There is a rare condition in which people claim to experience no thoughts or have no inner monologue. This could be a symptom of trauma, depersonalization, or other dissociative disorders. But worry not, if you are experiencing this, there are ways to overcome this condition.
Something that can really bother trauma and depersonalization (DP)/derealization (DR) sufferers is the apparent absence of thoughts. This is sometimes colloquially referred to as blank mind syndrome.
Research about this condition is limited, though many anecdotes scattered around the internet in depersonalization forums, Facebook groups, and elsewhere suggests that this condition is real.
Several of my clients who I have helped fully recover from DP/DR have told me about their blank minds and how debilitating it made them feel.
One client of mine has always claimed that he felt like he was “gone”. As if he was not there at all. He claimed his mind was “empty”.
Does Trauma Play a Role in Blank Mind?
Many people who undergo a traumatic event can feel like their mind has been shut off. They may also not experience any emotions as well. This is a survival mechanism. The brain tries to protect the person from the extreme negative emotions after a traumatic event. Sometimes, along with shutting off the emotional centers of the brain, your ability to think is also compromised.
Someone who experienced a traumatic episode can feel like they are on auto pilot. They may feel like a robot, simply living life but not fully present. From the outside, they may even seem fine, but on the inside, they may feel empty, devoid of thoughts and emotions.
Trauma need not be the result of events such as rape, or a road accident, but it can also arise from consistent abuse in childhood, or even when the child has been neglected and not cared for or nourished properly. The child then develops coping strategies to help with the challenging situations. But later in life, these strategies may break down, leading to post traumatic stress disorders.
If you feel you experienced trauma in your life, then you need to process that trauma safely. You may need to visit a trauma specialist and get treated for your trauma. Doing so can help with your blank mind.
In addition to this, if you feel really disconnected from the world around you or generally feel disconnected from yourself, then you may also be suffering from depersonalization and derealization. If this is the case with you, then I’d advise you to take a look at my online course DP No More which can help you break out of such conditions and experience life as you did previously.
If you did not suffer from trauma then read on.
Is Your Mind Really Blank?
If you think you have a blank mind, then I want you to closely examine your experience.
Most people who experience a blank mind will actually think to themselves something along the lines of “I have no thoughts!” or “My mind is blank!”. If you examine this carefully you’ll see that these are actually thoughts. You are just not paying close attention to what is going on.
Even saying something like “I have a blank mind” means that your mind is not really blank because you just constructed a thought in your mind.
I’m not saying what you are experiencing is not unusual. Yes, depersonalization or dissociation does seem to affect the way one thinks. There definitely can be an absence of chatter or even a lack of attention (more about this below), but there are definitely thoughts in your mental space when you examine closely. Your mind is not totally empty or blank.
This Exercise Will Tell You the Truth
Here’s a simple exercise you can perform to figure out if your mind is blank or not.
Try to pick a subject of your choice to think about. I always suggest picking a favorite movie of yours.
Now think about this movie. Imagine the scenes from it. Imagine the characters talking and the dialog. Now, can you hear them speak in your mind?
Just try to let thoughts come up about this movie. You may have watched it when you were young. There may be memories around this particular film. Let them all come up.
Go ahead, take some time now to do this.
After a while, you’ll see that images and words seem to come up when you do so.
Also, go one step further and try to come up with deliberate thoughts about this movie. You can think something like:
- “That is such a good movie!”
- “I had so much fun watching it”
- “I cried a lot during the climax”
- “It scared the hell out of me!”
These are just some example statements to help you come up with your own.
Really spend some time thinking about this favorite film of yours.
What I’m asking here is that you deliberately engage your mind to produce thoughts. When you do so, you’ll see that indeed you can produce thoughts if you do desire.
Lack of Attention?
What is going on when a person’s mind has gone blank or empty? Does it mean that there are no thoughts or does it mean that there is a lack of attention?
I’d wager that in most cases it is just lack of attention.
Before depersonalization/derealization, we may have been paying too much attention to all the thoughts going about in our mental space. Every little thought would have demanded our attention.
Maybe after depersonalization, you just have stopped paying attention to them. The thoughts are still there, but your attention is not. Your attention may be wholly placed on the depersonalization experience (because of how unique, weird, or unpleasant it maybe).
Most often, you actually don’t need attention to perform a lot of tasks. This is especially true for menial tasks such as washing dishes, going for a run, checking social media on your phone, etc. These tasks are something you have performed many times before, so the brain conserves energy by switching off its attention circuit. In this case, because your attention is free to focus on something other than the current task at hand, it is then placed on your thoughts instead.
But when you experience DP/DR, because of how new and different this experience can be, all of your attention is now placed on the experience itself.
This can look like a blank mind, but it may be just that you are not paying conscious attention to the thoughts that are going on inside. You are wholly absorbed in the DP/DR experience.
But if you choose to pay attention to your thoughts, then you can (as we’ve seen through the above exercise.)
Or Absence of Chatter?
Mental chatter is the term used to describe the constant barrage of thoughts we experience as humans. These could be judgments we make about our current experience (“Oh, it’s so cold out”, “I feel great”, etc), or it could be something we are thinking about (“What should I make for dinner?”), or just random thoughts.
This mental chatter is a hallmark of human experience. For the most part, this is benign but it can turn distressing for some people because their thoughts can be very negative in nature.
Sometimes these thoughts can be scary and intrusive as well, but with some education, one can learn how to properly handle scary and intrusive thoughts.
Meditation is aimed at reducing this mental chatter. Expert meditators claim that their mind is quiet with very few thoughts if any. A lot of people aim to reach this stage of clarity.
Perhaps this is what the DP sufferer experiences minus the years worth of training that the meditator engages in?
Many people aspire to experience reality without this constant chatter. Maybe some DP sufferers are getting to this place of tranquility without the need to put in thousands of hours of training?
Seen this way, the absence of mental chatter can be a boon instead of a curse.
These Additional Strategies Can Help
If you are really bothered by this experience, I suggest you follow some of these steps to deliberately overcome this “blank mind”. Whenever you feel like you are experiencing a blank mind, you can try out the following:
- Brain teasers and puzzles that require thinking, for example answering riddles, and quizzes (even something as silly as a pop culture quiz).
- Playing mental games with your friends.
- Writing an essay about something, like your favorite movie or a book.
- Reading something that is intellectually challenging like a book about world economy, science, or history.
In all these cases, you’ll notice that you have not lost your ability to think and create thoughts. It’s still there.
When you fully recover from depersonalization, you’ll have your attention and your ability to have spontaneous thoughts come back. It will be a slow process, but it will happen.
Don’t be alarmed right now about the absence of mental chatter or lack of attention. Try to allow this experience and not fight it. Before you know it, you’ll start to have thoughts just like you did before, without putting in any conscious effort. For now, I’d advise you to focus on recovering from depersonalization & derealization as a whole and not trying to manage each and every such individual symptom.
All images are from Pixabay and Flickr Creative Commons