Emotional blunting is the inability to experience both positive and negative emotions fully. It may also involve detachment, which refers to feeling distant from or not caring about others.
According to research, emotional blunting is a
Emotional blunting is also associated with mental health conditions and some life experiences. Treatment of such cases consists of addressing the underlying cause.
Keep reading to learn more about emotional blunting, including the causes, symptoms, duration, treatment, and when to call a doctor.
Other terms for emotional blunting include emotional flattening or numbing. It denotes decreased emotional responsiveness or the inability to fully feel negative and positive emotions.
Emotional blunting is also distinct from apathy, which experts increasingly view as a behavioral rather than an emotional symptom.
These include the following:
Research shows that
The underlying mechanism for the association is not clear.
However, some studies suggest that SSRIs may decrease the function of brain areas involved in processing emotions. This would affect the processing of both rewarding and unpleasant life factors, which would account for the reduced capacity to feel pleasure and pain.
According to Dr. David Tzall, PsyD, aside from the association with antidepressants, emotional blunting is a common symptom of the mental health condition of depression.
“People with depression may find it challenging to experience pleasure or joy in things they once enjoyed, leading to emotional detachment,” he said.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Emotional blunting commonly occurs in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Individuals with the condition use it to protect themselves from the full force of their response to a traumatizing event. While this may help them temporarily deal with memories of the event, over time, it can hinder connecting with others and experiencing positive and negative emotions.
Inappropriate use of alcohol or drugs
According to Tzall, substance misuse may also contribute to emotional blunting. “Chronic and prolonged inappropriate use of alcohol or drugs can impact the brain’s reward system and lead to emotional blunting,” he says.
Individuals may also use emotional blunting to cope with the grieving process. “Someone may use blunting as a way to cope with the overwhelming sadness, as it can take away the pain of such a loss, says Tzall. “Blunting can be an adaptive way of coping — especially in the interim — with such strong feelings.”
Signs of emotion blunting
- enjoy activities that were previously pleasurable
- share others’ sadness or joy
Treatment and management involve addressing the underlying cause of emotional blunting.
An additional treatment strategy entails the combination of lowering the dose of the antidepressant and adding a different medication.
“Treatment of depression often involves both talk therapy and medication, such as antidepressants,” said Tzall.
“As with other symptoms of depression, the blunting should decrease with treatment. The length of treatment necessary varies with the person.”
Therapy and counseling can help. Options include cognitive behavioral therapy, which enables a person to find more adaptive ways of coping with emotions rather than avoiding them.
Another treatment option is acceptance and commitment therapy, which can help people identify ways in which they attempt to suppress emotions.
“Treatment often involves a combination of therapies, counseling, and support groups,” said Tzall. “As individuals progress in their recovery journey, emotional blunting may begin to improve.”
“With time, support, and self-compassion, emotions may begin to resurface and allow the person to experience them more fully,” said Tzall.
According to Tzall, it is necessary to seek out treatment and medical care if the numbness lasts for several weeks or more and does not improve on its own. A person should contact a doctor if:
- Blunting interferes with an individual’s ability to function in their daily life, work, or other responsibilities.
- It causes significant distress, feelings of hopelessness, or thoughts of self-harm.
- It affects personal relationships or causes conflicts with loved ones.
Emotional blunting means a person has reduced responses to positive and negative experiences that would typically provoke emotions. Symptoms may involve the inability to cry or enjoy activities that were once pleasurable.
This may be a side effect of some antidepressants, but it sometimes is a symptom of a mental health condition, including depression, PTSD, and the inappropriate use of alcohol or drugs. Additionally, it can happen with grieving.
Treatment depends on the cause. For cases stemming from antidepressants, it could entail changing to a different drug class. In cases due to a mental health condition, treatment could necessitate psychotherapy or medications.