The Delayed Emotional Response and What Dissociation Has Got to Do with It

I am sure you might have experienced this at some point in your life: something happens to you, and only later do you have an emotional response to what just happened. You have a delayed emotional response.

When it happens occasionally, it is not such a big deal. When you have gone through trauma, however, delayed emotional responses can become more frequent, and this can be upsetting and disturbing.

The Nature of a Delayed Emotional Response and Delayed-Onset of PTSD

A delayed emotional response is part of the “freeze” response of the nervous system. A full-on “freeze” response is when you go numb and play dead until the danger has passed. It is an extreme form of dissociation that is biologically hardwired in your system for the sake of survival.

There are many degrees of dissociation below the full-fledged “freeze” response.

The delayed emotional response is one of them.

Post-Traumatic Stress and Dissociation

When you have too much emotional input all at once and you are not able to process what is going on and respond at the moment, your mind “zooms” out and waits until your energy is more available or until you are in a safer place.

When this happens frequently, you might feel that you have gaps in your memory, which is a typical dissociative symptom.

The Window of Tolerance and How the Brain Becomes Conditioned

A delayed emotional response can become habitual and can start to occur without an apparent stressor, though often something has caused a trigger before your mind disconnects.

You disconnect when you feel overwhelmed, and feeling overwhelmed can become a conditioned response.

When you feel emotionally overwhelmed, which is what happens when you are traumatized, your capacity to deal with further stressors becomes limited. Your window of tolerance or emotional resilience has decreased because your energy is still occupied in struggling with the emotional residue of your trauma.

A delayed emotional response is part of the “freeze” response of the nervous system. A full-on “freeze” response is when you go numb and play dead until the danger has passed. 

You become prone to feeling overwhelmed and thus dissociate, go numb, or have a delayed emotional response for the future; this will continue until you deal with the emotional residue related to your past.

The Delayed Emotional Response and Healing PTSD

Becoming aware of how you dissociate and to which degree you dissociate is a first step in working towards healing.

If you are or have been doing counseling or therapy, you might have become aware of the delayed response within the therapy process, and this can be a good thing. It gives you a measure of to what extent you dissociate, and as you progress in the therapy process, you will start to notice that the gap between what is occurring and your emotional response begins to close.

When your resilience and trust grow, and you can gradually allow yourself to feel emotion in the moment, healing will become a present reality.

Do you have a delayed emotional response and how does that show up for you? Leave your comments here below.

  • Do you want to reduce anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and being “ON” alert constantly?
  • Do you want to move out of a dissociated, fatigued and depressed state?
  • Do you want to work with anger and reestablishing boundaries?
  • Are you interested in sleeping better, having better relationships, and being able to live a normal life?

I have created The Trauma Care Audio Guided Meditations which address the most fundamental insights into the processes of trauma and dissociation and how you can work through them.

  • Karen says:

    Wow is this timely. I lost my husband last July and thought I must be heartless as everyone one around me cried and reacted in what I would have thought was a normal response. Not me. I was the go to gal.
    I continued on and it is only now that it is hitting me what a mess have been left and the emotions are overwhelming.
    This type of delayed response is me to a T.
    When I was young we had foster children in and out of our home and I was conditioned not to get upset when they leaved. I have had this delayed response since I was a very young child and thought I was somehow flawed. This is something I can now take to therapy and look at. Thank you Roland once again your blogs hit the spot.

    • Roland says:

      Hi Karen. Thanks for sharing a little of your life’s story here. Interesting you mention that your delay response has been conditioned from childhood.

      • Aneika says:

        My grandmother died a year ago and I could not cry nor did I feel good or bad about it, I felt bad that I felt like I did not care, so I pretended to be sad when my family was around. her birthday was three days ago and I’ve been crying ever since. I don’t completely understand what is going on. This usually happens when I get extremely bad news about a family member or someone that I truly care about. I have moments when I feel overwhelmed where I feel like breaking down and I cry or feel depressed but I’m not sure why. Then I have times when I feel num like I do not care about anything at all. Then I have moments when I am so felled with love for everyone I might burst. What should I do?

