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Ask a Therapist: I Feel Stuck in My Own Mind

Q: I’ve been sitting here for 30 minutes trying to formulate my thoughts into a paragraph but I can’t do it so I’m just going to list feeling as they come to mind.
1. I feel nothing on a regular basis.  For example if I got a call saying that my mother died, I don’t think I would even cry.
2. I’m irritable beyond belief.  If someone asks me to do something I get pissed for them even asking me.
3.  I’m not suicidal, but I constantly question why I’m living and try to come up with reasons to continue on.
4.  I don’t see people as individuals.  I see everyone as a mammal, which leads me back to number 3.
5.  I want to ask my parents, or anyone for help, but I’m afraid of being laughed at.
6.  I don’t even try to interact with girls.  I’m not homosexual at all, I’m still attracted to girls, but the effort I need to put in to get an outcome is unbalanced.


Ask a Therapist: Lacking Emotions in Social Situations

Wasatch Family Therapy TeensQ: I am a 17 year old High School student and I have felt this conflict my entire life, but only now can I ignore it no longer. Amidst all of the discussion about college and ‘finding the right fit,’ I have realized that the major internal problem I have is that I lack an identity, lack interests, lack emotions, and therefore have trouble with social interaction. I am hopelessly apathetic at heart, and I don’t know how to reconcile the true ‘me’ with the image others expect–that of a ‘normal’ person who has passions and desires. I care about nothing–not politics or current events, not my friends or family or other people, not sports or music or art. Outwardly, I am a high-achieving, well-rounded student. I do well in every subject and participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, some of which I hold leadership positions in. However, none of them truly interests me, and I only continue them to get into college. Nothing ‘outside’ school much concerns me either. The various problems of society don’t matter to me, even when I’m affected. Occasionally a particularly poignant tragedy or example will make feel like helping out, but on the whole, I am completely apathetic. The same goes for the social aspects of my life. My childhood, family, and friendships were and are normal, but I do not have emotional connections to anyone; if somebody ‘close’ to me died, I would only be concerned with how it would affect my own convenience. I don’t have any academic, athletic, or arts-related interests either, and I do not believe the problem is lack of exposure. The only things I like to do are things that make me forget my existence and consciousness–playing games or reading a book or watching television, but the appreciation I have for those things is completely aesthetic and surface-level.

Left alone, I would be fine with this situation and content with engaging myself in passive activities for the rest of my life. However, society demands interaction. I sometimes have difficulty projecting the ‘right’ appearance in conversations and social interactions because I never feel anything (happiness at a friend’s success, sadness at someone’s death, gladness when someone praises me). Most days I do not have trouble interacting with people, but the times when I ‘mess up’ cause me great consternation because I am somewhat of a perfectionist and do not want people to think of me badly. I do not believe I have a social disorder because I understand what people mean and what kind of reaction to give–I just cannot act out that reaction because I do not truly feel it and I do not have enough acting prowess to express that emotion believably. People occasionally comment that my expression is too serious (that’s my default expression–blankness that is misinterpreted as seriousness, sadness, etc.), that I do not smile–in fact, I barely move, because I have trouble acting out body language as well even though I know what the proper response is. The emotions I do feel in social interactions are solely derived from self-consciousness–did I smile enough just then? Do I look relaxed? Most of all, do I look NORMAL? This kind of nervousness impedes my acting and therefore my daily interactions. Because I want to look what ‘normal’ is in any situation, I project different personalities to different people, causing conflicts when I deal with them together. I cannot just ‘let things go’ and be who I am–silent, still–in public; I want to look normal, but I can’t seem to force my body to comply.

What should I do? I want to make my social interactions normal so that I can live more conveniently–’conveniently’ in this case means in a state where my physical needs are attended to and I am left alone and not thought about much by others, where I fit in, so that when alone I can drown myself in fiction and escapist activities. If I have a disorder or psychological problem with this lack of emotions–perhaps a refusal to recognize them?–I want to be able to deal with it. However, I don’t think I could deal with speaking to a counselor in real life because my guard would always be up, always trying to act and never expressing what I truly mean. I won’t be trite and say that I am spiraling down into darkness, but this problem truly does bother me.

