In our world today, there has been a known and much talked about issue of personal financial debt and national financial debt. This has been foreground in the news in light of the recent debt ceiling talks and agreement. It is real and it is serious.
But there is another form of personal, national, and even global debt that is just as real and far more serious. It is at least part of the cause of the financial debt, and at the same time, it is also one of the most devastating consequences of the financial debt. This form of debt is numbing….emotional numbing.
As babies and little children, when we experience pain and trauma, perhaps one of our only protections is to numb ourselves to the painful experience and the feelings that go with it. But as we grow, what was once a protection against death, either physical or psychological, becomes a defense…not only against something in the outer world that will be painful or traumatic, but also – maybe even moreso – against those painful feelings from before being evoked and awakened again. And as we become adolescents and then adults, what was originally a reflexive protection becomes a defense against our own feelings, and then hardens more and more, becomes increasingly more brittle, and breaks off from its original intention, taking on a life of its own. The numbness that was once a young child’s momentary self protection becomes a consistent way of life.
If we numb ourselves to our feelings – in response to pain, trauma, crisis – it makes it impossible for us to consciously, purposefully, safely work with and work through the pain, trauma, crisis…to resolution. Instead, our conscious and unconscious energies are dedicated to staying numb, not feeling the pain – not feeling the here-and-now pain and not feeling the buried pain from the past. The consequence of this numbing: it becomes impossible to clearly discern if there is pain, if the pain is here-and-now, if the pain is from long ago still alive within us, or if the pain is a consequence of both. It also becomes impossible to determine if there is a problem in the current day that needs to be resolved, and if so…if it is in our inner world, our outer world, or both. And it also becomes extremely improbable that any problem that does, in fact exist, will be resolved with heart. If we are numb, we may feign caring, but where is the real caring? Buried beneath the numbness!
So from this new perspective…how did we get to the debt problem in our nation and our world today?
From numbing ourselves to our feelings. Some who experienced pain as children – abuse or huge lacks or excesses – may grow up greedy for money or power. Others who suffered as children, perhaps even from the same things as those who grow up greedy, may grow up resigned and hopeless. Unproductive, unfruitful, even destructive action and inaction will likely result from these places, supporting the numbness that holds at bay the real roots of the pain. Feeding the numbness that deadens us to our own suffering and to the suffering of others. Bolstering our temptation to not contribute our fair share or to turn a blind eye to the needs of others. Reinforcing any difficulty we have asking for help, offering help, and discerning what help will be truly healthy and what help will actually undermine by collusion or enabling, for instance. From our numbed selves, we may relate to resolving the current day problems as well as the childhood, still-alive-within-us inner problems in unfeeling, even heartless ways… that continue to cause us and others pain, and that continue to create more numbness.
These examples are just that – examples. And very tender ones, at that. The depth and breadth of the whole reality is much bigger, much deeper, and much more complex. But I invite, even urge you, to take these examples and this essence of the deeper debt problem …and to seriously work with this level of debt within yourself. I also invite you to share this with others you know, for whether we feel we have ‘solved’ the recent debt ceiling problem or not…we deeply, urgently need to resolve the debt caused by emotional numbing at the root of our beings individually, nationally, and globally.
© Copyright 2011 by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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