    • Toni says:

      Oh my goodness I had never put these things together!
      I could of written the response above myself.
      My husband died 3yrs ago by suicide.
      I was strong and capable for over a year then completely fell apart. I now have anxiety and PTSD and it since been a long journey.
      I had foster siblings coming and going from our home growing up also and I’ve blocked out all the times they left. Sometimes they would leave then many months later come back after they had been abused again. Then after a while they would leave again.
      Thank you for your sharing this is a light bulb moment xx

  • Donna Bunce MSW says:

    This is a yes yes for me, as I was not allowed to have an emotional response in my childhood home. Both parents suffered and died in a lifelong trauma state. I however started having awareness of feelings after safely getting off the 16 years of numbing and poisonous psychiatric medications. While on the drugs, anger and rage led me around on a leash. As I began to feel feelings in relation to what transpired in the therapy session, the experience came in a day or two later! My first clue that I was not exactly online! With the direct experience of bio/neuro-feedback called “Brain Paint” the dots and dashes slowly connected. (I changed my brain from the wounding of trauma!) My online experience of the moment increased! Feelings are the spice…otherwise food is dull and not really interesting! Add the spice and BAM what a difference is this experience of LIFE!!
    (and please forgive the people who told me to just stop dissociating! as they knew not what they said!)


  • Elizabeth says:

    Dissociation, for me, is a chronic condition. I lose time everyday, because of my failure to remain grounded in the here and now. I have had years of treatment, some good, some not-so-good, and a smaller amount that has been excellent.
    It seems that my treatment consisted largely of a cycle of retraumatization. This occurred because I have had no treatment for about 15 years. I have had several long inpatient stays, two of which were very helpful, but without the proper follow-up, I have been unable to take the tools I have learned and incorporate them into my daily life, with any degree of consistency. I have attempted to “treat myself,” which has been the number one factor in the retraumatization.
    I have been told that I have severe phobia of my own emotions, and every time I have been close to remembering anything, Drs. and therapists have back- off, fearing I might hurt myself, or worse, since suicidal ideation, along with serious attempts are part of my history, but are no longer seen as an option by me, so, I am grateful for that.
    Besides the mere fact that many Drs, and therapists do not believe in Dissociative Disorders whatsoever, I am now left with only Medicare and very little income.
    At 57, it appears that my worst fear will be realized; that my life will end before I have ever had the chance to truly live.
    I have had to move into a phase of acceptance, which others think means I have “given up.” I have not given up, I have just realized that, given the above mentioned limitations, it seems like the right, or only thing to do. I feel I have tried everything I can, and dissociation is pretty much all I know, all I have ever known. My support system is very weak as well, and living alone does not work in my favor, either. I have had the privilege of working with some of the best minds in the field, and, have learned a lot, but, again, ineffective at incorporating them into my life post-discharge.
    I believe I have much to offer to others, and have done so. However, as it applies to my own recovery, have been a failure.
    Those of you who have found good treatment, and are working hard, please be grateful, and make the most of every resource available to you. I have seen others recover, and you can, too!

    • Roland says:

      Hi Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing your honest and humble comment. When the hurt runs deep, it can take time before the seed that you have sown, through therapy work and introspection, to start to show.

    • CindyD says:

      My own experiences are similar to about 85%+ of what you have written. The living alone a long time has effected me in both positive and negative ways.

      I have DID and PTSD from decades of trauma. As far as dissociation it is frequent and often I am unaware of it. As I’ve disconnect (over the years) from myself and my surroundings due to severe anxiety and frequent flashbacks – I also had a long period of time when I felt completely disconnected with even my closest and dearest family members, adult kids, and friends. Many friends just disappeared and never returned. Sometimes I found it hard to even identify the photos of my own family on my walls (I WAS WAY Disconnected and dissociative and ended up hospitalized sometimes.)

      My point in telling you this I wondered if you’ve even heard of TimeBanks? All over the world there are people who need help, but it seems there is no one or no money to pay for the help you may need (for home repairs, physically challenging choirs or maybe you have a talent to offer someone else). Anyway – I am in a wheelchair and lost most of my physical functioning – and met the now-director of our TIMEBANK in Maine. I have been a part of timebanking for several years (people helping each other and also asking for help for TIME credits – no money changes hands, but you do keep track of how many hours you worked for someone and how much time someone spent helping you).

