Why Do I Feel Numb? Understanding Emotional Blunting

Feeling numb, apathetic, or a sense of emotional detachment? Learn what emotional blunting is, what causes it, its symptoms, and effective management and coping strategies that can help you on your mental health care journey.

Ashley Laderer By Ashley Laderer
Man lies on couch looking depressed.

Updated on Jun 06, 2024

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Do you sometimes feel like you feel…nothing? No happiness, no sadness, just numbness?

If so, you might be experiencing emotional blunting.

The experience of emotional numbness can feel very lonely, like you’re the only one experiencing it, but in truth, it’s pretty common. There are many reasons why this can happen, including mental health conditions and the use of psychiatric medications.

Here’s everything you need to know about emotional blunting, what causes it, and how to manage it.

Key takeaways:

  • Emotional blunting is the inability to experience positive or negative emotions
  • It can be caused by psychiatric medications or mental health conditions like MDD, PTSD, schizophrenia, and BPD
  • Signs include emotional numbness, disinterest in activities, and flat affect
  • Management includes medication adjustments, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes
  • Long-term strategies involve consistent therapy, self-care, and social support

What is Emotional Blunting?

Amelia Pauley, PMHN, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner with Grow Therapy, helped us establish an emotional blunting definition:

Emotional blunting is not a mental health condition, rather it is a symptom characterized by a lack of experiencing emotions. This typically involves an experienced reduction in positive and negative emotions. It’s often unsettling and can affect a person’s experience greatly.

People may also describe it as feeling numb, apathetic, or experiencing a lack of connection to others, Pauley adds.

Alternate phrases or labels for emotional blunting include emotional detachment, emotional apathy, blunted affect, and emotional insensitivity, says Tahara DeBarrows, LMFT, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with Grow Therapy.

Emotional Blunting vs Anhedonia

The lack of ability to feel positive emotions specifically is known as anhedonia. If you experience anhedonia, you cannot feel pleasure or joy, even when engaging in activities you once enjoyed.

The difference between emotional blunting and anhedonia is emotional blunting is the lack of feeling positive or negative emotions, whereas anhedonia is the inability to experience pleasure.

Signs & Symptoms of Emotional Blunting

It’s important to recognize signs of emotional blunting so you can report them to your mental health care provider. DeBarrows says some signs include:

Causes of Emotional Blunting

Two scenarios can result in emotional blunting: antidepressant use or having a mental health condition. Regardless of the cause of your emotional numbness, treatment is available.

Psychiatric Medications

Antidepressant medication is a primary cause of emotional blunting.

One study estimates that up to 40-60% of people who take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) to treat their major depressive disorder experience emotional blunting.

“When we treat negative emotions such as anxiety and depression with medication, we risk dialing in all emotions, and at times, antidepressant treatment can cause emotional blunting and a reduction of both positive and negative emotions,” Pauley says.

Ultimately, the range of emotions is much smaller.

Major Depressive Disorder

Although major depressive disorder (MDD) is often linked to feelings of sadness, it can also cause numbness.

Pauley says some people with depression experience a lack of motivation and lack of positive emotions. Numbness and apathy associated with emotional blunting in MDD can present in many ways. You may withdraw socially or have no desire to engage in activities you used to like.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Emotional numbing may also be present in people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), says Gregorio Lozano, a licensed professional counselor with Grow Therapy. Lozano says it’s common for trauma survivors to shut down and feel emotionally numb when they’re in a “fawn” or  “freeze” response.

Research shows emotional blunting is especially common in those with chronic PTSD.


Schizophrenia consists of “positive symptoms” like hallucinations and delusions and “negative symptoms” like emotional blunting and a general feeling of disconnection from emotions, Pauley says.

Many people with schizophrenia have a “flat affect,” meaning it is difficult to tell what the person is feeling based on their facial expressions.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Although borderline personality disorder (BPD) is often associated with intense, unstable emotions, it can also cause emotional numbness, Lozano says.

People with BPD might feel dissociation, chronic emptiness, or numbness that impacts their functioning and quality of life. “Such individuals I’ve treated have told me that they tend to self-harm, just to be able to ‘feel something,’” Lozano shares.

Substance Use Disorder

Drugs and alcohol can contribute to emotional numbness. “Individuals with substance use disorders can also develop emotional blunting due to the substances depressing the central nervous system,” DeBarrows says.

How is Emotional Blunting Diagnosed?

Emotional blunting is not a condition, and therefore does not have a diagnosis.

However, it’s a symptom that a mental health provider should absolutely be aware of. This way, they can help you determine what is causing the numbness and how to get you back to feeling something again.

