“My youth doesn’t seem to feel anything”


Is What I’m Seeing Normal?

Many youth can appear sullen or appear to have little or no emotion at times. Sometimes this is self-preservation, (trying to protect themselves from their own feelings), or at other times, this may be because youth sometimes don’t know how they feel. With all the hormonal changes and life pressures that youth experience, it is normal for their moods to fluctuate and for them to appear down or “flat” at times.


Should I be Worried?

While a parent would expect to see normal adolescent “moodiness” in their youth, seeing little or no feeling at all can be alarming. Numbness is usually the result of something terrible that has happened in their life and should go away with time. Sometimes, though, that feeling of emptiness just doesn’t go away. If it seems like your youth doesn’t feel anything anymore, that they seem lost and no longer care about things, this may be a sign that something is very wrong.

Feeling numb can be the body and mind’s defense against a horrific, shocking, or extremely hurtful and painful event, situation, or memory.  A death or loss of a loved one, having witnessed or been the victim of a violent attack or accident, being bullied, or suffering some kind of abuse (physical, sexual or emotional), can all lead to feeling numb inside.  Numbness is like a person’s mind protecting them from terrible hurt, like an armor. The problem is, with this armor on, the person has trouble knowing what they’re feeling or even that they are feeling anything at all. They might appear like they don’t care anymore and seem “cold” or distant. You might look at your youth differently and wonder why they lost their “spark”. If all of this sounds familiar, your youth may be experiencing a reaction to a traumatic event. If the appearance of numbness doesn’t go away and is affecting your youth’s everyday life, they might be suffering from a condition called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. If your youth is experiencing other related signs, it is important to talk to someone (e. g. your doctor, a counselor) and get help for him or her

Sometimes, there may seem to be no explanation for your youth feeling numb or empty. Nothing terrible has happened in their life as far as you are aware, but still it’s like they have lost all feeling and have stopped caring about everything. They may have lost interest in doing the things they used to enjoy doing, they may feel like sleeping or staying in bed all the time, and they may have no motivation to go to school or work. In this case, numbness may be a sign of depression. If you are worried that your youth might be depressed, it is important to seek help for him or her, because it tends not to go away by itself.

Numbness can also come with using drugs or alcohol, or your youth hurting him or herself (e.g. cutting) to deal with their pain. If you suspect that your youth drinks or take drugs to stop feeling hurt, pain, or worry, then this may be a sign of a bigger problem. Feeling drunk or high may dull a feeling of pain, but once your youth comes down from that high, they will probably feel even more empty and worse than they did before. This can lead to a bad cycle of drinking or using drugs to cut off all feelings, which doesn’t help them deal with the problem underneath. Similarly, cutting or harming themselves to let out their pain or to stop feeling numb is an unhealthy way to cope. Once again, it is important to encourage your youth to talk to someone about this.


Tips for Prevention and Wellness

If your youth has been appearing numb for a while and it’s affecting their life in a negative way, here are some tips to try:

1.) Encourage your youth to try to tune into him or herself and his or her true feelings.

2.) Encourage your youth to try writing, drawing, painting, singing, rapping, playing music or dancing as ways to express him or herself and let his or her feelings out.

3.) It is important to allow your youth the time and space to take care of him or herself and to deal with their emotions, rest, and heal.

4.) Keep inviting your youth to talk to you. As hard as it may be for you to give them space when you are worried, they might need some time before they are ready to talk, especially if something traumatic has happened to them. Let them know that you are okay with waiting until they are ready to talk.

5.) When your youth is feeling ready to talk, but may have difficulty talking to you, you can suggest that he or she talk to a doctor or counselor. Try not to be offended or hurt that your youth doesn’t feel ready or able to talk to you—sometimes it is hardest to talk to the people we are closest to, so talking to someone neutral and outside of the family may be the most helpful for your youth.

6.) You need to give your youth permission to take time for him or herself when he or she needs it. Remember, it’s just as important for youth to take care of their emotional health as it is their physical health. Help your youth be emotionally healthy!


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