      Through the work of helping – kindness and compassion is a much discussed and essential part of a TIMEBANK my life has improved and hope is getting through. I was so lonely after my divorce, and had very few anyones to talk to. But our TIMEBANK also meets together once a month –
      talk and pot lucks or hold community BBQ s, and the members get to connect in different ways, too – not just working for time credits; we become connected in a way I never thought possible. I have many friends now I can call and talk to or do things with. I not feel alone in this world.

      I have discovered that by connecting with these folks who practice kindness and compassion and caring and their TIME – I am more present in the world around me. Feeling alone in the world does not help with dissociation. Being connected with safe, kind people does.

      I am wondering if there might be a TIMEBANK in your area or a group of people who are caring and kind to whom you can reciprocate?
      I hope my story helps and if you want to know more about TIMEBANKING – 20/20 did a segment a couple years ago that you can find on Google, or you can check other links.

      This video is one of the quickest, easiest demonstrations to follow I’ve seen:
      (I was SOOOOO anxious about trying our MaineTimebank or going to any of the events I dragged my feet for sometime. Then I got really sick and these people saved my life and my sanity.)

      Best of luck to you and I hope you get to enjoy new people and surround yourself with some kind friends. CIndyD

      • Barbara says:

        Wow, thanks for this great info!

      • Donna G says:

        Thank you so much for all that info. re: the timebank, Cindy! Yes, that is what’s needed b/c we do need each other. I live alone & I don’t know if there is a timebank in our area but I will check it out. I’m so glad you are not alone anymore. If I didn’t have the Lord in my life I have to say I don’t think I would be here anymore, b/c He gives me a sense of not being totally alone.

    • Barbara says:

      Morning all, from central Canada – Elizabeth, my spouse thought I could just say, me too! I felt such validation reading of your experience. I just completed a series of rTMS treatments (28) and the outcome may have had the effect of activating my PFCortex but I can’t tell because I just can’t. Ask me, how are you feeling, and I scan the room as quickly as possible thinking, how the hell should I know and what works best for you? I’m 57 too. In April, my mom gave me some deathbed confessions about my first months and years that explain how dissociation came to be my entire life and personality. There are very few therapeutic stones left unturned for me – it seems that each treatment for either depression or anxiety has been enough to keep my window of tolerance open (no successful suicide) but doesn’t touch my core distorted/maladaptive beliefs. Beliefs that are based on truths, not wild speculation. I was there, I lived it – as parents, what did they think was going to result? I’ve been a “buck stops here” person, a professional champion and advocate for any vulnerable population I could find, yet here I am crippled by the reality of my own infancy. Thanks for listening, and thank you Roland – good work

    • Regina says:

      Elizabeth I send you love and kindest wishes for peace and healing…you seem like a very lovely and kind hearted soul xxx

    • Moira says:

      I feel the same. Thst I will spend my listening to get well and never achieve it. I don’t have a good support network either which keeps me unwell. No help on the bus. It looks like the bit of funding I had for sporadic therapy will no longer be there. So it’s downhill for me.

    • Nikki says:

      Please don’t give up. The right therapist is out there. You deserve happiness and to find a way out of your emotional prison ❤.

    • David says:

      Hi Elizabeth: I have discovered a wonderful way to move away from the unpleasant state you described, by simply using different words to describe my feelings and experiences. This is used in sport psychology where people are always under great pressure and defeated frequently.
      It is known as self-talk. Please try it!

    • Julia Castellazzi says:

