Feeling emotionally numb is normal after someone you love dies. But if you get stuck in this part of the grieving process, you can’t heal, grow forward, or find happiness. Here are a few ideas for handling the emotional numbness that often accompanies grief.
Emotional numbness may be normal, but it’s also scary and confusing. It can affect our relationships at home and work, even spiraling downward into complicated grief and depression.
When I lost my grandma – the first time someone I loved died – I was numb for weeks. I was cushioned by shock, disbelief, confusion, and emotional numbness. Back then I was confused and didn’t know how to handle the numb feelings after a death. Now, I believe this is God or nature’s way of protecting humans from going insane with grief when a loved one dies. I don’t have quick tips on how to come alive when you feel dead inside, but I can offer you a little hope and help when you’re coping with the shock and numbness of grief.
Here’s what a She Blossoms reader says:
“My husband died 13 days, 14 hours, and 24 minutes ago,” says A. on Help and Hope When You’re Living Alone After He Dies. “He was 47. He had a brain tumor…I have no idea how to describe what I feel – or rather what I don’t feel. That concerns me. I have yet to have my gut-wrenching cry or a fit of rage. I do shed some tears when I replay the songs I chose for his funeral or scroll through his obituary online, but when is this dam going to break and everything come rushing out? Does it always happen for every person whose soul is ripped in half? If it does, when?”
She adds that she’s only 45, and she feels like she’s doing something wrong or disrespectful. She’s moving through her grief, but not feeling the sadness or emotional breakdowns she expected.
“I do lay in our bed holding the blanket that covered us when my husband took his last breath,” she says. “But even reliving the night my husband died hasn’t evoked an emotional response beyond whispering ‘I miss you’ while looking at his photograph on the nightstand. Can I really be this strong or do I just have to wait for the outpouring of grief when I least expect it?”
Such an honest response to her husband’s death! It takes courage and vulnerability to express your thoughts – especially when you’re confused, grieving, and emotionally numb. A. offered a glimpse into her deepest self. Not many people can do this, especially after losing someone they love. That’s when we tend to withdraw, hide, and isolate ourselves in grief.
How to Heal Emotional Numbness
“You learn – in time – how to move forward,” says singer/songwriter Alisa Turner in an article in Homelife magazine. “But you will always carry that grief, because you carry what’s worth carrying. You carry the things you love.”
It’s important to know yourself. How did you deal with grief after losing someone you love in the past? Some people automatically default to numb feelings. Others are immediately emotional and responsive. If you normally feel numb after a shocking experience, then your current numbness may just be how you roll. But, if your emotional numbness is causing long-term problems in your life and relationship then it may need more careful attention.
Hold on to hope
You’re searching for help coping with numb feelings because you want to hurt, grieve, and heal. You lost someone you love – maybe your spouse died, your husband left, or your beloved animal companion was put to sleep. You lost something or someone dear to your heart, and you want to feel better again. You want move on from a broken heart and feel happy again!
But first your mind, heart, body and spirit needs to grieve your loss. You need to process the death of the relationship you had with your husband. You need to experience the heartache of grief and the pain of being separated forever. The most important thing you can do in this time of emotional numbness is keep hoping and believing that you will come through this. If you give up hope, you die inside. You will start to feel the heartache and loss – and you will heal from the pain. You will be happy again.
Give your feelings space and time to change
If your emotional numbness isn’t negatively affecting your life or relationships, let them be. Allow your system to adjust to the shock. Maybe now isn’t the right time to focus on healing the emotional pain after losing someone you love. There will come a time to actively pursue the grieving process after a loved one dies…but maybe that time isn’t now.
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Allow your numb feelings to be. Remind yourself that you won’t always feel this way! You’re walking through a valley of grief, loss, and pain. You lost someone you loved deeply, and your heart is broken. You are responding the way your body, spirit, and mind needs to respond right now. Allow yourself to heal at your own pace, in your own time. Accept that right now you are emotionally numb. You don’t know how long it’ll last or exactly how you’ll handle the numbness, but you will come through this.
Listen for the heartbeat of Jesus
The only man who never experienced emotional numbness was Jesus, God’s own Son. He grieved, got angry, worshipped, and loved. He was alive in ways we can only imagine — and He invites us to taste His joy, peace, and freedom!
How do you listen for the heartbeat of Jesus? By pausing. Getting quiet, still, and calm. By talking to Him, asking Him to fill you with His life. By telling Him about your fear, grief, anger, frustration, and pain. And by giving Him time to respond. Wait patiently, for He will answer your call. It may not be immediate – and He may not sound the way you expect – but He does respond. Connecting with God through prayer and meditation can be the most powerful way to handle emotional numbness, especially after a loved one dies.
Try it. What do you have to lose?
Learn the physiological reason for numb feelings
Emotional numbness has a purpose. Its function is to protect us from completely breaking down and losing our minds from grief. Feeling numb after a loved one’s death is nature or God’s way of helping you cope with something so traumatic and terrible it would undo you if you felt it too deeply. It’s like the physical shock your body experiences: emotional numbness prevents you from breaking under the strain of grief.
You might find it both helpful and interesting to learn about emotional numbness. Read books like Before and After Loss: A Neurologist’s Perspective on Loss, Grief, and Our Brain by Lisa Shulman. Learn how your brain is affected by loss, and how the grieving process affects how you think and feel. A traumatic loss of someone you love has life-changing effects on how you live, move, and even breathe. Feeling numb when someone you love dies is part of a healthy physiological reaction to loss. The more you learn about how your body and brain protects itself from overwhelming pain, the easier it’ll be to handle emotional numbness.
Megan Devine’s book It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand is another helpful book for going through the grieving process. “Grief is simply love in its most wild and painful form,” she says. “It is a natural and sane response to loss.”
Your thoughts on coping with numb feelings when you lose someone you love are welcome below. Writing is one of the best ways to discover what you really think and feel. Take time to stop and listen to the still small voice, and you will start healing and moving forward.
I read every comment, but don’t worry. I won’t give advice or tell you what to do. It’s your turn to talk.
Laurie's "She Blossoms" Books
Growing Forward When You Can't Go Back offers hope, encouragement, and strength for women walking through loss. My Blossom Tips are fresh and practical - they stem from my own experiences with a schizophrenic mother, foster homes, a devastating family estrangement, and infertility.
How to Let Go of Someone You Love: Powerful Secrets (and Practical Tips!) for Healing Your Heart is filled with comforting and healthy breakup advice. The Blossom Tips will help you loosen unhealthy attachments to the past, seal your heart with peace, and move forward with joy.
When You Miss Him Like Crazy: 25 Lessons to Move You From Broken to Blossoming After a Breakup will help you refocus your life, re-create yourself, and start living fully again! Your spirit will rise and you'll blossom into who you were created to be.