One of the characteristics of the brain’s response to trauma can be emotional numbing. This can be in addition to or instead of symptoms such as hypervigilance, or they can be seen as two sides of the same coin (being hypervigilant but not emotionally tuned into the stimuli and our responses). I tend to experience both, but lately the emotional numbing has been more upsetting to me.

I think I’ve only noticed that I am numb or experience things in a blunted way in the recent past. I’ve obviously been doing it for a long time, and it has served me well when I needed to not feel in order to survive. I also tend to dissociate a lot, which goes hand-in-hand with the numbing experience: if I am not fully present in a situation, I do not feel it emotionally. I often feel as though I am going through life in autopilot or simply going through the motions. Add the sleep deprivation that comes with working third shift full-time and going to graduate school full-time, and I am basically a zombie.

Weirdly, I can turn the numbing and dissociation off pretty easily when I am working with clients. Unless a client is reminding me of my father (in which case I need to discuss it with my supervisor and my therapist and advocate for them to see a different provider), I generally do not check out (more than the normal human amount) during sessions. It is not threatening for me to feel what my clients are feeling in their sessions, and I would need to leave this field if it were. I feel lucky that I am able to do my work.

My problem is this: my therapist does not seem to think my numbing and dissociation are a big deal. She constantly attributes them to my sleep deprivation, even though they have been going on since I was a small child and I have repeatedly brought them up as issues I am concerned about. Another problem is my ambivalence toward working on this: it is often so much easier not to feel. When I admit that to myself, I feel guilty and want to change it. I should not be taking the easy way out. At the same time, I understand that it is difficult to change given the vast amount of time that this has been an effective way of dealing with trauma.

Does anyone have advice on dealing with emotional numbing? Any tips on talking with therapists about this?

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