Severe emotional distress and trauma can lead to a psychological defense known as psychic numbing.
Psychic numbing occurs when our conscious experience becomes so overwhelmingly, mentally painful that our feelings, in effect, ‘switch themselves off;’ the result is a kind of psychological ‘escape from reality’ – a reality which has become too terrible to tolerate.
Those who experience psychic numbing may use metaphors in an attempt to describe their condition such as : ‘It’s as if I’ve turned to stone,’ or, ‘it’s like my heart’s become made of stone.’ Sadly, in this state, the person may feel s/he no longer cares about him/herself or others – even close family members / previously close friends.
This may sound a distressing state to be in in itself, but part of the condition of psychic numbing means, too, that the person may also not care that s/he doesn’t care.
How Long Does Psychic Numbing Last?
The condition may be a relatively transient response following a severely traumatic incident or it may become a long-term in response to protracted exposure to traumatic conditions especially, for example, if one has developed complex posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of a traumatic childhood. In such cases, the sense of psychic numbing may persist (in the absence of effective therapy) for years or even decades.
Are Both Good And Bad Feelings Affected?
Generally, yes. Whilst the condition may arise as a defense against bad feelings, the ability to feel anything good tends also to greatly diminish, including the loss of the ability to gain pleasure from food and sex (for more about the inability to experience feelings of pleasure, see my article about anhedonia).
The Sense Of ‘Anesthesia.’
When one is in the grip of psychic numbing, it can feel not only as if one has been given an ’emotional anesthetic’, but, sometimes, too, as if one has also been physically anesthetized as the body itself can become relatively numb to the sense of pain.
Research Into Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) And Psychic Numbing :
Some researchers have suggested that the symptom of psychic numbing is intrinsically bound up in the biological responses which form the foundation of PTSD.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).