Most of the time, individuals are very aware of their emotional blunting, and it’s a symptom they quickly report to a therapist because it’s troubling them, Pauley says.

Sometimes, an individual might not realize they’re experiencing this, and a mental health professional will notice it throughout sessions. “It becomes apparent during a mental health assessment based on their tone, expressions, and reported symptoms,” says Pauley.

For example, a client might tell a story about something very sad, but look emotionless and detached. In this case, a therapist would ask questions to dive deeper to see if someone is also experiencing emotional blunting outside of sessions.

A mental healthcare provider will take your history and assess all of your symptoms to make a diagnosis that accounts for the emotional blunting.

How Emotional Blunting Impacts Daily Life

Emotional blunting throws a wrench in day-to-day life, robbing you of all the emotions that come along with the human experience – both good and challenging.

Impact on Personal Life

“Emotional blunting can affect personal relationships due to its impact on the individual being able to use effective communication and identify their feelings,” DeBarrows says.

“Emotional blunting can cause the individual to be misunderstood, and conflict can arise.” This can be the case in friendships, family, or romantic relationships. “Intimacy can also be affected, which can damage the quality of their relationships and their connections with others due to the detachment of their feelings and lack of empathy,” DeBarrows adds.

You might prefer to isolate and have trouble maintaining close relationships because of this. Furthermore, Pauley says you might feel like you can’t connect with others, and even when you do connect, you might not want to share how you’re feeling.

Impact on Professional Life

Emotional blunting can impact your professional relationships and your performance at work.

“In the workplace, emotional blunting can hinder an individual’s ability to motivate others and increase morale and productivity,” says DeBarrows. “It can also affect job performance, leading to decreased productivity and the individual’s overall job satisfaction.”

Not to mention, coworkers or management might view the emotional blunting as a lack of care for work.

Emotional blunting, especially mixed with lack of motivation, can definitely impact your career. “You might experience detaching and not advancing or meeting your potential due to a lack of positive emotions from success,” Pauley says.

How is Emotional Blunting Treated and Managed?

Treatment and management look different depending on the individual and the causes of their numbness. Here are examples of treatment approaches:

Medication Review and Adjustment

If the emotional blunting began after taking a psychiatric medication such as an antidepressant, the drug could be the culprit. Your psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse will assess your symptoms and current medication in this case.

From here, your provider can either start you on a different medication or lower your dose, Pauley says. If you’re on an SSRI or SNRI, which commonly causes emotional blunting, your provider could either lower the dose of it or switch you to a different drug class.

There are always other treatment options to try, and sometimes, it takes trial and error to see what works best without resulting in the unwanted side effect of emotional blunting.


“Psychotherapy or talk therapy with a licensed mental health therapist can help individuals manage emotional blunting,” DeBarrows says. “A therapist can treat the individual’s emotional blunting through various coping skills and interventions.” They can also treat the underlying condition contributing to the emotional numbness.

There are many therapy modalities to choose from. Ultimately, the approach to treatment will depend on your diagnosis. A few examples are:

Lifestyle Modifications and Coping Strategies

On top of talk therapy and medications, living a healthy lifestyle and staying on top of self-care can help manage your emotional blunting and other symptoms. Here are some tips to incorporate in your daily life:

Long-term Strategies for Dealing with Emotional Blunting

Maintaining good mental health takes work. If you want to manage your emotional blunting for good, it’s important to stay consistent with the following:

Relief from emotional blunting is possible. With the right therapy and mental healthcare providers, you can start to feel emotions again.

Grow Therapy can help you find relief now and in the long run. We can connect you with a therapist in your area or online who accepts your insurance and meets all of your needs.


  • Just because you’re experiencing emotional blunting now, doesn’t mean you will forever. Once your condition is managed and you find the right medication and dosage, blunting should subside.

  • Feeling emotionally removed is another way to express emotional blunting. This could be due to antidepressant use or a mental health condition such as depression, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, or substance use disorder.

  • Emotional blunting can be related to dissociation, but it isn’t always. Dissociation can make you feel disconnected from yourself, your emotions, or your surroundings.

About the author
Ashley Laderer Ashley Laderer

Ashley Laderer is a freelance writer who has been a mental health advocate since 2016, when she first publicly wrote about her own battle with anxiety and depression. After hearing how others were impacted by her story, she decided to continue writing about anything and everything mental health. Since then, she’s been published in Teen Vogue, SELF, Refinery29, NYLON, VICE, Healthline, Insider, and more.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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