Wisely, the YWCA always had a focus or theme for our sexual violence group therapy sessions which I think lasted about 8 weeks. I remember one where we focused on listening to our body. We explored painful or uncomfortable sensations and learned these feelings were a manifestation of the sexual assaults we suffered.
Mine was a huge, black, jagged rock in my chest which felt like it was shredding my heart. Yes, talking about it was painful, but continuing to live with it was worse. That’s why I kept going to my group therapy sessions and one-on-one therapy. Over time, awareness about this sensation and consistent, one-on-one therapy helped me eventually obliterate it.
During the “listening to our body” group therapy sessions, I also remember another woman there who said she was only experiencing numbness. Slumping in her chair, she said she just couldn’t feel anything. One of the counselors said, “That’s great! You’re awareness about the numbness is huge!!! The woman’s face lit up. She smiled the warmest smile I’d ever seen on her, and she sat straight up.
At the time, I didn’t understand the counselor was right. I thought she was just trying to make her feel included since she was praising everyone else for their insights. Later, I realized that acknowledging her numbness was huge since awareness is the first step to healing. Unfortunately, like most sexual violence survivors, we all suffered from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which mirrors the PTSD war veterans experience.
The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) categorizes numbness as an avoidance symptom for obvious reasons. Other categories include re-experiencing and hyperarousal symptoms. Read more about PTSD symptoms on the NIMH’s website.