Identifying Numbing Behaviors vs. Nurturing Behavior - Part 1

Part 1 - Understanding and Identifying Numbing Behavior

We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”― Brené Brown

An important part of exploring and better understanding how to adopt mindful self-care practices into our everyday lives is to distinguish the difference between numbing behavior and coping strategies from nurturing behavior and self-care strategies.

Numbing behavior and coping strategies are behaviors we use to relieve a sense of pain or discomfort. We often reach for them because they work quickly and often only work for the short-term. We often opt for numbing behavior and coping strategies because they are often fast acting, easily accessible, produce immediate results, and create chemical changes in the body. They often don’t serve our well-being in the long term, often come with setbacks, regret, and provide a band-aid approach when stitches would be more appropriate. While our numbing behaviors and coping strategies might be serving an immediate purpose in our lives, they can cause harm and stunt progress.

We need to be gentle with ourselves as we consider what numbing behaviors and coping strategies we have utilized in the past, we have used them because they worked. And YET, as we grow and develop those numbing behaviors may no longer be serving us well, be as potent, or they might not be producing the long term results we are hoping for. Becoming AWARE of what are “go-to” numbing behaviors are, is the beginning step in mindfully incorporating better self-care into our lives.

We are exploring our numbing behaviors to cultivate awareness, not to shame ourselves for any coping behaviors that have served us.

The following are common examples of numbing behavior and coping strategies, consider your most commonly used and/or effective numbing behaviors:

  • Distraction

  • Binge watching TV (sometimes watching shows that don’t even interest you)

  • Social media usage for the sole purpose to distract yourself from feeling, filling empty space or boredom, or usage simply based out of habit instead of desire

  • Drama (that we either create or choose to get involved in)

  • Internet usage

  • Substance Use

  • Utilizing stimulants to help you “push through” (ex: caffeine)

  • Utilizing depressants to “take the edge off” (ex: alcohol)

  • Smoking tobacco (lower doses have a depressant effect while higher doses have a stimulating effect)

  • Illicit Drug Use

  • Shopping

  • Excessive Spending of Money or Extreme Frugality

  • Food Consumption

  • Utilizing food consistently as a numbing mechanism,

  • Limiting food intake to either feel in control or consistently reduce uncomfortable emotions

  • Work and/or the need to be “Busy”

  • Relationships

  • Continually entering and supporting the time and energy required for unhealthy relationships

  • Giving too much of yourself, your time, energy and resources to meaningful relationships so you don’t have the time to meet your own needs or sit with uncomfortable emotions

  • Sex

  • Denial

  • Avoidance

  • Procrastination

  • Self-harm or self-punishing behaviors

  • Exercise for either distraction, punishment, or acceptance

Consider identifying your top 5 numbing behaviors, take a moment and consider the purpose they have served in your life. Can you send love and compassion to those behaviors, because they have served a purpose, and yet give yourself permission to consider other behaviors that more directly honor and meet your needs?

Acknowledging that numbing behaviors don’t create the long-term results we are hoping for let’s identify the nurturing and self-care strategies that may serve us better in Part 2.

This blog post included content material from a Mindful Self-care Workbook, co-authored by Tiffany Roe and Sara Hughes-Zabawa. For more information on getting a copy of the workbook please reach out to Tiffany at

Sara Hughes-Zabawa, LMSW has extensive experience working with trauma survivors, depression & anxiety, LGBT+ individuals and their families, and faith transitions. She is also a yoga instructor and uses mindfulness training to support clients in cultivating self-care practices.

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