After being traumatized it’s common to feel as if you can’t make sense of life anymore. You’re just going through the motions; you’re not living anymore.
Initially, this is a way to cope, and protect yourself from further pain.
However, although there may be value in your brain shutting down, emotional numbness stops us living a full life.
What are the symptoms of emotional numbing?
– Feeling disconnected from the world around you (feeling zoned out, like you’re living in a fog; feeling like you’re an observer rather than a participant in the world)
– Feeling disconnected from your body and mind (finding it hard to feel anything at all)
– Feeling disconnected from the person you once were (feeling you don’t know who you are anymore)
– Feeling you don’t care about what happens to you (which can result in us putting ourselves in potentially dangerous situations)
– An inability to function in social situations
– Wanting to withdraw and self-isolate
– Feeling empty, hopeless and hollow inside
– An inability to concentrate and focus
– Memory loss (in general, and related to specific events surrounding the traumatic incident)
– Having zero interest in activities we previously enjoyed
– Feeling tired and lethargic all the time (accompanied by a deep desire for sleep, or the desire to block out the whole of life.)
What can you do about it?
1. Probably the most helpful option is to find a therapist or counsellor who is experienced in dealing with trauma. He or she will have a range of techniques they can use to help unlock buried emotions (such as EMDR).
2. Try to work on identifying your feelings. Naming subtle changes in your body and emotions (such as noticing if you have butterflies in your stomach) can help you get in touch with yourself again. They are sending you a message that you’re still alive.
3. Mindfulness exercises (where you are checking in with different parts of your body) can also alert you to small, subtle changes in your body and breathing. These can help you to notice you’re still able to feel – and also that you’re able to control how you feel (even if this ability is somewhat limited.)
4. Find creative outlets for expressing your emotions (such as journaling, creative writing, painting, writing or music etc) The more you get into the flow, and regularly invest in these activities, the easier you will find it to access and release trapped emotions.
5. Try moving your body. Often physically moving (such as going for a walk) can jolt us into feeling more alive again. This is partly the result of endorphins being released. Also, this bypasses our need to think – which can be good.
“Your trauma is not your fault. You couldn’t have prevented it.”
1. It changes you into someone you barely recognize – At least that’s the case initially. You start avoiding people, situations and triggers (so an extrovert may turn into an introvert.). You have unexpected emotional outbursts and meltdowns. You lose interest in old hobbies, and even your appearance.
2. You feel as if your body and mind have turned against you – You may have anxiety and panic attacks; insomnia, broken sleep and night terrors. You may develop a wide variety of autoimmune diseases; get sick much more easily; have aching muscles and bones; experience nerve pain; and battle with lethargy and tiredness.
3. You lose your confidence and have zero self-esteem – You expect to fail and to make a mess of things; to not be able to cope at work; to not be able to cope in social situations; and for people to see all your flaws (real and imaginary). Also, you view yourself as being inadequate, and as someone who’s not worthy of respect, or love.
4. You whole world is filled with anxiety – When the unimaginable happens, anything could happen. People are scary. The world is scary. At any point in time, the other shoe could drop. And how can you begin to protect yourself from that? (If you can’t imagine it, then you can’t protect yourself.)
5. You trust no-one, and you’re always on guard (you’ve lost your innocent, naïve approach to life) – As far as you are concerned, there is no-one you can trust. Everyone could have a dark and hidden side to them. So, anyone could hurt you, and cause you serious harm. Also, since it’s impossible to distinguish truth from lies, you need to have your back, and to look out for yourself.
6. You don’t believe that healing is possible for you – Others might get better, but you won’t recover. The damage is too deep. Healing feels impossible. You’ll never be the person you were before this happened.
7. There’s a lot of things that aren’t funny any more – Things that you’d brush off, or would laugh at in the past, are now associated with the trauma and the pain. Also, when your world’s been blown apart you are steeped in grief and pain. You lose your sense of humour. Everything feels heavy now.
It is when you start to lose yourself that you start to look for yourself in other people … other things.
But there is a place and a time in your life that link you to the person you were before all the chaos.
All the pain. All the heartache.
Before you looked in the mirror and judged the reflection looking back at you.
Find this place.
Go back to this place.
Because, in this place, you knew exactly who you were.
You just got a little lost.”
– April Green
But how do you get back to that place again? How do you find yourself again?
Here are four suggestions:
1. Stay with the feelings that took you to that dark place. Let them speak to you. Let them tell you what you’ve lost. Let them tell you what you deserved. What you had hoped for. What you had wanted. This can bring you back in touch with your intuition. With the centre of your being. With yourself.
2. Trust yourself with the process and your journey. You have to consciously make space to listen to your inner voice. To the voice that’s being drowned out by the voices all around you. By the voices that would tell you that nothing will work out. These are toxic lies. Don’t listen to them. You can trust your soul. Listen to your highest self.
3. Practice self-compassion; don’t attack yourself. We can’t trust ourselves if we don’t think we are safe. That is, if we know that we will shame and be mean to ourselves then we simply won’t be able to let down our guard. We’ll be functioning in self-preservation mode. Thus, we need to be convinced, deep inside, that we accept and love ourselves – just as we are.
4. Think of all that made you happy before life fell apart. What kinds of things would make you come alive? What brought you joy and happiness? What got you excited, or left you energized? This is your true, authentic. That self is still there. It’s just be dormant for a while. You can find yourself again one small step at a time.
“Ultimately, the worst kind of pain does not come from your enemies, but from those you trust and love.”
What is necessary for trust to be rebuilt after you’ve discovered that your partner has betrayed you?
