with the help of psychotherapy.
CBT and somatic therapy such as Hakomi therapy is used to treat post-traumatic patients to help them overcome their emotional numbness.
Patients suffering from clinical depression also benefit from psychotherapy. Actually, the treatment varies according to the disease-causing the symptom of blunting.
Usually, the therapy sessions take 4 to 6 weeks to show up the desired outcome.
2. Changes in medication
Emotional blunting is a side effect of psychiatric medicines such as anti-depressant drugs. These drugs act on brain chemicals such as SSRI (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and cause mood changes.
Research findings by Oxford University scientists have found that about 46% of patients taking antidepressants had suffered from emotional blunting.
SSRIs are mostly the culprit. It reduces emotional sensitivity so that the sufferer can cope with disturbing stimuli around them such as news of someone’s death, a diagnosis of a terminal illness, etc.
Feelings of emotional numbness can be reduced either by altering the dose of medicines or by using a different drug class.
This decision is taken by your doctor who will do a thorough review of your condition before taking a final call.
3. Lifestyle changes
Certain healthy lifestyle choices can actually make you feel better. If emotional blunting is temporary and is not due to any major psychiatric illness, your doctor may suggest certain healthy habits.
These habits and lifestyle changes help you to reconnect with yourself and your immediate surroundings.
This includes things like:
- Regular exercise and physical movement. This reduces stress and improves mood
- Relaxation exercise or meditation to keep a check on your restless mind
- Eating healthy food that energizes both body and mind.
- Stimulating senses and improving sensory and emotional awareness
- Getting the kind of sleep that is relaxing
- Identifying the triggers of numb feelings
- Talking to a therapist
- Stay connected with friends and family
Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’
Emotional blunting can lead to reduced mental wellness. The person may feel stuck in darkness and their ability for emotional release may diminish over a period of time.
The best thing is, that the condition can be reversed with the right kind of therapy and treatment done at the right time.
With support from well-wishers, the patient will be able to walk along the path of recovery and attain emotional wellness successfully.
A Psychologist with a master's degree in Psychology, a former school psychologist, and a teacher by profession Chandrani loves to live life simply and happily. She is an avid reader and a keen observer. Writing has always been a passion for her, since her school days. It helps to de-stress and keeps her mentally agile. Pursuing a career in writing was a chance occurrence when she started to pen down her thoughts and experiences for a few childcare and parenting websites. Her lovable niche includes mental health, parenting, childcare, and self-improvement. She is here to share her thoughts and experiences and enrich the lives of few if not many.