Understanding Your Response to Trauma (Part 3 of 8)
2) Numbing of Emotions and Avoidance of “Triggers”
- periodic numbing of emotions: Although your emotions may be very intense at some times, at other times they may be so much the opposite that you may feel dull, empty, numb or completely shut down. You may feel emotionally dead or like a robot without feelings. You may feel remarkably detached and estranged from others. You may feel that you can’t even generate feelings of love in your most treasured relationships. You may lose interest or feelings of enjoyment for your favorite pastimes, eating or sex. Even though others may think you are doing better at these times compared to periods when you are intensely reliving the trauma, it may alarm you to feel so benumbed and lacking in feeling. Again, this is a part of the normal response to trauma. Just as the iris controls the amount of light entering your eye in order to protect the retina, or, just as the body secretes natural anesthetic after a physical injury, so, too, does your system mobilize to protect you from being overwhelmed after trauma by numbing your feelings.
- avoidance of “triggers” or reminders of the trauma: Given the intensity of your feelings when you are reminded of the trauma, it is only natural that you will often strive to avoid such triggers. You may also find that your memory fails you in recalling certain important aspects of the trauma. Such avoidance or memory lapses can be self-protective in the aftermath of trauma. However, if too persistent or too generalized, such responses may hinder your recovery.
- wishes or attempts to ignore, forget or bury the trauma: You may find that you go through periods during which you strive to keep the trauma out of your thoughts and don’t want to discuss it. For example, you might throw yourself into your work so that you’re so busy you can’t hardly stop to think. This is the opposite extreme from periods during which the trauma consumes your thoughts and you desperately want to talk about it over and over. You may find that the harder you try to keep thoughts of the trauma out of your awareness, the more they intrude in other forms (e.g., nightmares or periodic flashbacks).
- sense of a foreshortened future or of future catastrophe: You may find that you experience either hopelessness or fatalism when you consider the future. You may become preoccupied with ideas that you won’t retain your health, that you won’t have the love of others, that you will die young, or that you or loved ones will be especially vulnerable to future catastrophe. Once the proverbial one-in-a-million traumatic event has happened to you, it can feel like all other disasters are likely to happen to you, too. (cont…..on page 4 of 8)