To be honest, you may never fully trust them again – and it won’t be the same kind of trust as before. However, there is still a place for hope. Often progress can be made. But the following are essential for rebuilding trust:
1. The betrayer must have made a total break with the affair partner, or be actively getting help for a sex addiction (if that is the cause of the betrayal). They should also have someone they’re accountable to, someone they check in regularly with. This must be someone you (the betrayed partner) trust as well.
2. The betrayed partner must believe in their heart that the offending partner is wholeheartedly and freely choosing them again. They have to really believe that the choice is genuine, and that their partner is unlikely to change their mind on this.
3. Related to this, the betrayed partner or spouse must really feel that ‘you love me’; ‘that you loveme more than anyone, or anything, in the world’, and ‘you can’t bear the thought of life without me.’
That is, the decision to hold on to the relationship cannot be because the betrayer:
– doesn’t want to be exposed,
– or to lose their reputation,
– or to lose the respect of their family or kids,
– or to lose the family home, or a lifestyle they enjoy.
4. The betrayer must take full responsibility for what they did. They must convey a deep and genuine remorse for hurting you, and for totally wrecking your life. They can’t ‘half get it’, downplay it, or push some of the responsibility onto you, or anyone else.
5. They need to really get what this has done to you. This is quite different from being overcome by feelings of shame. Feelings of shame are often self-focused. They actually prevent us from getting inside our partner’s world, and from fully empathizing with their pain.
In fact, we can get so totally consumed by feelings of self-loathing and self-rejection, and shock at what we did and who we became that we can’t be there for anyone else.
However, the betraying partner has to ‘get’ what they have done, and broken, devastated and desolate you feel. This is absolutely crucial.
5. Part of processing and coming to terms with betrayal includes going over the same ground, and asking the same questions again and again.
For trust to be rebuilt, the perpetrator must remain patient and understanding, and be committed to not reacting to what is said (which could be hard at times!)
Also, they must honestly and fully answer any questions you have – and even encourage you to probe even deeper.
That is, they have to give you the time and space you need to process the betrayal – which could take some time! This is especially important in the initial months.
“Trauma is not what happens to you. Trauma is what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you.” – Gabor Mate
The impact of trauma isn’t always physical. The wound may be hidden from the eyes of the world. It can also create problems if you don’t connect the dots and recognize how much you need to get support and help.
So what kinds of lies might we tell ourselves – that slow down our healing, and prevent us getting help?
Lie #1: My situation isn’t as bad as others’ situation. Trauma is trauma. This is not a competition. Denial doesn’t help, and comparisons are futile. The fact is you’ve been wounded and your life is not the same. Diminishing your suffering won’t help your heart to heal.
Lie #2: I shouldn’t let this bother me. Trauma changes us profoundly, and it needs to be worked through. You can’t just bury trauma. The effects won’t disappear. Also, you deserve to be supported, and your story should be heard. What happened here is major. It was not a trivial thing.
Lie #3: There is something wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with you. All those symptoms and reactions are absolutely normal when you’ve been traumatized. You are not going crazy. You are reeling from the shock.
Lie #4: I deserve what happened to me. Don’t believe this for one minute. You did not deserve this treatment. That person chose to hurt you. You did not cause this at all. I wish that you could grasp just how beautiful you are.
Lie #5: It will all be Ok if I can just avoid the triggers. Because the root is still untreated, you will always be at risk of suddenly being triggered (often unexpectedly). Also, you can’t avoid all triggers as they’re simply everywhere!
Lie #6: My physical symptoms having nothing to do with my mental health. It’s well-known that the body and mind are intertwined, that stress can cause health problems, and can interfere with sleep. Your body is reacting to what you’re going through.
Lie #7: This is just who I am now. We may feel that we’re broken but with help our life can change. In time we can recover some of our old self again.
“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally. (However) when someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.” – Danielle Bernock
In this post we will briefly answer a question that was asked by one of our clients. Here is today’s question:
Why is experiencing sexual betrayal such an isolating experience? It feels there is no-one who really understands. If I’d been bereaved, or in a car accident, I know that lots of people would offer me support. Why is this so different?
There could be a number of possible answers to this question. Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter …
1. Committed intimate relationships are attachment relationships. Apart from the relationship we form with our primary caregivers (usually our parents), these are the closest relationships we form.
When we enter into a committed relationship with someone, we automatically expect that person to be trustworthy, safe, reliable and honest. We expect them to love us, care for us, and be there for us. We don’t expect them to hurt and cause us harm.
In fact, we simply cannot function, and lead a normal life, if we’re constantly assessing if our partner’s still trustworthy.
Thus, when we learn that a relative or friend has been betrayed (and sexual betrayal is a serious betrayal), it is deeply disturbing and unsettling for us.
We realize we’re no different – so we too could be deceived. This is threatening and scary – so we want to keep our distance.
In a way, this strong reaction is a form of self-protection.
2. Another factor that might play into the way people react, is a fear of the emotions that a trauma can stir up.
People can imagine how they’d feelif it was them. They can picture the strong feelings, and how they might react. Again, this is unsettling to contemplate.
Hence, the safest thing to do, is to simply walk away. This keeps things superficial, and under their control.
Note: Sometimes our friends would like to help is, but they feel they’re at a loss. They don’t know what to say so they feel inadequate. As a result, they just say nothing, and act like nothing’s changed.
3. A third possibility relates to the fact that many have experienced a trauma in their past. Hence, our pain and trauma symptoms now remind them of their own. And they don’t want to face it. They would rather bury it. Hence, they cope with their discomfort by distancing themselves. That way, they can pretend that everything in life is fine (at least for them).