Hello! I would like to know some exercises or something I can practice to get myself out of this numb state of emotions. Last year was really hard for me (break up of a 4yr relationship, rape, loss of 2 good friends) and I was in constant pain and then I think it just switched somehow in me some kind of defense mechanism I think when I just stopped feeling at all. It was helpful and helped me a lot to sort out a lot of things. Now when it’s relatively a long time over and im supposed to get better I just cant. The bad thing is that i cannot express love or open myself to any bpdy because I just can’t feel what they feel… I imagine it as some kind of a barrier in me. Do you have any advice on how to get rid of it? It really bothers me because I’m a young person and I love life and my friends and I wanna fall in love sometimes etc. Thank you for listening :) (From Slovakia)

Just by writing to us you have begun to make the right kind of changes. Whenever there are so many difficulties the psyche will often shut down from the pain. It is an attempt to protect itself — but whatever protects also inhibits. The nature of reactions from trauma center around the brain trying to remind and warn or avoid and forget what has happened. The limitations you are feeling sound like they are a direct result of all the loss and trauma you’ve experienced. While it isn’t something I could diagnose from your email there are conditions that can arise from this kind of ordeal that can have a debilitating effect. One of these can cause numbness and feelings of being detached, isolated or disconnected from other people or yourself. This symptom collection can be triggered by any number of events, but is known to occur as a result of sexual violence, profound loss or death, injury — or witnessing of these things. When something that can overwhelm us happens that includes these type of experiences it is classified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) In days gone by it was thought that only the kind of things very few people see would cause the disorder. Now, it is widely accepted that very common experiences, like a break-up with a boyfriend, can be enough to trigger similar symptoms. Here is more information about this.

The descriptions below are not meant for you to diagnose yourself, but to understand more about what PTSD is, and how it can influence a person’s life. Here are some common symptoms of PTSD:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive nightmares, flashbacks, and interfering and distressing recollections of the event. People will ruminate about the trauma long after the event has passed.
  • Emotional numbness and avoidance of people, places, and activities that are reminders of the trauma. This reaction can spread to generalized stimuli that can trigger the memory.
  • Increased arousal and difficulty concentrating, sleeping, feeling edgy, and being easily irritated and angered.

It would be best to go to a mental health professional to get an accurate diagnosis. to help determine if you might benefit from seeking out professional help here is a brief online quiz. This can assure the treatment is properly matched with your symptoms.

Finally, there are several approaches that have been successful with PTSD which fall into 3 general categories: Psychotherapy, medication, and self-help. The various forms of psychotherapy are:

  • Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
  • Cognitive therapy (CT)
  • Prolonged exposure (PE) Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Brief eclectic psychotherapy (BEP)
  • Narrative exposure therapy (NET)

Often prescribed medications are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft), and the selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) venlafaxine (Effexor).

Self-help recommendations supported by research are: exercise. acupuncture. Yoga, workbooks and social support. For an excellent discussion on these and other treatment option please read Margarita Tartakovsky’s article here.

The important thing is that you are asking for help. This is an excellent start. I would go to a mental health professional to get an accurate diagnosis and while you are waiting to begin formal treatment you may want to take part in some of the self-help approaches.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral