Episode 382: Changing Name at Work & Dealing with Emotional Numbness

Hello friends! In today’s episode, we delve into two compelling listener questions that touch on deeply personal experiences and emotional challenges:

Exploring Identity Through Name Change: Our first question comes from a listener who has recently undergone the significant process of legally changing their name, a journey often intertwined with gender identity and personal transformation. We discuss the complexities of introducing this change in a professional setting, especially in environments where such changes might not be widely accepted. We explore strategies for communicating the change, dealing with potential challenges, and staying true to one’s identity.

Confronting Emotional Numbness: The second question addresses a concerning experience of emotional numbness, where even significant life events fail to elicit expected emotional reactions. We delve into the concept of anhedonia, its connection to depression, and the possible causes of this emotional disconnection. Practical advice is offered on how to reconnect with emotions, including mindfulness techniques, behavioral activation, and the importance of considering physical health factors and professional help.

As always, your questions and experiences enrich our discussions and bring valuable insights to our community. If there’s a question or topic on your mind, don’t hesitate to reach out at duffthepsych@gmail.com. For full show notes and more resources, head to http://duffthepsych.com/episode382.

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Question 1:

Helloooo,

I’ve recently gone through the process of legally changing my name. I’ve been using this name everywhere apart from work for around 10 years and the anxiety surrounding coming out is what’s kept me from changing it legally for so long.

Do you have any advice on how to tell people I’ve changed my name? I’ve worked in the same place for 7 years so I know it will take some getting used to on their part, but also, 90% of my colleague’s are of the age where this isn’t widely accepted.

Any advice would be appreciated 💚

Response:

Firstly, a heartfelt congratulations to our listener for making this monumental change. Changing one’s name, especially in the context of a transgender or non-binary journey, is not just about altering a label; it’s about embracing and asserting one’s true identity. It’s important to note that this change might not be solely tied to gender identity; it could be related to other life changes like a divorce or a personal decision. However, in this case, we’re assuming it’s part of a transgender or non-binary transition.

Understanding the intricacies of gender identity is crucial here. If our listener is transgender, it means their gender identity doesn’t align with the sex they were assigned at birth. This internal sense of gender is independent of biological sexual characteristics. Non-binary, on the other hand, is an umbrella term that encompasses identities that don’t fit the traditional binary of male or female.

Coming out in a workplace, especially one where the majority may not be familiar or accepting of transgender or non-binary identities, is daunting. The listener’s apprehension is completely valid. It’s a balancing act between the fear of negative reactions and the desire to be authentic.

Communication is key in this process. If your workplace has an HR department, they can be a valuable resource in navigating this transition. They might assist in making an announcement, whether it’s an email or a meeting, to introduce your new name. It’s up to you how much detail you want to share and how open you are to questions.

When telling your colleagues, it can be as straightforward as, “Hey, I’ve changed my name. I go by [New Name] now.” You can decide how much you want to disclose about the reasons behind this change. Remember, you’re not obligated to educate everyone. Some people might be ignorant but willing to learn, while others might be disrespectful. It’s essential to have a plan for both scenarios.

You might face challenges and some resistance, but it’s important to remember that you are valid and deserving of respect. This journey is about asserting your identity and being addressed correctly. It’s similar to someone insisting that their difficult-to-pronounce name is said correctly. It’s a basic courtesy.

Work is ultimately about professional duties, and your colleagues’ opinions about your gender identity or name change shouldn’t impact your professional interactions. In the end, your identity and comfort matter the most.

This is a significant step in your journey, and we commend your bravery and authenticity. Always stay true to yourself, and know that you have the right to insist on being addressed by your chosen name. It’s a fundamental aspect of your identity and self-expression.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, and for the great question. We’re here to support you on this journey of self-affirmation and authenticity.

Question 2:

Hey Dr Duff,

you probably read this a lot, but thank you for doing what you do; the knowledge you have shared on your podcast has been immensely helpful to me at the rough and also good times!

Now to my question: I’ve noticed recently (past 2-3 weeks) that I don’t really feel any emotions anymore. Like for example, I submitted my bachelors thesis today and had absolutely no response, no feelings of relief or happiness that it’s over. But it’s not just big things, small moments that used to make me feel happy, like walking my roommate’s dog or baking & cooking evoke no emotion in me. It doesn’t matter if I’m being let down by a friend or having really negative thoughts, I won’t actually feel sad or angry.

This scares the shit out of me. How can I get my brain to connect to me again and feel  emotions ? I do have a history of depression, but this feels different, and I don’t think it’s worth seeking professional help for.

How can I help myself? Are there techniques or mindfulness activities (that aren’t bullshit) to learn to start feeling emotions again? Or will this just regulate itself?

Response:

First and foremost, congratulations on completing such a significant academic milestone. It’s important to acknowledge this achievement, even if the emotional connection to it currently feels absent. This lack of emotional response, known as anhedonia, is a phenomenon I’ve discussed previously. Anhedonia, stemming from the Greek term for ‘the inability to feel pleasure,’ is characterized by a diminished capacity to experience emotions, both in pleasurable and unpleasurable contexts.

Another aspect that might be at play here is dissociation, including experiences like depersonalization and derealization, which involve a sense of disconnection from oneself or the surrounding environment. These symptoms, too, can lead to a numbing of emotions.

Understanding the onset of these feelings is crucial. It’s been a few weeks since our listener started experiencing this, so it’s worth exploring recent life events or stressors that might be contributing to this emotional detachment. Sometimes, the mind uses numbness as a protective shield against overwhelming stress or emotional pain.

A history of depression could also be a factor here. Anhedonia is a common symptom in depression, often manifesting in a type that is more physically draining and unmotivating, rather than one characterized by feelings of sadness or despair. It’s important to consider this possibility and discuss it with healthcare providers.

Despite a reluctance to seek professional help, it’s something I would recommend considering. Mental health professionals can offer valuable perspectives and tools for reconnecting with emotions. Techniques like mindfulness, body scanning, and developing a richer emotional vocabulary can be instrumental in re-engaging with one’s feelings. Behavioral activation, a process of relearning how to derive pleasure from activities, could also be beneficial.

Creative expression, whether through art, music, or writing, and physical activities like dance or boxing, can act as catalysts in unearthing buried emotions. Additionally, factors like physical health, medication changes, or sleep patterns should not be overlooked, as they can significantly impact our emotional well-being.

It’s essential to acknowledge that experiencing anhedonia or emotional numbness is not uncommon, but it can be deeply troubling. Seeking support from a therapist, even for a short duration, can be a crucial step in navigating through this phase. There’s no need to endure this alone.

In conclusion, there are multiple avenues to explore in understanding and addressing this emotional disconnection. It’s about finding the right combination of self-help, professional guidance, and lifestyle adjustments. Here’s to hoping for a swift resolution and reconnection with your emotions.

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