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!
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!