Emotional Blunting: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

By Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

You may have heard of the term “emotional blunting” before when researching mental health symptoms. If you’re seeking mental health treatment, you might have even experienced emotional blunting symptoms yourself. If you’re struggling to feel emotions, whether positive or negative, learning more about emotional blunting and why it occurs can help you take the steps necessary to overcome it.

What Is Emotional Blunting?

Experts have described emotional blunting as a set of symptoms that occur in people with mental health conditions like depression, schizophrenia or PTSD. Also referred to as “emotional numbing,” blunting involves a reduced display of both positive and negative emotions. This means that someone with emotional blunting will have difficulty experiencing emotions like happiness or sadness. 

Emotional blunting also falls under the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia, as diminished emotional expression is a symptom of this mental health disorder. Sometimes, emotional numbing symptoms associated with schizophrenia can look like depression symptoms. For people who have schizophrenia, emotional blunting can lead to difficulty in expressing emotions. It can also cause reduced facial expressions and verbal responses in reaction to things that would usually elicit an emotional reaction. 

Emotional Blunting Symptoms 

Emotional blunting or emotional numbing is associated with several symptoms that indicate a lack of emotions. Someone who experiences emotional numbing will show some or many of these signs:

  • Emotional detachment
  • Lack of motivation
  • Apathetic attitude
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Inability to laugh or cry
  • Lack of enjoyment with usual activities
  • Reduced empathy
  • Lack of concern for others
  • Reduced passion 

What Causes Emotional Numbness

Symptoms of emotional numbness can occur for several reasons. Most commonly, symptoms can arise due to mental illness, medications or substance abuse.

Mental Illness

Symptoms of emotional blunting can occur with a number of mental illnesses, including depression, PTSD and schizophrenia. In patients with schizophrenia, emotional blunting can be a direct symptom of the mental health disorder. In people with depression, there is debate regarding whether emotional number is a symptom of depression or simply a side effect of medication. Finally, individuals with PTSD may show avoidance symptoms. This can include avoiding the feelings associated with a traumatic event, which can lead to emotional numbing. 

Medications

Emotional blunting can be a side effect of taking certain medications. Antidepressant drugs called SSRIs and SNRIs are known to cause emotional blunting, especially when taken in larger doses. Some evidence suggests that antidepressants activate neurons that dampen the effects of the brain chemical dopamine, which is linked to pleasure. 

Substance Abuse

Some people may use drugs and alcohol to numb their emotions. For example, drugs like heroin, which depress the nervous system, can reduce emotional reactivity. One study found that individuals addicted to heroin showed less emotional arousal when viewing emotional material. 

Treatment for Emotional Blunting 

Symptoms of emotional blunting can interfere with daily life because they can make it difficult to find happiness or develop meaningful relationships with other people. Fortunately, if you are experiencing emotional numbness, there are ways you can treat the issue.  

Treating Emotional Numbness on Your Own

If mild depression symptoms are leading to emotional numbness, you may be able to treat symptoms on your own with some natural mood boosters:

  • Spending time outdoors
  • Meditating
  • Prioritizing sleep
  • Exercising for 30 minutes a day
  • Following a nutritious diet that includes colorful fruits and veggies as well as protein sources

Medication Adjustment

Since antidepressant medications can lead to emotional numbing, you may consider speaking with your doctor to adjust your medications. This is especially true if symptoms of emotional blunting are making it difficult to perform daily tasks or maintain your relationships. SSRI and SNRI drugs used to treat depression can lead to emotional blunting, so you might consider talking with your doctor about switching to another class of drugs or lowering your dose. Be sure to collaborate with your doctor before making any changes to the way you take your medication. 

Therapy for Emotional Blunting

If emotional blunting is a symptom of a mental health condition like depression or PTSD, it may be time to seek out therapy. A licensed mental health professional can help you to develop coping strategies and new ways of thinking that can improve your mental health and reduce the effects of emotional blunting. 

For those who need support for managing emotions, the Nobu app can be an excellent resource. Nobu offers several free features, including lessons from mental health experts, a mood tracker and training on mindfulness practices like yoga and deep breathing. Paid features of the Nobu app include the ability to schedule sessions with a licensed therapist who will meet with you online. Sign up for Nobu today and download the app, available for free on both Apple and Android devices. 

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Edited by – Jonathan Strum Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. He has written, edited and published content for health care professionals, educators, real estate agents, lawyers and high-level university faculty… Read more.
jenni jacobsen
Written by – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has seven years of experience working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health… Read more.
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Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.