Learning to Cry Again

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Reader’s Question

I just want to know if you can give me at least an idea of what’s happening to me. It seems that I don’t have the ability to cry any more. Do my past experiences have something to do with this? I lost my father at 11 and my mother by 16; my only sister left home long before my momma died.

I was forced to live and survive on my own. The last time I cried was when my mother died. I’m 20 now, and mother died in July 2009. Since then I have never been able to cry, although I have wanted to.

I also find it hard to understand other people’s feelings. It’s like I’ve become numb to them, and I’ve got a lot of people who would testify to that. Do the disappointments, heartbreaks and frustrations count too? I’ve had a lot of them.

Is there any way for me to be able to cry again? Or at least, to become emotionally sensitive to others. All the bad feelings that I wasn’t able to cry out keep on piling up in my chest. I think I’ll go insane if I don’t do something about it. I hope you can give me answers. If you can’t, it’s okay. But I really hope you can. Thank You and more power to you.

Psychologist’s Reply

I’m terribly sorry to hear about all of the trauma and loss that you have had to experience in your young life. As you already seem to know, these repeated losses and traumatic events definitely have the power to induce emotional numbing over time. Numbing is a symptom of depression, which is also a natural response to a life so full of devastating events. It is very possible that your psyche is, in effect, protecting itself from further trauma by shutting down your emotional responses before you can be hurt again.

As you might imagine, just as it took years for you to reach this state of numbness, the way through it is also not a speedy one. You would be well served by entering into a course of long-term therapy with a therapist who has some experience with trauma and loss. Given that these events started so early in your life, there is probably a lot you have not had a chance to work through on a more mature cognitive level.

Many people who are faced with the task of revisiting their past in order to change their future find the prospect terrifying, daunting, and threatening. After all, not feeling much at all is far ‘safer’ than feeling all of the devastation and pain associated with past events. I wish I could tell you that there is a shortcut through this process, but it can be hard, difficult work. However, what is most important to remember is that these feelings, however painful, cannot ultimately harm you. The events that caused them are in the past — you have already survived them! The resilience you have already demonstrated by making it so far on your own should be proof enough that you can handle this.

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