Trauma survivors often experience a numbing of their emotions. The loss of emotional connectivity may be very confusing. At times, individuals who have experienced trauma may wonder why they cannot feel the depth of love they once felt, or the excitement and joy they expect to feel during a special event; instead, a sudden onset of deep shame or a sense of rage that does not appear connected to anything in their present arises seemingly from nowhere. Often, these individuals are not aware of the triggers that stir up the sensations of being in the middle of the traumatic event. It can be something as innocuous as a smell that reminds them of the day of the trauma or an association with an object that pulls a memory fragment back to the surface. The numbing of emotions may be the response to the intrusion of those memory fragments. The rational is disconnected from the emotional, so the individual can no longer make sense of what they are experiencing. Their emotions, or lack thereof, become a jumble of disconnected messages and sensations that they cannot link as a part of their story.
During and after traumatic experiencing, systems for physical regulation, such as respiration, the circulatory system, digestion, hormone regulation, and the immune system, become overwhelmed by the perceived sense of threat. The body’s responses become “stuck” in shock-mode. The individual exists in a perpetual state of agitation or complete shut-down, living in the extremes of experience. Neural responses are slowed, and neural activity is delayed in the brain regions necessary for cognitive processing. Trauma, particularly early trauma, alters neural pathways in the brain, changes neurological structure and function, and leads to somatic problems and stress-related illness, such as heart problems, high blood pressure, and autoimmune disorders.
Think about what happens when someone’s body goes into a state of shock. The blood flow leaves the extremities and centers on vital systems only. The frontal lobe of the brain shuts down, leaving the more primitive parts of the brain to run things. The same thing happens in traumatic experiences. The individual begins to feel disconnected from their own body and mind, and when they lose their sense of their body, they lose their sense of themselves.
Dr. Donna E. Lane is a Christian Counselor who specializes in trauma, grief, and loss, along with the depression and anxiety often resulting from these experiences. She has been a counselor since 1979, and has owned her practice since 1993. She is co-author of the internationally-acclaimed trauma treatment resource, Trauma Narrative Treatment, and the accompanying story, Gold Stone. She is also the co-author of Strength in Adversity, a Biblical study on walking through difficulty with Christ.