Emotional Damage, Numbing And Trauma: Things You Need To Know


Emotional numbing is a concept that doesn’t get much “air time” in our society.

Additionally, people that use emotional numbing as their ‘go-to’ coping mechanism don’t (often) see it as a problem… 


Heck, they don’t even see it as a coping mechanism.  


However, one of the most detrimental assumptions after someone has witnessed or experienced trauma is that the person is doing okay because the person doesn’t appear to be upset by it.  

Rather than thinking that the person is “doing well,” after a traumatic event, it is important to consider that their demeanor could be a coping mechanism known as emotional numbing

1. What you Need to Know about
Emotional Damage, Numbing and Trauma

When you hear the words ‘trauma’ and ‘PTSD’ what do you think of?

I’m guessing you may be imagining:

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Hypervigilance 
  • Overwhelm
Do you think of emotional numbing?

My guess is no.


However, some people use emotional numbing as their go-to coping mechanism when dealing with trauma and PTSD… 

and it’s likely that they don’t even realize that they are using emotional numbing.  


Rather, they assume they are doing alright.  

emotional damage
If you experience trauma and you respond to the trauma by avoiding it, you may be emotionally numbing.

The brain does this to protect itself from becoming overwhelmed by feelings. It wants to stop more trauma and more damage… so it shuts down emotions.    


The brain isn’t the only organ to use this mechanism.  

Immediately after a person is physically injured, the body releases various hormones to shut down the pain.

Turns out, the brain can do this too when a person experiences a mental injury.  


Immediately after the trauma, you may be relieved that you are doing okay and you’ve moved on from the trauma.  


However, if you are emotionally numbing, you are just shoving down your strong emotions.  


You may be thinking, what’s the problem with this?  


Brene Brown states it well:  

“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”

In other words, emotional numbing may be protecting you against feeling the overwhelm by emotions that are inside of you but you pay a huge price.

You also numb the joy, zest, and excitement of life.

2. What you Need to Know about
Emotional Numbing and Trauma

Emotional numbing also takes a toll on relationships.

Think about it, how connected do you feel to a person that is detached, unfeeling, and distant?

Additionally, when trauma occurs, you have the chance to experience a deeper connection with the people you love.  


I’m sure you’ve heard this quote from Mr. Rogers before, but I think it fits well here:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

As the sage Mr. Rogers points out, there is something special when other people come together and help.  


Perhaps it’s an outward demonstration that you really matter.  


Perhaps it counteracts– to some small degree- the traumatic event?

Whatever the reason, a stronger connection with our fellow humans is possible after a traumatic event.

3. What you Need to Know about
Emotional Numbing and Trauma

The third problem with emotional numbing is that it is a shield towards growth.  


How can you learn and grow from a painful experience if you don’t acknowledge the experience?  


As Thich Nhat Hanh states,

“Out of the trash, flowers grow.”

In other words, out of terrible situations, there is still opportunity for growth.  

4. What you Need to Know about
Emotional Numbing and Trauma

Yes, you can try to numb emotions… but emotions will leak out if you don’t face them.  

They may come out by you being:

  • Passive aggressive
  • Short-tempered

Or, you may end up getting some kind of chronic inflammatory health condition, such as:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraines
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
Emotional numbing will impact your everyday mental health, and quality of life.

When your body becomes accustomed to feeling numb, strong emotions– such as delight, joy, love, fear, frustration, and hurt- will be viewed as threatening.  


Therefore, if you add a bit of zest or rage to your feelings, you may see them all as a threat to self and safety.  


Additionally, the traumatic memories and emotions aren’t gone.  


They just lay dormant.  


Trying to keep them dormant is a drain on your energy…


The body gets acclimated to feeling nothing. 

emotional damage

So, if you emotionally numb out, you may be wondering:


How can I get in touch with my feelings?  


It may seem overwhelming to know how to begin.  


In my next blog post, I’ll address the above question.  

Until then, if you are feeling anxious or depressed, are you ready to give therapy a go?

Free free to contact me directly if you have questions or to schedule a brief call to see if I might be able to support you as you journey forward.


Looking for mental health services in Indy?

As a marriage and family therapist, I also offer: 

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