NumbingTiti Olajide Cole
‘Emotional numbing is the mental and emotional process of shutting out feelings, and may be experienced as deficits of emotional responses or reactivity’ – Mayra Mendez, Ph.D (Child & Family Practitioner).
Oftentimes, we grow numb to our pains, especially when it has to do with the loss of a loved one. We find it difficult to see a good God when facing loss. I went through a period of numbness, which sort of prolonged my grieving process. Having discussed with many women who had lost children, I discovered that each of us (100%) experienced numbing periodically while grieving the loss. However, numbing is acceptable temporarily but becomes harmful when adopted as a ‘coping skill’ long-term. It is used as a ‘shield’ to protect the grieving from emotional and physical feelings of overwhelming helplessness. But it is a temporal relief with lasting consequences. Emotional numbness differs from person to person, just as reactions to grief differs from person to person.
In my case, I employed coping skills of avoidance, denial and detachment. When friends and family would ask how I was doing, I would display a cheerful demeanour. I eventually got to the point where I started believing I was actually alright. I avoided specific people so I wouldn’t be questioned about how I was doing; stopped visiting some locations; and found it difficult to verbalize what was going on with me.
What I failed to realize was that numbing not only shuts down negative feelings, but also positive emotions and social interactions as well. It prevents positive processing and management of emotions and experiences, thereby preferring isolation to supposedly ‘protect’ from being hurt further. I began to experience emotional triggers and became unusually ‘sensitive’. Stuff that otherwise would not matter became triggers. Because of avoidance I started keeping secrets; having tortured thoughts (blaming myself for not doing things differently to avoid the loss); and rigidly made up my mind about stuff.
Knowing what I know now though, I can categorically state that pain in itself is not inherently negative, but rather could be a path towards healing by identifying clues that could be symptoms of unresolved wounds. When I started journaling, I listed symptoms I was aware of, which helped me to identify those I was initially unaware of. I also decided to open up to my sister. There has to be a ‘safe’ person you could trust with your hurts: Counselor, close friend, relations, or mentor. Ventilate! Ventilate! Ventilate! Trust me, you will be better off for it.