Working Beyond Numbness After Emotional Abuse
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With psychological trauma, survivors are often (unknowingly) cut off from their own emotions, in order to protect them from the sheer intensity and pain of the abuse. After we educate ourselves and build boundaries, a huge part of the healing process is about turning our attention inward. It's very common to encounter numbness before anything else.
This can feel hopeless, like you're permanently damaged and unable to feel emotions normally. However, it's actually the first step toward approaching your trauma with a gentle and caring perspective. Allow the numbness to be there, and understand that it wouldn't be there unless it was protecting you from some pretty overwhelming stuff.
I think that's a key step to working beyond the numbness. Understanding that it shot up around your heart to protect you, because you simply were not able to cope with the emotions at the time. Understanding that it is holding some very deep and very difficult wounds. Knowing that your body did these things for you may paradoxically help you soften your body.
There is no timeline for when your body will eventually feel comfortable opening to these emotions. I highly recommend seeking out professional therapy to work through this, and I would encourage you to pursue an approach with yourself that is purely loving and compassionate, rather than analytical and "I do X because of Y". Simply recognizing that there is pain stored in our bodies is a great first step toward becoming kinder to ourselves. It's also when we begin shifting the focus from the perpetrator to ourselves - where the attention is most needed.
If we have the intention to release these emotions from our bodies, eventually they will find a way. It may take months or years, but your gentle encouragement will pave the way. While I cannot make anyone feel these emotions, I can list a few that might be most likely after a relationship with a narcissist or sociopath:
- My emotions are bad
- I am unlovable
- I am replaceable
- My feelings do not matter
- I am worthless
- This was all my fault
- I am ashamed of myself
- I am inadequate
We can say these things out loud, but truly feeling them in our hearts is incredibly painful, and I again recommend a good therapist to help you work through them when they start arising. You do not need someone judging or diagnosing you. What you need is some form of unconditional love that can hold all of this with kindness, allowing you to slowly nurture old beliefs until they become new ones. This love may come from yourself, a therapist, family member, friend, or perhaps it is too much for any human being to hold - in which case, spirituality might be a very good path for you. Our own fear can illuminate sources of unconditional love that we never imagined possible.
Until we do this work, these emotions and beliefs remain locked in our bodies, leaking out in strange ways while everything else seems "fine". Some of the most common subtle manifestations include: addiction, anxiety, depression, people-pleasing, over accomplishing, staying busy, being overly "nice" to everyone, jealousy, blaming (outwardly and inwardly), irritability, fatigue, paranoia, perfectionism, mood swings, and isolation.
There is an infinite amount of love and energy waiting in our hearts, but like most good things in life, the journey home is challenging. In Hindu traditions, the heart is known as "Anahata", which translates to "Unstruck". So many of us believe that our hearts have been permanently damaged because of these relationships, but it's really the stuff armoring our hearts that causes so much pain. Underneath it all is still just love, unstruck by any of this.
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