Trauma, in the mental health profession, is often defined as a profoundly distressing experience. While this definition may seem somewhat broad, therapists understand that the experiences of trauma within our patients have a wide range.
However, when treating emotional trauma, there are two common patterns we often see patients fall into regardless of their unique experience: emotional dysregulation and numbing. Our hope in explaining these patterns is that you might be able to recognize and identify them in your own life.
Often, emotional dysregulation is the inability to respond to or manage your emotions consistently. Surviving a traumatic experience creates complex triggers for individuals who have the potential to make even simple, everyday tasks incredibly tough to accomplish. With trauma, you may feel your emotional sensitivity has risen—which is entirely reasonable in the process of healing. However, when triggered, those with emotional trauma typically have inadequate and maladaptive regulation strategies to ground them back to reality. This, in turn, can result in negative, sometimes crippling consequences. This cycle continues to spiral until the patient feels like they’re unable to operate in their daily life.
Feeling emotion is your brain’s response to your surroundings and how they are affecting you. While healing from trauma, you may feel emotions more deeply than before, but that does not mean you cannot have control over them. That’s why addressing emotional dysregulation is a crucial piece of the plan to help you heal from emotional trauma.
Emotional numbing is typically used as a defense mechanism to temporarily fix the overwhelming emotions that you may be feeling. The feedback your body is receiving after experiencing trauma is heightened due to emotional dysregulation, which can push you to go “numb.” It’s as if you stop an emotion dead in its track and choose to ignore it.
However, as stated above—emotions are absolutely necessary to the functioning cognition of a human; this is especially true to a patient filtering through their emotional trauma. Emotional numbness symptoms vary from situation to situation, but here are a few standard identifiers:
- Complete loss of interest in activities you once considered valuable of your time and brought you joy.
- You may begin to add distance between yourself and loved ones to create isolation.
- Feeling emotional or physically unavailable.
- Inability to fully experience any emotion—love, happiness, sorrow, grief, etc.
It is essential to recognize that your specific experience of trauma is entirely unique, but it’s also important for you to understand the common ways in which we’ve seen others cope from similar situations. Although they may seem to help in the moment, these patterns work together to create a resistance to true emotional balance and long-term healing.
Whether you are experiencing emotional dysregulation or numbing—neither is helping regulate the experience of trauma. Mental health care providers are trained to identify these patterns and teach you new ways to cope with traumatic experiences to achieve a state of balance that may be missing in your life. If you find yourself being overwhelmed with emotions and unable to control your triggers or just shutting our your feelings altogether, now is the time to reach out to a therapist!
Misconceptions of Therapy
It is sad, yet almost comical how many misconceptions there are about what therapy is, how it works, and who should go. Many believe they know what therapy entails without ever stepping foot into a therapist's office. There's the idea that therapy is for crazy people or those who are not able to process or handle their problems. These thoughts and many others are simply not true. Many misconceptions surround the field of therapy, so let's tackle some of them.
Couples therapy is a last-ditch effort before divorce
Couples therapy has gotten a bad rap. I see mostly couples, and often times a couple waits to seek help until it's *almost* too late (and sometimes, sadly, it is). Their relationship has deteriorated to the point that it takes a lot more work to resolve the issues and associated negative feelings, and to change the unhealthy and counter-productive behaviors. If a couple seeks help early on when they start noticing problematic interactions between them or sense negative feelings developing, the therapy is often much shorter, less painful and has lasting results. Like a car, a marriage that receives periodic minor maintenance will be much less likely to need a major overhaul in the future. Similarly, the cost of minor maintenance is much lower than the major overhaul as well.
Depression has been mislabeled and misrepresented by pop culture for years. There are many high-profile movies and TV shows that have come out recently that try to tackle the issue, and ultimately drop the ball. One of these films was Silver Linings Playbook starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
Silver Linings Playbook took a deep dive into what it’s like to live with mental health issues, but it completely misrepresented depression. The movie revolved around Bradley Cooper's character working on getting back together with his wife, who suffers from depression. The film goes on to make it seem that companionship is the simple answer to mental illness. While companionship is a huge help to those who are lonely, the movie makes it seem like a catch-all.
Pop culture has glamorized and glorified what it means to have a mental illness. Most movies, as well as TV shows, depict that there is an emotional attachment to depression, and that it has a simple cause that can be fixed or forgotten. Most depictions of depression in pop culture make depression look beautiful and that you should be staring out of windows or crying gracefully. They show depression as being sad or upset, and those confused emotions bring the character to a large blowup or breakdown. This is not the case for the majority of those who suffer from depression.
Depression is something that millions of people suffer from every year. The depiction of depression in pop culture is almost always associated with the thoughts of suicide. Some of those who suffer from severe depression do also suffer from suicidal thoughts, but you do not have to have suicidal thoughts to be depressed. Another way pop culture misses the mark is by portraying depressed characters as low-functioning and struggling in life. This, in reality, is not always the case. There are plenty of successful and high-functioning people suffering from depression.
Many of those who suffer from depression are responsible for their career, bills, other commitments, and other people. These commitments can play a role in how depression is brought on, but those who suffer from it try to function well enough to take care of their responsibilities.
The unfortunate truth is that there is no simple fix for depression. Companionship may not be the answer for all people who suffer from the illness. Many of those who suffer from depression also take prescription medication to help with their fight against it, and some are on those medications for the rest of their lives. Depression is also heavily combated by therapy and emotional counseling.
Depression in pop culture is portrayed as some beautiful thing that can be rectified quickly just by meeting some basic human need that one is lacking. This is simply not the case. Depression is scary, dirty, tragic, sad, and all around you. Depression should not be glamorized or romanticized. The real effects of depression should be talked about and discussed.
It’s great to see mental illness more accepted and discussed in movies and pop culture overall, but it is essential to make sure we know the facts behind the disease and not just what Hollywood shows.
If you or someone you know has signs of depression (like thousands of others), it can be managed. If you would like to see how our practice can help, please contact us.
My name is Melissa and I'm passionate about helping couples who are at the "end of their rope". I choose to use my incessant optimism, rampant curiosity, and inherent pragmatism for good, not evil- saving relationships, one session at a time!