Numbing is the masking, ignoring or avoidance of feelings. It’s very common for people who experience PTSD, and it come in a lot of different forms.
Numbing – for me that looked like workaholism – is how we cope when we cannot bear how we feel. I had PTSD for about two years before I was diagnosed, and numbing was the only way I could cope because I didn’t have any other options available to me and I could not tolerate how I felt. It was another two years before I began to really be able to face my feelings, and to process through all of the emotion that previously had no place to go.
One of the first things I learned how to do was to notice how I felt. Not with judgment, not with assessment or analysis or shame or blame or fear or anything but just noticing. I learned to ask myself how I was feeling, and to check in with myself. So much benefit has come from that practice and from developing that skill, which is like a muscle and must be exercised, and now I’m able to notice how I feel and then manage how I feel, which has been really effective as a way for me to manage my PTSD symptoms, but it started with just learning to notice.
It sounds simple, but it’s very challenging, especially if you have been numbing for a long time. Start slowly, be kind to yourself, be honest with yourself, and if you don’t have the language to describe how you feel, even to yourself, check out the Feelings Wheel for some help with naming how you feel. At first I thought I was frequently “frustrated”, but I was really several shades of angry and fearful.
I had to also learn to notice how I felt without judgment, because the point was not to feel bad about how I felt, but to understand and recognize how I felt, and that eventually led to acquiring the tools to manage my feelings once I noticed them. This practice has taken quite some time, but has been well worth it as I am so much more successful with managing PTSD now.
So take some small steps, as you are able, to noticing how you feel without judgment. It could lead to really amazing things.