PTSD Symptoms: Numbing

Q: Dear Frank, I have a question on numbing, a PTSD symptom. One of our support pals, Patti asked “Is it possible for numbing to only occur at stressful times that are related to the original trauma?”

A: Dear reader, Patti asks if numbing could appear only at times of stress that mimic the original trauma -and the answer is, “Yes.” One of my patients uses the phrase, “…and that’s when I go numb…I have no feelings..” She is describing a particular situation, usually in the presence of her husband, in which she has no route of escape and he becomes emotionally abusive. He doesn’t hit or threaten, but he harangues and he escalates and he offers no sign of recognition of her growing anxiety. He knows that she is a survivor of torture and rape, almost 20 years ago. He thinks of himself as the victim although he is four times her size and is an accomplished attorney. He can’t control his temper and he fails to understand his impact on others, Ironically, he is the one who rescued her from her original trauma. Perhaps that is why she is still with him.

Numbing may be episodic rather than continuous. When it is episodic, it usually appears at times of high stress with no clear escape route. The high stress may or may not be related to the original trauma. In Patti’s case it is related. But with other survivors, the body (and to some extent, the mind) grows numb as anxiety (for any reason) intensities.