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How to Overcome Emotional Numbness

Emotional numbness often occurs as a response to extreme physical or psychological trauma 1. According to, it is one of the "avoidance cluster" of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. PTSD may develop immediately after the traumatic event, or it may take years. It is common for sufferers to cut strong emotional ties to friends and family members, and to avoid developing new ones. Overcoming emotional numbness requires getting treatment for PTSD and the often-resultant depression.

Ask yourself if you have the symptoms of PTSD. According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSMR III-R), PTSD symptoms include feeling detatched from others, a sense that one does not have a future, an inability to recall specific aspects of the trauma and lack of interest in formerly pleasurable activities.

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Find a therapist trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT.) This treatment focuses on teaching specific skills to use in times of high anxiety. CBT may often include exposure therapy, in which the patient, accompanied by the therapist, faces situations or environments that bring back memories of the trauma.

Look for a treatment program in your area that uses Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR. In EMDR, the patient focuses on a box with lights that move from side to side or the therapist's moving fingers while recalling the trauma. The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies has validated EMDR as a particularly effective therapy for victims of PTSD.

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Get a pet. The unconditional love provided by a cat or dog may help you learn to reciprocate without fear. Pets can also help lessen the loneliness that results from an inability to form emotional ties with people.

Take medication if necessary. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants that includes Prozac and Zoloft, may help alleviate feelings of emotional numbness by treating the underlying depression 2. Your therapist can refer you to a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication.