The pros and cons of numbing

Feeling numb or desensitised is common but it isn’t something that gets talked about very often. Our mind and body numbing so that we don’t feel what is happening is actually incredibly clever. It can get us through some horrific situations including a traumatic childhood, abusive relationships or other traumatic experiences. When it comes to a traumatic childhood there is often little we can do about it at the time. Numbing means that we don’t feel as much and we are more likely to be able to get through it. Similarly, being numb when we undergo stressful or traumatic times such as when a loved one has a serious illness or if we have experienced a serious crime means that we can get on with life and do the things we need to do.

The pros

The cons

Numbing can definitely have its uses, but it can become a problem when it becomes a consistent state of affairs and when it no longer serves the purpose it once did. In some situations it can seem like a good thing to have our emotional pain, sadness or anger desensitised but numbing means that we also miss out on the good things too. We can find that we don’t feel joy, excitement or humour which can lead to feeling a lack of meaning and enjoyment.

It can also be said that we need to feel sadness, anger, loneliness and pain (the so called ‘negative emotions’) in order to be a whole person and to move on. Burying these feelings arguably only stores up issues for later. There may be times when it is useful to bury these feelings temporarily, but this is only best as a temporary fix when the feelings are too much or when there is nothing we can do about them at that time.

On auto-pilot

Some might not realise for a long time that they have numbed to things. We can go about our day to day lives on auto-pilot: going to work, doing our chores and anything else we have to do in a state of semi-consciousness. When it is finally realised it can be really daunting to try and come out of the numbness. It can feel more comfortable to stay where we are even if it means we are missing out on the good feelings in life as well as the bad. We might even be worried that coming out of the numbness may mean we can’t go about our day to day tasks so effectively. It can be the case that the longer we stay in the numbness the more difficult it is to get out. We can end up feeling depressed or we might end up not caring about our decisions because nothing seems to matter.

Regaining your feelings

Counselling can help to find your way out of the numbness. A counsellor can help you to do so slowly and carefully by helping you get more in touch with your feelings and how they translate physically, thus getting your mind and body more in sync, which has great wellbeing benefits. It might also be useful to talk about how things have felt in the past for you, the reasons why you have numbed yourself and ways you can change your life so that feeling isn’t so difficult for you.

If counselling isn’t possible for you at the moment you could try reminding yourself of good feelings you have had in the past by looking at photographs or objects that remind you of them or you could revisit old films or friends that cause you to laugh. Doing long forgotten activities that help you be joyful such as anything creative or sports can also help. Being in the here and now and practising mindfulness can also be helpful in knowing how we feel from moment to moment.

Whatever your situation, if you are feeling numb, I hope you find your way out of it when you are ready.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX3
Written by Beth Roberts, Integrative Counsellor and EMDR Therapist MBACP (Accred).
Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX3

I am an integrative counsellor in Oxford and Banbury. I have worked in a general counselling service, with young people and survivors of abuse. I value how unique we all are so my counselling is tailored to your personality and circumstances.

Face to face, phone and Skype counselling is available.

I offer daytime and evening sessions.

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