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Are You Really Comfortably Numb? Emotional Anorexia

Emotional anorexia is a term that refers to an individual’s inability to fully engage with their own emotions and the emotions of others. This can manifest in various ways, including an inability to express or recognize emotions, an avoidance of emotional intimacy, and a tendency to suppress or numb emotions. But do we really need to call it ‘anorexia’? 

Experts say that emotional anorexia can have serious consequences, both for the individual and for their relationships. It can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and low self-esteem. It can also cause difficulties in romantic relationships, as the inability to fully engage with emotions can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts. 

What does it look like? In different individuals, it may manifest in different ways.

Here are a few signs that someone may be dealing with what experts call ‘emotional anorexia’.

They may be someone who:

  1. Has difficulty expressing or recognizing their own emotions, and may seem distant or detached in their relationships.
  2. Avoids emotional intimacy and is hesitant to share their feelings or thoughts with others.
  3. Numbs their emotions through unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or overworking.
  4. Has difficulty setting healthy boundaries in their relationships and may feel overwhelmed or taken advantage of.
  5. Finds challenging seeking help or support when they are struggling emotionally.
  6. Has a tendency to suppress their emotions and may seem stoic or unemotional on the surface.

It is important to note that everyone experiences and expresses emotions differently, and there is no one ‘correct’ way to do so. Also, although useful, there are also no correct ways of naming these experiences. Some people might call these ‘avoidant’ or ‘disorganized’ attachment styles, others might call it emotional anorexia,and many more may call it detachment. 

Whatever the title may be, remember to be kind to yourself or the people you know who may be going through this. No human being willingly wants to disconnect from their emotions. It is not an illness or disease and there is absolutely nothing wrong with people whoresonate with this way of dealing with emotions. Professional help is something to always reach out for if individuals are looking for a different way of dealing with emotions.

What Causes this Type of Relationship with Emotions?

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to these experiences. Some common causes include

  • Childhood:

Childhood experiences such as neglect, abuse, or a lack of emotional expression in the family environment can lead to an individual becoming disconnected from their emotions as a coping mechanism.

  • Trauma:

Traumatic events, such as the loss of a loved one or a significant life change, can also lead to emotional anorexia as a way of coping with the intense emotions that come with such experiences.

  • Personality traits:

Some individuals may be more prone to emotional anorexia due to their personality traits or natural tendencies. This can include a tendency towards perfectionism or a need for control, which can make it difficult for an individual to fully engage with their emotions.

  • Social influences:

Cultural or societal influences can also play a role in the development of emotional anorexia. For example, if an individual is raised in a culture or family that values stoicism or emphasizes the suppression of emotions, they may be more prone to developing emotional anorexia.

Discomfort with emotions is not necessarily caused by any one factor, but rather is the result of a complex interplay of various influences. 

What Does ‘Emotional Anorexia’ Look Like in Relationships?

Emotional anorexia can have a significant impact on an individual’s relationships.Some common ways in which emotional anorexia may manifest in relationships include

  • Difficulty forming close, intimate relationships:

If an individual has trouble expressing or recognizing their emotions, they may struggle to form close, intimate relationships. They may also have difficulty allowing themselves to be vulnerable and open with others.

  • Difficulty with emotional intimacy:

Emotional anorexia can make it difficult for an individual to share their feelings or thoughts with their partner, leading to a lack of emotional intimacy in the relationship.

  • Struggles with trust:

If an individual has a hard time recognizing and expressing their emotions, they may struggle with trust in their relationships. They may have difficulty trusting that their partner truly cares for them or that the relationship is stable.

  • Difficulty setting boundaries:

An individual may struggle with setting healthy boundaries in their relationships. They may have difficulty saying no when they do not want to do something or may feel overwhelmed by the emotional needs of their partner.

  • Conflict and misunderstandings:

The inability to fully engage with emotions can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts in relationships. An individual facing these emotional experiences may have a hard time understanding or communicating their own emotions, leading to misunderstandings and difficulties in resolving conflicts.

If you are in a relationship with someone who struggles with emotions, it is important to be understanding and supportive. It often helps to approach a relationship counsellor if things are going downhill in your relationship.

Tips for Getting in Touch with Your Emotions Again

If you struggle with emotions and want to work on improving your emotional intelligence and coping skills, here are some steps you can take:

  • Use breath and body scans to notice sensations:

Bodily sensations are a way into emotions we ‘don’t feel’. Start with breathing and experiencing breath going in and out of nostrils. Follow by remembering life moments where you felt an emotion, this could be happiness, joy, sadness, fear, anger, etc. Focus on the sensations that pop up during the memory and embody the emotion to imprint it. Take as many rounds as possible of this and start journaling about moments of the day you feel sensations

  • Acknowledging emotions:

Once we know we have sensations and connect them to emotions we can move to their acceptance. While in the past, we may have learned to shut down and not accept anything we feel, we now need to sit with our feelings and acknowledge it for what it is: a 90 seconds sensation in the body. Yes, 90 seconds! Our emotions do not define us as people, they are just experiences we are going through. This is how we accept the feeling, let it wash over us. It is there and it is ok.

  • Different expressions and releases:

Expression of the emotion can take many forms and supports its release and the sensations associated with it. This can be through crying, screaming, writing in a journal, talking to a trusted friend or professional, or engaging in creative activities such as art or music. Find a method of expression that feels comfortable and authentic for you.

  • Learn healthy coping mechanisms:

It is important to find healthier ways to cope with your emotions, rather than suppressing or numbing them. This can include practicing mindfulness, finding healthy outlets for stress such as exercise or hobbies, and seeking support from trusted friends or family members.

  • Set healthy boundaries:

If you struggle with emotions, you may have difficulty setting healthy boundaries in your relationships. It is important to learn to say no when you are not comfortable or do not want to do something, and to make sure that your needs and boundaries are being respected.

  • Work on self-care:

Taking care of yourself emotionally and physically can be an important part of dealing with emotional numbness. This can include practicing self-care activities such as exercise, getting enough rest, and finding activities that bring you joy and relaxation.

Remember, learning to fully accept your feelings is a process and it may take time to fully address the underlying causes and develop healthy coping skills. Be patient with yourself.


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