Betrayal and Numbing

Emotional numbing is a reaction to events that are shocking, terrifying and which cause us great distress. That is, our brain seeks to protect us against being traumatized by erecting strong defenses which are hard to penetrate.

Thus, when a secret life’s discovered and the truth first comes to light the shock can lead to numbing in the partner or the spouse. This happens automatically; it’s outside our control.

However, ‘(although) we might use this coping mechanism during traumatic events … what is dangerous about numbing is that it doesn’t work as selectively as we might like it to. Generally, when you use numbing as a defence, it numbs not just the bad stuff, but you experience good feelings less vividly too.[1]

Perhaps this is something you’ve experienced as well.

So, what kinds of symptoms indicate emotional numbing? They include:

  • A dampening of all emotions. This includes being unable to experience positive feelings (such as hopefulness, enthusiasm, optimism, excitement, happiness and joy). This state is known as emotional anesthesia.
  • Feeling detached and distant from others (so their experiences, or what they say and do, have little or no impact on you).
  • Being unable to feel close to others with whom you share an intimate relationship.
  • Being unable to express, give or receive affection or tenderness.
  • A loss of interest in activities, hobbies, or work which were previously rewarding.    

Also, it can hamper our ability to concentrate and think, and impact our ability to function properly. That can make it hard to cope and deal with normal daily life.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, and are dealing with betrayal, please know that it is common. It’s a struggle many face. However, it could be helpful to discuss it with a counsellor or doctor. Don’t isolate yourself. You do not have to cope alone.       


[1] Cori, J.L. (2009). Healing from trauma: A survivor’s guide to understanding your symptoms and reclaiming your life. Boston, MA: Da Capo Lifelong Books.

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