A: It sounds extremely exhausting to be constantly on guard worrying about the appropriateness of your social interactions, especially when your internal state doesn’t match your behavior. I’m so glad that you are reaching out for help to find your way through this confusing situation.  Yes, it does sound like there is a problem going on, either psychologically or medically. I recommend that you seek help from a counselor to get an evaluation, and to get a thorough physical exam from a physician. There are many medical and mental illnesses that can cause the blank feelings that you’re describing and the feeling of disconnection and despair. While I can’t diagnose you based on an email, the emptiness that you are describing sounds like severe depression. To learn more about the symptoms and treatment for different types of depression click here.

You mentioned that you’re not sure you can put your guard down with a counselor, but keep in mine that psychotherapists are trained to help you lower your guard over time, to help you get to the root of the problem, and to help you develop skills to live a more fulfilling life.  Additionally, a therapist can help you resolve any life events or relationship problems that may have contributed to shutting down your emotions and help you to reconnect with who you are, how you feel, and what you want.

I have seen many clients in my clinical practice develop the disconnection that you are describing after experiencing trauma or loss as a way of protecting themselves against further pain. If you need help finding a good therapist in your area click the Find Help link on PsychCentral. Don’t wait. Life and relationships can be much more rewarding than what you are currently experiencing and there are many, many resources available to help you. Please let your parent, guardian, or school counselor know that you need help so they can support you and help you.

I urge you to get professional help so you can reconnect to your emotions and find joy and fulfillment in your life.

Take good care of yourself!

Julie Hanks, LCSW

Originally appeared in my column

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Ask a Therapist: I’m Depressed and No One Knows

Q: First off I would like to thank you for taking the time out to help me. But the problem is I’m depressed but nobody knows it.

Half the reason I am is because I have no really close friends to hang out with or etc. While everybody is usually going to the movies, the beach, or somewhere fun I’m at home. My mother has started to notice it, she always suggests I hangout with my friends but truth is I don’t have the heart to tell her I don’t really have any. It started at the age of 11 when I started to notice I didn’t have a lot of friends like all the other kids did.

I have tried on several attempts to makes friends, but all miserably failed. I try not to be clingy or to appear desperate. I think I have been cursed not to have any friends and it kills me every single day. I don’t wanna go talk to a counselor in person, it makes me feel even more abnormal. And I don’t wanna tell my parents because they’ll feel bad for me and I hate it when people feel sympathy for me.


Ask a Therapist: Should I Tell My Psychiatrist I Have Feelings For Him?

Q: I have childhood onset bipolar disorder and have been in therapy, on and off, for many years. I have been seeing my psychiatrist for three years now and approximately one year ago, I started seeing him weekly for therapy sessions as well as med management. Over the past several months, I have been having really strong feelings for him. I know this is common in therapist/client relationships, but I think of him constantly in erotic ways.


Ask a Therapist: How Do I Get Over Being Jealous Of My Sister?

My boyfriend and I dated for four months. After we first broke up, we started talking again. We talked for three months. Then I found out that the reason why he broke up with me was because he liked my sister.

I was really hurt, but I still talked to him because I really, really cared about him. I could forgive him even if he liked my sister.


Ask a Therapist: My Friends Say I’m Hypocritical. What Should I Do?

Q: Hello, this is the last place I can go to… I can’t go to my sister because she is in my “friend’s” side. I hope someone can help me before this issue gets me more depressed than I already am; dealing with the right university, and money issues.


This Emotional Life Hosts Social Media & Relationships FREE Webinar

Social media has changed the landscape of our relationships forever. Take advantage of this great opportunity to hear from a panel of social media and relationship by signing up for a free LIVE, interactive discussion webinar hosted by PBS’s “This Emotional Life”.

Social Media & the Web: How They’re Changing Our Relationships

Monday, April 4 at 5PM (EDT) / 3PM (MDT)
Register here

Read more about this event and the panelists on Psych Central.

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Ask A Therapist: Do I Have Adult ADD?

Q: I’m a student receiving my Master’s degree. Within the past two years I’ve felt my body and mind change significantly in many ways. I feel extremely anxious when doing tasks (even small ones like packing/unpacking a suitcase). This is the same with grocery shopping or attempting my homework. I then push everything aside and get nothing done. My habits of cleanliness such as my apartment have declined because I refuse to motivate myself to clean. I’ll find myself in the kitchen then in the bedroom for some reason the randomly in the bathroom, ultimately accomplishing nothing.


Ask a Therapist: Why Am I So Addicted To Toxic Relationships?

Q: Why am i so addicted to toxic relationships? I always push away good women and have trouble letting go of the women who hurt me. I feel the need to seek approval and love from women who don’t return the love.