10 Telltale Signs You're Emotionally Numb Inside — And Your Childhood Is To Blame

You're not living the life you should be.

Last updated on Oct 27, 2023

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Feeling emotionally numb as an adult can be the result of many different things, but often, it has a lot to do with your childhood — and whether or not you were raised with emotionally intelligent or neglectful parents.

Emotional neglect happens when parents fail to respond to their kids' emotional needs, and experiencing this as a child can have lasting effects into adulthood.

Consider this. Would you rather live a life filled with ups and downs, joy and sadness, frustrations and pride and surprise? Or, would you rather live a life that goes along, one day after another, with few disruptions or changes or shake-ups?​


While it might seem counter-intuitive, people who pick the first scenario are typically happier overall. That’s because if you are on the roller coaster, you are living life in a more powerful way. You are more connected with your emotions, and so you are probably far more fulfilled.

But if you choose the second option, it might be a sign that you are emotionally numb and disconnected from your feelings.

RELATED: The #1 Indicator You Were Emotionally Neglected As A Kid


What is emotional numbness?

Ever dissociated? Emotional numbness is often described as feeling similar to dissociation.

Emotional numbness is exactly what it sounds like: you feel nothing. It happens unconsciously, just like when we dissociate or "zone out." According to UnityPoint Health, "It's the result of our minds disconnecting from our thoughts, actions, sense of self and sensory experience of the world around us."

You probably grew up in an emotionally neglectful family and learned at an early age that your emotions were irrelevant or burdensome. You may have even "walled off" your feelings as a coping mechanism, as a result of this Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

No doubt, though, the way you are living seems normal to you. After all, it’s the way you have always lived. It’s probably the way you were raised to be. So how do you know if you’re emotionally numb due to a childhood of emotional neglect?


Here are 10 signs you're emotionally numb inside:

1. You don't experience happiness, even when something positive happens.

You can go through happy life events without feeling as happy as other people seem to be when they have similar happy events. Many people with this issue describe their joyful life experiences as "bland."

Some have gone through weddings, vacations, graduations, or award ceremonies feeling as if they are watching themselves from afar, disconnected from the experience, or even waiting for it to be over. They feel numb.



2. You feel that your emotions don't match the circumstances.

You sometimes wonder why you don’t feel sadder when faced with loss. Similar to the above, it’s possible to go through a funeral of a loved one or a job layoff and feel very little.


Your brain knows you should be sad, but your body does not feel it.

RELATED: Become A *Much* Better Parent By Asking Yourself This One Big Question

3. Your primary emotion is anger or irritability.

Unspent feelings, or walled-off ones, have a tendency to all pool together into one big soup inside of you. Denied and pushed down or away, the individual ingredients (your emotions) blend to make one big one.

This big one is likely to be anger. Anger is powerful and can break through your wall more easily, so it becomes the primary emotion you feel. So you essentially have two emotional states: angry or numb.

4. It’s hard for you to identify any particular feelings.

One of the effects of walling off your emotions is that you lose touch with them. When you’re disconnected from your feelings, you’re not thinking about them or noticing them.


If you ever need to explain how you feel, you stammer or clam up.

5. You frequently wonder why you aren't feeling more.

You can observe yourself in certain situations and wonder why you’re not feeling something more.

Others around you are crying tears of joy or sadness. You look at them and wonder, “Why don’t I feel that? What is wrong with me?” 

6. Big emotions from others make you uneasy.

You are often uncomfortable when other people have strong emotions. When you find yourself in a situation where others are having feelings, you may have one yourself: discomfort.

All you want to do is get away from this situation because it seems awkward and unnatural.




7. You're sometimes envious when other people have strong emotions.

Unfortunately, you can’t give up your negative feelings without also giving up your positive ones. When pain, anger, and sadness go out the window, they tend to take your love, warmth, and joy with them.

You see others experiencing those wonderful emotions, and you may wish you could too. Sadly, you cannot.

RELATED: My Childhood Trauma Followed Me Into Adulthood


8. You sometimes feel like you’re going through life on autopilot.

One foot after another, you march along, doing what you are supposed to do, and probably doing it well. Like a toy soldier or an energizer bunny, you just keep on going. But you also find yourself wondering what it’s all for.

Shouldn’t you be something more, you ask? The answer is yes. There should be highs and lows, pride, joy, and sadness, but you are missing it.

9. You feel more when watching a movie, TV show, or commercial or reading a book than you do in real life.

For those whose feelings are tamped down, it can be easier to access them when it’s safe; when it’s not personal; when it’s not you.

You can feel the emotions of a fictional character or someone in the news, but you can’t feel your own. When it comes to your own life, you can't access those feelings.


10. You occasionally feel empty inside.

This is the ultimate sign. Your “empty” feeling may reside in your belly or your throat, or it may be just an uncomfortable sense that something is missing in you.

That sense is your body telling you that what should be filling you, connecting and energizing you — your emotions — is not there. This is your body telling you that you are emotionally numb.



What To Do When You Feel Emotionally Numb

If you see yourself in any of these 10 signs, do not despair! Your feelings are not gone. They are still there, inside you, waiting for you to reclaim them.


You can break down the wall that blocks them and welcome them back into your life. Bit by bit, slowly but surely, in a way that feels safe and healthy, you can reverse your numbness, and fill your life with color and energy. You can do this by talking to a professional or even a close confidant.

Growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, you were taught to ignore and marginalize your own feelings. But now that you're an adult, you don't have to continue that.

You can welcome your feelings back into your life and learn the skills to manage and use them.

If you are feeling emotionally numb as a result of childhood emotional neglect, know that you are not alone. There is help available where you can find the support you need. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text "HELLO" to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line


RELATED: 21 Warning Signs Of Emotional Abuse In Relationships

Jonice Webb, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and best-selling author of two self-help books. She specializes in childhood emotional neglect, relationships, communication issues, and mental health. Dr. Webb has appeared on CBS News and NPR, and her work has been cited by many publications.