Emotional numbness is best described as a disconnection from feelings and emotions. Whether it is brought about by a traumatic situation, or ongoing depression emotional numbing is a survival mechanism aimed at keeping us safe. In situations where emotional numbness lasts for extended periods of time or gets in the way of processing difficult situations or forming emotional connections with others, emotional numbness can be a barrier to an overall feeling of well-being.
What Does Emotional Numbness Feel Like? Emotional numbness can be difficult to identify and even more difficult to describe, especially when we aren’t fully aware that what we are experiencing is a disconnection from our emotions.
Feeling like you are separated from everyone else, even as you are interacting with others.
Feeling like you are invisible, or like your actions do not carry any meaning or have any impact.
Feeling like the world around you isn’t entirely real, as though everything is happening on a TV screen you are watching.
Feeling as though you can’t fully engage in or respond to the situations you’re in.
Feeling a sense of emptiness or weightlessness.
Feeling like you cannot really focus on or connect with anything in the present moment.
Feeling like you are unable to experience happiness or joy, even towards those who have been a source of joy in the past.
What Is the Connection Between Child Sexual Abuse and Emotional Numbness? Because child sexual abuse is a form of trauma, emotional numbness is a common experience for survivors. Sexual abuse trauma’s impact causes the brain to work in overtime, and sometimes the brain’s solution to overwhelming emotions and feelings is to shut the feelings off altogether. This is evidence of the brain’s amazing ability to assess situations and find solutions for increasing feelings of safety. Emotional numbness is, therefore, a very normal response to intense stress. However, this survival mechanism feels less useful when, as an adult survivor of child sexual abuse, you are in a safe, positive situation that would provide an opportunity to feel happy, excited, joyful, or a sense of belonging. But instead, because your brain is working overtime to protect you, the only thing you can feel is numb. Additionally, emotional numbness may contribute to feelings of being “stuck,” or disconnected (both from yourself and from others). So while the emotional numbing helped you survive the trauma, it’s not an effective coping strategy for long-term well-being.
At Men and Trauma we understand the connection between Trauma, Abuse and Sexual Assualt that can lead to Emotional numbing.
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