Hope For When We’re Emotionally Numb

{image: egal / 123RF Stock Photo}

{image: egal / 123RF Stock Photo}

Whether we’re trying to heal from a sprained ankle or an emotional wound, at some point the healing process gets tough.

It might sound like one of these:

  • “I’m scared I won’t be able to do (whatever I could do before).”
  • “This doesn’t feel right. Shouldn’t it feel okay by now?!”
  • “This actually hurts worse than it did when it was sick/broken!”
  • “Woah! Nobody warned me about that part of recovery!”

After my surgery, I discovered that last one. My skin’s numb around the scar and it’s like there’s an empty space in the middle of me that can’t feel anything—not my clothes, the water in a swimming pool… nothing.

Numbness isn’t my favorite feature of healing. Then again, the other three above aren’t a picnic either!

Emotional and soul healing face the same struggles as physical healing. They just sound a bit different:

  • “I’m scared I won’t be able to trust friendships like before.”
  • “I don’t feel okay. I don’t feel anything. Shouldn’t I feel okay by now?”
  • “I feel worse than when that situation was broken. Maybe that boundary (or other healthy step) didn’t work right.”
  • “Woah! Nobody warned me people would get mad (or distant or blame me…) for needing to heal!”

More than any of other part of emotional healing, the numbness is hardest for me. It’s unexpected, frustrating—this empty space in the middle of my soul that feels so out of control.

As with my healing body, I’ve discovered numbness while healing in my marriage. When my husband and I took a good long look his challenges and my functional (and not-so-functional) ways of coping and trying to hold our family together, I knew it would be intense to heal.

I expected fears to surface. I expected it to require work. I expected laughter in spite of it all (we’re fluent in gallows humor around here). Deep down I hoped for us to make it as a couple.

I didn’t expect that with each step—progress, setbacks, good moments, hard ones—I’d feel this nagging nothing. After all, when things are healing, we should feel something, right? Happiness? Hope? Gratitude? Some well-meaning people have suggested I should be feeling those things. But I’m not. It’s just too soon to be anything but quietly watchful and emotionally numb.

Could there ever be value in the numbness?

Hope for When We Feel Emotionally Numb

Perhaps that empty chasm in our hearts is taking the place of the broken space. It’s filling the void with something neutral… a buffer. A space to let go of the pain so there’s room for the newness, for life.

We see this idea of a buffer in scripture. In Exodus 23, when formerly-enslaved Israel finds themselves freshly free and en route to the Promise, God tells them He will go before them as they possess this gift. And He says something interesting about how it will happen:

I will not drive [those already in the land] out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. ―Exodus 23:29 NIV (see also Deuteronomy 7:22)

There’s this middle part of healing… this in-between as we go from broken and enslaved to redeemed. A crucial place. Where we un-learn and un-feel the brokenness, making space for God to fill us with His promise and presence.

Just as with physical wounds, we may have to remind ourselves: 

We may feel numb or lost as we heal, but we’re still here. God’s still at work. {<== Tweet This}

The numbness in my physical wound gets less and less each day. The soul-numbness does, little by little, too. For today, I wait on the One who will fill that void with feeling again.

What about you? What helps you get through those emotionally numb stretches of healing?


Linking up with friend, fellow life coach and coffee lover, Holley Gerth today.

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  1. MultiSignlanguage . says

    Thanks so much for sharing this. This is the first time I’ve seen numbness with a positive perspective. I’ve been dealing with numbness for a long time now, though. Years. Not even sure how long. But I love this:
    “Perhaps that empty chasm in our hearts is taking the place of the broken space. It’s filling the void with something neutral… a buffer. A space to let go of the pain so there’s room for the newness, for life.”
    This post is something I needed to see. God has been working, little by little, to heal various issues and places in my heart. I love the hopeful and redemptive perspective. Thank you. <3

  2. Cheryl Pelton Lutz says

    “We may feel numb or lost as we heal, but we’re still here. God’s still at work.”
    I love your writing, Laurie!

  3. says

    I’m teary-eyed reading your struggles Laurie. You have been and are stronger than you realize with your family.

    Yes, you abound in humor which is a healer too.

    You are a beautiful example of grace under fire.

  4. Anita says

    Great concept–I’ve never thought of numbness as a gift to allow new growth and recovery. It’s definitely something to hang on to and accept in others (my daughter is healing from a major depressive episode right now, and I wonder if I should be doing more, or just letting what she’s learning percolate in her soul–I think she’s in the numbness stage–not majorly depressed, but she hasn’t yet worked through everything).

    • says

      That’s how it started for me, Anita. Finding a way to walk alongside others in their struggles and even the numb times. It takes courage to stand with someone you love while they ride the grief or depression wave. Praying God’s strong arms would hold you up as you walk with your daughter in this season.

  5. says

    Your timing is perfect once again, friend. Hard to imagine that despite having dozens of surgeries I’d forgotten about the numb phase of healing.

    Reading this today helped me possibly understand what I’m feeling with one of my closest relationships. There’s been a “fracture” which I though had recently been re-aligned for a possible healing. But either the healing is going much slower than I’d ever anticipated, or the injury wasn’t “set properly” as I’d hoped. Anyway, I have numbness when I’m with that person but loads of feelings when I’m away.

    I thought I might be losing it but maybe you are right and it is just part of the healing process. I hope so.

  6. Jennifer Hallmark says

    Its taken a year to get over the numbness of the passing of my bff. I constantly remembered Jeremiah 29:11 (on a bracelet I always wear) to remind me of my hope and future…hope both your recoverys continue to improve…

    • says

      Beautiful friend! I’m sure it was hard to let yourself be what you needed to be to manage through that time. It’s never easy. Praying for your healing to continue in God’s strong arms too.

  7. Jane Franks says

    I’m feeling numb from sheer physical exhaustion and being pushed far beyond my comfort zone! We have just completed 2 months of enormous work preparing for a 3 day art exhibit for my husband in a venue I wouldn’t choose, but which God brought through some experienced and supercharged (salesmen!) consultants. I am NUMB from being asked (by God!) to relinquish my 20+ year role of sole marketer to work with a team; of clearing out 30 + framed artworks from our walls (which now look like a bad case of measles with all the hooks glaring at me); from leaving my “nested” house in total upheaval; from physically moving all that 30 miles away for 3 days! I’m an introvert (in the good sense of that word: read “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking!” by Susan Cain), and find my greatest mental, spiritual, emotional strength sitting quietly, thinking, and writing the book I’m working on; and encouraging and interacting with Gene as he paints. However, we KNOW God wants this work out there!! And so I am throwing Gene and myself into 3 days of total people immersion! SO . . . how will I deal with this?? I’m making a “deal” with our consultants. After Saturday, the debris is cleared up and the house is back in order, we are becoming invisible for the rest of the year!! We will write and paint together; we make take a poshy weekend or even one night away, let someone pamper us, and read, pray, dream, and fill up the well again! We will watch our favorite movies, and have some special food. AND . . . I am itching to begin a special quilt for my 3rd great nephew!! THAT (and knowing that God is in this — focusing on His Presence , quoting to myself favorite passages of promise from Scripture) is what is keeping me going right now!!

    • says

      Oh how I hear you on that becoming invisible! Those quiet “just us” times are so incredibly important. Praying God’s restoration and a fresh outpouring of His goodness over your life!

  8. Shannon says

    Such a good reminder that when we feel numb, it’s not that healing is derailed or that anything is amiss in the process.