      Hello Elizabeth , I understand exactly what you are saying….I have been suffering with this disorder from 1982 and the more I learn the more I see it was probably evident several years before that. It has been a long, hard road….but I have survived , several times, only just….but I have. And so have you, despite clear difficulties very much like myself. Just that fact reminds me that somewhere amongst the unmanageably and seemingly hopelessness there is also an enormous strength , will and resourcefulness that is and always has been fighting for me and my survival….I have come to be grateful for that and at this point owe it to myself and my natural resources to see this thing through and give myself a better life….finally !!!! I am a few years older than yourself.
      Light has been shone on our problem, PTSD in these later years and even if it wasn’t available when we were at our worse…it is now and it’s up to us to use it. I lost everything that was dear to me through SPTSD and was so ill during my child-bearing years I don’t have a family…however I have discovered along the way many more reasons to be here starting with myself….I’ve discovered what happiness is , what gratitude is , what giving is about , what true friendship is about , what serenity and peace are and finally what Love is for me. I have made it my business to make good memories for a few years now and it wins hands down to the old ones….You have helped other people with your experiences now perhaps it could be time to turn it around and give the same love to yourself…because you still have it to give.
      I hope this reply will not be published if Mr. BAl believes it to be inappropriate , I don’t wish to give the impression that I know any answers at all , I don’t , I only know what has got me through until now. I have been following Roland Bal for a few years and I have respect and trust in his work , it has taken me a long time to get to the point of being open enough to start work with him (Or anybody after many disappointing previous tries). Please ignore my post if it offends you in any way. I wish you the best on your continuing journey through life 🕊️

  • Jo Davis says:

    As I worked through therapy I often found this to me true. I would go home and several days later I would have all this ‘stuff’ to say. Having complex early childhood trauma, freezing was a very natural thing for me. I of course did not understand that for years. Although I have found that I still am not often able to “speak” , my throat freezes, i am able to write it out. Have you found that with your clients?
    Over all I do well now, it is a continued journey.

  • Anita says:

    Thank you this makes sense to me. I suffered childhood abuse and recognise when I now disassociate. Learning to ground myself is helping and also education.

  • rose says:

    Every time someone severely emotionally abuses me, especially family members, I can’t say anything or else start talking around the abuse. I am 63 and the only person in my life who has not emotionally abused me is thank goodness, my husband. I have so much rage at my daughter and son-in-law for over a decade of emotional abuse is just to have no contact with them even though it means I gave up my grandchildren. I just couldn’t take it anymore but I do miss my grandchildren dearly. I can see my grandchildren if I’m willing to put up with my daughter’s abuse. She doesn’t listen when I speak up for myself so guess I have to choose my dignity and self-respect over my grandchildren. Am I wrong?

    • Chelcy says:

      Rose, I can empathize greatly with you, as my emotional abuser is my sister. To have any relationship with my nieces, I have to deal with her, per her! Any advice would be greatly appreciated

  • Linda says:

    I have had to learn to recognize when I’m in the process of dissociating. Previously, I wouldn’t know I had been triggered for about a week. The trigger event was not in my consciousness. Then several days later I would collapse into a depressed state, pull the blankets over my head, and refuse all communication. I thought I was bipolar. Sometimes I would act out in a rage. Sometimes i would be self destructive, cutting or getting rid of things I loved. When I began to hear about triggers, I started looking back to find the triggering event. Eventually I knew my triggers and would try to structure my life so i could avoid them. By this time the delayed response was down to zero. Eventually I learned how to recognize the process as it was occurring and I would fight against it. But that only made it stronger. So I learned to talk to myself compassionately, reminding myself that I was not a child facing a raging parent, that I was not going to die, and most people in the world can handle imperfect people like me. I learned to stop replaying the incident in my mind at the same time. Now I can stop a trigger in a few seconds and have normal emotional responses.

  • Nancy says:

    I definitely have this freeze response or maybe a delayed response and it is generally when someone treats me in a not-so-nice way and I don’t recognize it as abusive or unkind. I’ll get feelings of upset but I won’t have feelings of anger or outrage until days later when I go hey, that was not nice!! My initial feeling is embarrassment or self-criticism. I’m slowly getting better with this after a lot of work

  • Jayne says:

    I find that if I see someone who is a trigger now or do some gradual exposure therapy; the day after I get a migraine. Could this be what you’re talking about? I’ve been suffering from migraines since I got hurt 11 months ago!

  • Shannon says:

    I had severe PTSD 11 years ago that has left me with constant anxiety I had the freeze response to the point I would curl up in a corner afraid to move could even reach for a drink or move a muscle although I am now able to live my life somewhat everything I do takes an effort that adds to my anxiety I had extreme drama throughout my childhood in at the age of 55 I had a very Trumatic experience that lasted for seven months everything in my path seem to come together jumping into my mind I fight through it and hide it from my family as much as I can but it’s not like living a full life things that I love to do I still do but with difficulty seems my brain is always try to protect me so if I don’t move I can’t be hurt that was 11 years ago but I love life and I’ve never had depression thank God the doctors said it was the worst PTSD that ever seen wonderful LOL

  • Catherine says:

    I struggle with staying in the here and now. 3 consecutive marriages involving various forms of abuse, a workaholic distant and shaming though committed father, all spell trouble. Thank God for the current waves of change and approaches wrapped around this. I’m in my 60’s, but I still have life, that is to be lived well.

