Alexithymia, Anhedonia, Amnesia – Frozen Feelings When emotional pain becomes unbearable the mind freezes

The first step to recovery from childhood trauma is acknowledging the hurts and feeling the pain. Being emotionally, physically, or sexually abused is unbearable for a child. When no resolution is in sight, the only way to not go totally mad is to switch off one’s FEELINGS, albeit subconsciously.

Alexithymia, Anhedonia, Amnesia – Frozen Feelings
Alexithymia, Anhedonia, and Amnesia are survival strategies

Dysfunctional Life

The situation in my dysfunctional home did not allow any space for MY feelings. Without a doubt, it has prevented me from expressing any needs or protesting against any iniquities.  An innocent child dealing with unbridled hate and the ubiquitous silent treatment of rejection was too much to tolerate. I remember suppressing my tears and swallowing my rage. Showing a disregard for any ridicule and rejection.

To protect myself I erected a wall, blocking all feelings. No longer would I be hurt or feel pain, all the emotions that make one feel helpless and emotionally raw. At that time it was the only way to survive the emotional holocaust but at a terrible price.  By blocking my feelings my emotional growth was arrested in a time zone of a 13-year-oldA time of my life when the devastating accusation of an evil narcissist aunt totally shattered it.

Numbed Feelings

After that, the predominant feeling was a feeling of numbness I was like a watcher, an actress playing a part that brought no feeling of pleasure or joy.  Anhedonia is the term for this ‘zombie-like’ or ‘half-dead’ state.  Even when I held my son after he was born I felt nothing. Oh, the analytical part of me knew I had to take care of him but emotionally I felt nothing.

The fallout of anhedonia is alexithymia which is the inability to identify or express one’s emotions so as to appear normal before others. Alexithymia is the Emotional Disconnect Behind the Mask of Normalcy.

Further, for the sake of survival, one has to numb one’s emotions which inevitably remain stuck in the emotional right hemisphere of the brain. When emotions are consciously or subconsciously blocked from being processed, the connection between the two hemispheres is disrupted. The corpus callosum – the bridge between the right and left spheres shrivels up from sustained abuse. Thereby, the transfer of emotional information from the right hemisphere to the left hemisphere, where associations between language and feelings occur cannot happen.

Subsequently, an abused child slowly stops feeling her emotions. Despite feeling emotions, she is unable to convey them, according to, Dr. Henry Krystal, a pioneer of trauma science, who coined the term, alexithymia.

Traumatic Amnesia

Furthermore, the aftermath of being falsely accused was traumatic amnesiaA week after being falsely accused I had gone to my grandmother’s home to escape from my father’s abuse. Despite the earlier incident, my grandmother coaxed me to go for a drive with the same Uncle who I was accused of seducing. The reason given was “I would feel better”. On one hand, I was accused while on the other hand, I was encouraged to go out with the man. The contradictions were too much for my mind. Trying to make sense of a frightening and conflicting situation. My tender mind could not take the utter chaos. I blanked out. I did not remember these incidents till after I had a breakdown 15 years later.

Traumatic amnesia, for various reasons and in many ways, freezes those experiences either in the subconscious (or in cognitive obscurity) such that they are inaccessible.

Finally, my broken parts are being glued together. The Japanese art of Kintsugi teaches that broken objects are not something to hide but to display with pride. My back which was twisted due to scoliosis has become straighter with the healing of my emotional wounds. I feel a deep peace in the process of becoming who I was truly meant to be.


Protective Mechanisms

Alexithymia, Anhedonia, and Amnesia are protective mechanisms that help your body and your psyche to survive profound emotional distress – somewhat intact.  The emptiness and numbness that I’ve felt most of my life are slowly fading away. I can feel myself, my needs, and my desires. I can actually feel joy. I’ve begun to feel more comfortable expressing my dislikes and other negative emotions.

It has been a long and painful journey trying to make sense of and heal the wounds of my past. Being a mother has helped thaw the frozen parts inside me.


Image Source: Pixabay 

Further Reading:

The Fear Reflex: 5 Ways to Overcome It and Trust Your Imperfect Self – Joseph Shrand, Leigh Devine


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