No matter what, suffering the loss of a loved one can challenge you in all sorts of unexpected ways, especially if the person who died was close to you. The feelings of pain, grief, and sorrow are universal to most people who experience a significant loss in their life.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Why Do You Feel Numb After a Loved One’s Death?
- 10 Tips for Coping With Feeling Numb, Empty, or Nothing After a Death
Psychological reactions to loss are difficult to predict because everyone responds to grief differently. There are also many stages and types of grief a bereaved person may go through.
But what happens when someone you're close with dies, and you don't feel anything?
Does this somehow mean that you loved that person any less?
Why Do You Feel Numb After a Loved One’s Death?
Reasons you might feel numb after the death of a loved one may be attributed to past psychological and emotional traumas. In some cases, the emotional numbing you are experiencing may be a natural grief reaction for you.
You might be asking yourself, “Why don’t I feel anything when someone dies?” A perfectly normal grief reaction can also be not feeling anything for the first few weeks or months after the death of your loved one.
When you don’t feel the typical emotional reactions to the death of someone you love, this is called absent grief. You may never experience grieving for the person who died, and this is not altogether uncommon.
In some cases, you may find that there are underlying reasons why you aren’t allowing yourself to grieve the loss. Victims of abuse, for example, shield themselves from further pain by temporarily blocking out these types of emotions.
Detaching oneself from traumatic situations is a way for the mind and body to protect itself. Eventually, you may drop this defense mechanism and allow yourself to grieve your loss. Emotional numbing helps block out the negative emotions associated with loss.
The downside to shielding yourself from these uncomfortable emotions is that you may also block out positive emotions, such as feelings of joy and happiness. Eventually, you become accustomed to blocking out all reactions and this, too, can be harmful to you.
Signs of emotional numbing
Here are some of the things that you may feel or see when you are dealing with numbness related to loss:
- Inability to feel or express emotions
- Engaging in mind-numbing activities
- Feeling disconnected
- Feeling hunger, thirst, and exhaustion
- Lack of reaction to news, movies, etc
- Being a passive observer of life
- Cruising on auto-pilot
- Lack of joy
- Socially disengaging from others
- Feeling bored with life
Is it OK to not cry after a death?
It is important to remember that not crying after experiencing the death of a loved one is okay. It’s also okay to not feel anything for the first few days or weeks that follow.
Your body processes different grief reactions in those first moments after experiencing loss. Certain coping mechanisms are triggered almost immediately upon hearing the news that protects you from bearing more pain than you can handle.
There are at least five stages of grief that the grief experts rely on when measuring a person’s grief reaction. They include:
- Stage 1: Shock and denial
- Stage 2: Anger
- Stage 3: Bargaining and guilt
- Stage 4: Depression
- Stage 5: Acceptance
Although these five stages are commonplace in grief therapy sessions when discussing and treating grief-related issues, this method of evaluating a person’s reaction to grief has since been reconsidered.
The late psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, introduced a roadmap of the different stages of grief. Progress in the field of grief counseling has evolved to a more modern, non-linear discovery of how a person suffers loss.
What happens if you don’t grieve after a death?
Typically nothing happens if you don’t grieve after a death. Not everyone grieves in an open and obvious way. You may find that you’re more emotionally resilient than others.
A bereaved person may not experience grief until many weeks after the death of their loved one. Grief can show up when least expected, and it can also manifest in unusual ways that may not readily be attributed to grieving.
There are a few key things to look out for when considering if your absence of grief should be alarming to you. The following tips can help you cope as you go through your grief process.
10 Tips for Coping With Feeling Numb, Empty, or Nothing After a Death
You won’t always go through a roller-coaster of emotions when you experience the death of a loved one. The way you react to the news will largely depend on your relationship to the person who died, your past experiences, and your emotional maturity or tolerance to death.
You may be wondering why you feel emotionally empty, numb, or nothing at all. Here are some things to keep in mind as you process your grief:
1. There’s nothing wrong with you
One of the first things people wonder is if there’s something wrong with them because they don’t feel anything at all when someone close to them dies. Grief can take on so many forms that it’s impossible to tell how it will affect you when the time comes.
Keep tabs of your changing feelings and emotions on a day-by-day basis for the first few days to see how your grief is progressing.
2. Feeling numb doesn’t mean you didn’t love
Sometimes people think that because they aren’t grieving, it must mean that they didn’t love the person who died.
Feeling numb to your pain can be the result of something that happened in your past that your mind is protecting you from. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t love the person who died.
3. Allow time for loss to sink in
Grief sometimes takes time to manifest. You may be functioning just fine after the death of your loved one because your brain has kicked into survival mode with all of the things that need to be done shortly after someone dies.
After you’ve had time to settle down a bit, the effects of your loss can start to set in.
4. Talk about your loss
Sometimes, you don't want to think about your loss. Your mind attempts to block out all the negative thoughts and emotions associated with the pain and suffering associated with your loss. One way that your mind protects you from experiencing negative or unpleasant thoughts and emotions is called experiential avoidance.
Your mind does its best to protect you from all the internal experiences associated with pain and grief. Some of the feelings that may crop up are the following:
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of being embarrassed
- Fear of physical harm
Talking about your fears and anxieties as they relate to your loss will help you process your grief. You may want to consider online therapy or grief counseling.
5. Your relationship wasn’t close
When you didn't have a close relationship with the person who died, it's normal not to experience grief and loss in the same way as you would when someone close to you dies. You may not even feel anything at all when first hearing the news.
Relationships are sometimes formed by titles and family lineage only. Many people won't experience grief and sadness when one of their family members dies, especially if they weren't close to them. When this happens to you, know that it isn't unusual, and it shouldn't cause you concern if you don't feel anything.
6. You may have survivor’s guilt
Caregivers and parents who feel as if they didn’t do enough to protect their loved one from dying usually experience some form of survivor’s guilt.
One way to protect themselves from these feelings of guilt is to shut out all emotional reactions to their loss.
7. It’s okay not to feel anything
The absence of feelings or emotions after you’ve suffered loss doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with you.
It’s okay to experience grief in any of the forms that it manifests, whether through tears or another feeling. The absence of grief is also a way of grieving. It doesn’t signal that there is something wrong with you.
8. Grieving isn’t a competition
Try and remember that there is no winning when it comes to grieving. There is no standard of measuring who grieves the best, and there’s no prize for the person who grieves the most or the longest.
One of the objectives of grief counseling or therapy is to guide the bereaved through their feelings of grief and loss so that they’re able to move forward in life, not to see who suffers the most.
9. Take it one day at a time
Lacking feelings or emotions when you think you should be grieving is normal for some people.
During your time of bereavement, you may experience changing or lack of emotions on a day by day basis.
10. The numbness will fade
Again, it is also important to remember that the feelings of emptiness or numbness will eventually go away.
You’ll either start experiencing outward manifestations of pain and suffering in the form of grief, or you may continue to feel nothing at all. Either way is okay as long as it’s not affecting you in any major way.
Coping with Numbness After a Death
Feeling empty or numb after suffering the death of a loved one is not unusual. Many people suffer through their grief in this way.
Over time, your loss will begin to sink in and you’ll eventually work through the grief process. Grief doesn’t always include overwhelming feelings of sadness and loss, and it’s perfectly normal to feel the absence of grief as well.
If you're looking for more resources on grief, read our guides on masked grief, delayed grief, and grief and guilt.
- Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death And Dying. New York: Collier Books/Macmillan 1970, c1969. Print.