  • JG says:

    This makes so much sense. I have the delayed emotional response, at times full on freeze, but mostly now the delayed response with dissociation on a regular basis. I can remember some things really clearly and strongly and then blanks, gaps, a vague feeling I should know something. I have just had am incredibly traumatic 6 months with a Therapist who tried to say that he’d healed the source of my trauma and I was all fixed and just needed to learn new life skills. He then put intense pressure on me to reconnect with my husband, told me I was abusive, manipulative, playing games and doing things like copying my husband in on our emails and I was getting more and more overwhelmed and ‘crazy’ doing weird stuff just trying to cope. I’ve come on in leaps and bounds since I fired him. I thought it was just me, all my fault. I believed him! Thank you for the insight you’ve given me today. Every piece of insight and understanding helps.

  • Glenn says:

    I recently went through a breakup with my girlfriend and it severely traumatized me as it was very sudden and there was no indication of this leading up to the breakup. I went into depression, virtually lost all sense of purpose and routine in my life. I became robotic, completely dissociated from emotions while experiencing a deep-seated sense of loss, including a blow to my sense of self-worth. My ex partner prohibited me completely from making any contact and her only explanation in the text she sent me in which she used to announce the breakup was that she no longer felt anything for me anymore. What traumatized me was that earlier in the day, before I received the text, she communicated to me that she loved me and at no time during the relationship did I do anything to cause this breakup. In fact, I treated her like a queen and we had a very close relationship throughout. We had discussed many times living out our years together. Her back-round, in short, was one of abusive and failed relationships. We are both over 50. I have recently re-established contact with her and I see her occasionally. She told me that, for one, there was no-one else that came into her life to cause this breakup and secondly, that it was not through anything I did or did not do, but that she just felt dead inside. She said I must just give her time and space and that at some point in the future, when she re-connects with her emotions, she will give our relationship another chance but currently, all she can give me is friendship and I have agreed to this although indicating to her that I would want to rekindle our relationship her words..she finds herself again. She said she does not know why she suddenly felt nothing, that she did not want to feel this way but that she truly feels nothing and just wants to be alone for now. So the purpose of my comment here is two-fold. Firstly, I would like to know what is the cause of her suddenly feeling dissociated from her emotions and is this a permanent disorder or will she eventually surface from it at some point. I have never experienced anything like this. I believe she is being honest. Secondly, what is the best way for me to support her through this period? I am dealing with my own trauma and I believe I am doing better. My concern is for her and what she is going through. Would appreciate any advise you can assist me with.

    • Penelope says:

      She’s keeping you on the hook so that she can come back to you if she doesn’t find something better. She is likely a covert narcissist and you should get away from her, she will always do this to you.

  • Susanne Zapatero says:

    Dear Roland
    Thank you for the blogs you present. I love the clarity you bring with what you write.
    As a therapist myself and someone who has come through layers of trauma , when I read your posts I feel a sense of recognition and validation. Delayed emotional response has been a structure I have used to manage the overwhelm of what I couldn’t make sense of. Revisiting situations after the event and not being able to talk about what happened only kept hypervigilance reinforced and implicitly active. I caught myself doing just this the other day when someone made a play for my attention inappropriately. I noticed the shock first then the practicalities of ensuring my safety. Difference this time was that I was able to identify what I was experiencing and I was able to talk about it with my own therapist and process the frightenness that had history attached to it.
    Thank you again for your insight and clear explaintions

  • Rhonda says:

    This is me right down to a tee I have noticed that when I went to go deeper into my past that I completely shut down and it has got worse as I got thanks for the insight. Now I can start moving forward.

  • Rene says:

    Right now I identify with Elizabeth. And I am learning to observe myself throughout the day and I have discovered I have so many triggers. I can disconnect, feel numb and unemotional for days and sometimes I start to drink to feel. I have read that early childhood trauma affects us differently than later trauma and therefore our brain does not react similarly to “go to” treatments. I am better than I was and I will continue to be. At my worst I go hang out with people where I don’t have to say anything but can just be somewhere else for awhile.

