Tag Archives: Emotional Numbness

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

emotional_numbness

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 (ie 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:

– excessive drinking

– excessive smoking

– taking powerful street drugs

– unsafe and promiscuous sex

– excessive gambling (click here to read my own experience of this)

– dangerous driving

– excessive spending

Resources:

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

 

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

 

 

 

Overcoming Emotional Numbness

narcissistic_mothers

Inevitably, a sense of loss accompanies the experience of childhood trauma, which, in turn, can manifest itself by leaving us with a constant feeling of EMOTIONAL NUMBNESS.

Whilst highly unpleasant, the feeling of emotional numbness is, essentially, a psychological defense mechanism enabling us to avoid certain feelings that would otherwise attach themselves to events and circumstances which remind us of our trauma. Because such feelings would be overwhelmingly painful, we (subconsciously) ‘shut them down’  and enter a protective state of dissociation.

In this way, we may no longer experience strong feelings in relation to people and events that were important to us before we experienced our trauma.

Indeed, this feeling of emotional numbness can be extremely persistent and long-lasting – so much so, in fact, that we may feel that we have been permanently changed or damaged.

It is not unusual, too, for feelings of grief to accompany this numbness, as well as irrational feelings of shame and guilt.

Often, also, we feel closed off – as if there is a kind of thick sheet of almost opaque glass between us and the rest of the world which cannot be penetrated. We may refuse to talk about our experiences and avoid friends and social situations. In this way, our day-to-day functioning can become significantly impaired.

emotional_numbness

Above – severe depression will often accompany feelings of emotional numbness

RECOGNITION OF THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM :

Recognizing that these symptoms are connected to our experience of trauma is the first step on the journey to recovery. When we feel closed off and empty, it is necessary for us to ask ourselves, ‘What is it that I am trying to avoid? What emotion that I am afraid of is my mind trying to protect me from?’

Often , the answer is love, trust and emotional pain. We fear that if we allow ourselves to open ourselves up to the possibility of feeling such things they will overwhelm and destroy us.

Indeed, as a further defense against making ourselves vulnerable, we may have become bitter and cynical.

Other Causes Of Emotional Numbness :

These include :

depression

anxiety

acute stress

posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

complex PTSD

medications (especially those taken for anxiety and depression – N.B. Always consult an appropriate professional when considering starting or stopping a course of medication).

Emotional Numbness, Stress And The Limbic System :

The LIMBIC SYSTEM is the part of the brain that is involved with how we experience our emotions and, when we are under severe and prolonged stress, the stress hormones that our body generates as a result can overwhelm this system and adversely affect its functioning which, in turn, can have profound implications for our mood and what we feel, including making as feel ’emotionally deadened.’

THE SOLUTION:

The solution will frequently lie in, very gradually, re-exposing ourselves to the possibility of opening ourselves up to such feelings again. It is important, in this regard, to take very small, baby steps and to avoid immediately plunging ourselves into a situation which could potentially trigger intense emotions.

Indeed, if, whilst taking such steps, we begin to feel overwhelmed, it is likely that we are attempting to progress too quickly, or that we may need to acquire professional support to help us to cope with our recovery attempt (recovery itself can be very painful). In this regard, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often effective.

 

N.B. Remember : emotional numbness can also be a symptom of PTSD and complex PTSD.

 

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

 

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