Tag Archives: Anhedonia

What Is Psychic Numbing?

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.

what is psychic numbing?

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.

Psychic numbing is also closely related to depersonalization and a sense of loss of identity.

RELATED ARTICLE : How Childhood Trauma Can Lead To Adult Anhedonia (Inability To Experience Pleasure).

eBook:

CPTSD ebook

Click image above for details.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Feel Permanently, Emotionally Numb? The Possible Roots In Childhood Trauma.

Emotional numbness is a coping mechanism that can be necessary to psychologically protect us when traumatic events are occurring. However, emotional numbness becomes a problem if it persists after the traumatic events are over meaning that it no longer serves any useful purpose.

For example, emotional numbness may have helped us survive adverse childhood experiences. However, if it carries on into adulthood and is no longer needed to protect us, its effects become negative.

emotional numbness

PTSD and CPTSD:

Emotional numbness protects us from experiencing overwhelming psychological pain. It does not just manifest itself in those who had very difficult childhoods, but it can also affect people who have experienced any kind of significant trauma. Indeed, emotional numbing is frequently a main symptom of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) : click here to read my article on the difference between these two conditions.

Psychological defence mechanism:

If, during childhood, we suffered significant trauma we may have spent a lot of time feeling threatened and very frightened. As an unconscious response to this, we may have ‘switched off’ our feelings as a psychological defence mechanism against such mental distress.

Anger hiding vulnerability:

It is not unusual for individuals who shut down their emotions in childhood to develop into adults who hide their deep sense of vulnerability (stemming from their childhoods) by becoming excessively angry whenever they feel threatened. In this way, the excessive anger may often be masking the person’s underlying feelings of powerlessness and fear.

In other words, such individuals may become angry with others when these others behave in ways that remind them (usually on an unconscious level) of how they were profoundly hurt as children in a desperate attempt to prevent themselves being hurt in a similar fashion again.

In this way, the anger such individuals express as adults (particularly when it seems to be highly disproportionate to the provocation), may frequently be not so much a reaction to current events but, rather, a reaction to how these current events remind them of traumatic childhood events.

For example, when I was about twenty I had an argument with a friend who reacted by demanding that I ‘get out of [his] house!’ Before I knew it, I had punched him (which surprised me as much as it surprised him).

It was only in retrospect that it occurred to me that his words had triggered a memory of what happened to me when I was thirteen, namely my mother throwing me out of her house (permamently) so that I was obliged to move in with my father a step- mother (who, it must be said. did not want me there either).

Damaging long-term effects:

But back to emotional numbness ; whilst it has, relatively speaking, short-term survival value (it prevents us from being psychologically destroyed by our childhood, traumatic experiences), repressing our feelings can have seriously adverse effects in the long-term.

For example, our repressed psychological pain may express itself somatically (i.e. by harming the body) in the form of, for example, ulcers, headaches and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

Also, repressing emotions requires considerable effort; this can lead to deep and chronic exhaustion (for a long period of my life, I was having to go to bed at three o’clock in the afternoon and would get up about eight o’clock the next day ; this equates to seventeen hours in bed out of every twenty-four. However, because of my extreme insomnia, only a small fraction of that time would be spent asleep; even then, the sleep was shallow and full of terrible nightmares so I certainly did not get up feeling properly rested).

emotional numbness

Anhedonia:

Shutting down our feelings helps dampen down negative feelings, but also dampens down positive feelings, leading us to experience a kind of emotional deadness and anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure – click here to read my article on this).

In order to try to counteract such emotional deadness, sufferers may desperately try to gain at least some form of ‘positive’ stimulation but find, in order to do so, that they must undertake extreme and risky activities which may include:

  1. excessive drinking
  2. excessive smoking
  3. taking powerful street drugs
  4. unsafe and promiscuous sex
  5. excessive gambling (click here to read my own experience of this)
  6. dangerous driving
  7. excessive spending

Resources:

Overcome Fear Of Emotions hypnosis download. Click here for more information.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

Childhood Trauma Leading to Anhedonia (Inability to Experience Pleasure).

anhedonia

There is an established relationship between having experienced trauma as a child and suffering from anhedonia (the inability to experience feelings of pleasure) as an adult.

Anhedonia drains the color from life, rather like seeing a film in high resolution color suddenly fade into a grainy, blurred, black and white. One feels just intense emptiness and a complete blunting of positive emotional response. It can affect all areas of life including :

– social interaction

– career satisfaction

– food

– sex

– music

– sports

– previous hobbies and interests

– previously close and/or intimate relationships

anhedonia

Many who suffer anhedonia will have every aspect of their lives affected, whereas others may be affected in some areas but not in others.

In connection with research into the link between childhood trauma and anhedonia, Frewen et al have introduced the concept of ‘negative affective interference’. Essentially, this refers to the idea that in, in response to positive events, those suffering anhedonia are not only unable to feel any pleasure but the positive event may actually lead to them feeling worse. For example, when witnessing a beautiful sunset from the balcony of a luxury hotel in an idyllic setting, not only will those with anhedonia experience no joy, but experience an increase in negative affect (mood) such as intensified feelings of anxiety, guilt or shame. It is this increase in negative feelings in response to positive events which is referred to as ‘negative affect interference’.

Frewen et al’s study also showed that different types of childhood trauma led to different kinds of negative affective interference in response to positive events. For example, those who suffered emotional abuse as a child were more likely to experience increases in anxiety, whereas those who had suffered childhood sexual abuse were more likely to experience feelings of shame.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THERAPEUTIC INTERVENTIONS RELATING TO ANHEDONIA :

The above findings suggest that therapeutic interventions for those suffering from anhedonia should not only focus on increasing positive affect but also on strategies for regulating negative affect in response to positive events.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).