  • Esther says:

    I had broken up with a great guy just weeks before I entered into an abusive manipulationship with my exhusband for 23 years, I never ever thought of my exboyfriend during those years at all, never ever, not once but once I escaped the abuser and relocated thousands of miles away I found my exboyfriend’s picture and everything just rushed in and even though I cannot remember any of his details like his last name or his family’s last name or where they lived (I was engaged to this wonderful man) I was overwhelmed with grief and sadness… I am soo sad that I cannot even remember my exboyfriend’s last name so I cant even try to find him to make amends for the way I mistreated him when we dated. I used to talk to his mother and sister and I cannot even remember their names…WOW.I am in DV counseling now and my therapist said it was disassociation all those years but as soon as I relocated and felt safe my exboyfriend’s memory came to the surface. I feel ashamed that I forgot him but I still can’t remember a lot of our relationship-how we met, conversations at all.

  • April says:

    This pattern was set up in me early on and I frequently get stuck in “freeze mode” for months at a time. Hopefully I can break this pattern.

    • Donna says:

      Do you have any tools whereby you can work on breaking your patterns. I used to do just what you described but it’s so much better now. I hope that gives you some hope, but it does take someone else working w/ us & some tools & for me, prayer as well.

  • Munna says:

    Truly insightful and informative to read this article about delayed emotional response, very well put together. Keep up the good work Roland.

  • Sara says:

    Really identify with this, school was awful as could not remember things as class room dynamics re triggered vme constantly, teaches would scould me for day dreaming and let me to focus, years later a therapist asked where I went in a session and this was first time I realised I was dissociated and this was conditioned since childhood, my current flaskbwcks vary from being a child again in vmy younger body and then as I am now as a bystander seeing my child self, when triggered and I’d too much I count backwards while at same time moving away from my own picture. Of the trauma which I see as swirl of energy, may not be best technique but does work tor for me

  • Ron says:

    I have no feelings. I was kidnapped at 2 and tortured and I stopped feeling….even to this day I have no feelings…..i can’t react if a child falls and cries or anyone falls I just stare. I’m numb inside. I grow up in an abusive home I didnt ‘t freeze either I fought back still do. Never really thought of it as post traumatic stress until this article.

  • Shay says:

    After my baby was born limp and yellow, effectively dead, and didn’t breathe for 7 minutes, I dissociated for 3 days. I heard myself telling the story over the phone to relatives and I felt nothing. It was only when I called a trusted friend on the third day that I was finally able to cry. It took years for me to recover from that traumatic event.

  • Jude says:

    I had a really weird experience about three and a half years ago, which entailed a couple of weeks almost entirely in bed, there were physical, mental and emotional factors involved, all really quite painful, none individually that should be unexpected in some form during a normal life span, slightly less helpful that they occurred together, I was aware of pain as the only feeling, wasn’t sure where it was from in terms of the most painful.. but I wasn’t emotional, my thoughts seemed to be in a logical and rational bubble.. but like there was a short circuit to master control command center… because outwardly that wasn’t apparently how l looked visually, I think the excessive tears turning to sobs when trying to speak wasn’t helpful when trying to claim that I wasn’t able to control these tears however I didn’t feel sad and had no idea what I was crying about.. I could move to perform basic functions for myself. ie. Go to the bathroom and fetch a drink of water.. but nothing useful, helpful or appearance wise. Yet I could perform basic mother functions for and around my 4 year old daughter . Make sure she was clean, clothed, fed… walk her to and from school, discuss and aid her growth, learning and understanding of her experiences, help keep her emotional healthy… we hugged, cracked jokes, laughed and sang together, although I didn’t particular teach her core skills such as cleaning, cooking and washing up.. I reminded her about hygiene, but except bathing and hair, wouldn’t oversee that.. I didn’t participate in playing with her.. but would watch and vocally join.
    And that was it. Any other requirements or request I made to my body.. it would refuse to comply. Any task any other family members needed or requested from me… nope apparently not… none of the previous ways to move myself and do anything for anyone other than my daughter.. would have me gaze silently at them lying down unable to even speak. Tears streaming down my face.. although I did feel scared and confused at first, because I wasn’t able to even vocalise what seemed to be happening, so couldn’t get help or advice… I very quickly returned to logic and rational… and actually curiosity replaced the alarm. .. I was very very tired but slept little, and still cried whilst asleep.. I don’t remember dreaming… I know that I muttered randomly, repetitively but not coherent… and not with any conscious intent… only paid attention to a couple of sentences during the whole experience.. and no medical nor psychiatric help was called or provided…
    I worked it out myself.
    But very curious if this episode has any particular similarities to a diagnosed symptom of /or disorders. . Any thoughts on what was happening?

  • Amy says:

    I lost my first born son after 16 and a half months. I was 20 when he was born. I was repeatedly traumatized during his life as he had an extremely rare congenital heart defect and spent the first 8 months of his life in hospital before finally going home. When he died I went from being his mom and care giver to nothing. I had no purpose in life anymore. Because I had witnessed multiple times of him “dying” and being defibrillated and brought back to life, when he actually died my mind wouldn’t let me believe it was real. I spent the next year looking for him. If a mom walked by with a stroller I HAD to check to make sure she didn’t have my baby. I seemed happy and surrounded myself with children. I worked with kids with special needs because I had learned so much from havya critically ill child. I did not have a typical grief reaction. I had delayed grief. There was no support available to me through the public mental health systfir 3 years! I couldn’t afford to see a councillor privately. When I finally got into see someone we were only allocated 6 sessions but I was unaware of that while in the sessions. At the end of my 6th appointment the councillor said “you’re healed!” And this was our last session! What the fuck!!!????? I hadn’t even begun to tell my story. It was through a kind hearted human being that I found hope. The man that ran a bereaved parent group agreed to meet with me one on one. He has now had groups of sessions with me numerous times over the years. He is an actual angel. He saved my life and made me want to save it too! Since my son’s death I have two more beautiful children, both boys! I was paralyzed with fear and anxiety when they were born. What if I lost them too? Or if I died and couldn’t take care of them. 14 years later I still am grieving. I accept it now. I will never be the same person. My youngest son is almost 2 and has life threatening allergies. This diagnosis brought me right back. Just the other day, something little happened, he fell down and his mouth was bleeding. I scooped him up and he was hurt so he wasn’t crying aloud but making a face of anguish. Because he wasn’t taking a breath he turn a shade of blue around his mouth. For 3 seconds. But to me I thought he was dying. If I told any of the moms at playgroup they might have me committed. My only friends who truly know how I feel and why I think this horrific thoughts are those who have lost their kid too. My baby was fine. His dad calmed me down as I felt like I had just experienced a flash panic attack. Every day I struggle but I preserve. And I am practicing self care minus the guilt. I can’t burn out with anxiety. I was role modelled it beautifully growing up. I don’t want to set that example for my kids. I want to show them how to have healing and learning and to constantly grow and adjust. I love to learn about trauma because I can relate. I have deep empathy for anyone who struggles in anyway especially when it comes to their kids. When I hear of another mom losing her child my heart breaks again. Thank you for hosting this discussion. I feel good.

  • stella says:

    I enjoyed reading this – I do go completely blank when there is conflict around me – I can only process it later. I have also found that sometimes my emotions can be quite dulled and muted i.e. if someone dies I dont fall apart until much later. If someone had to shout at me I would be silenced and not sure if I am hearing correctly…… is that disassociation?

  • joy says:

    Just discovered this website. Anyway, reading through some of the articles – this is an interesting one to me particularly. When my person is upset with me for whatever reason, I freeze. I don’t know how to take it in, I become mostly dead inside. This is a very bad thing, because then I’m in trouble for “not being sorry” or “not being sorry soon enough” or “not acknowledging” or some other thing. Truth is, I just can’t process it. I sort of shut down.

  • Maria says:

    Yes absolutely have been aware for a long time that I disassociate and have a delayed response. I have gone through several traumatic experiences and was in an emotionally difficult relationship for decades. In a nutshell I had to be the peacemaker and always remain calm,cool, and collected. I had no idea these experiences could all be related to my consistent delayed reactions. This is the first time I’ve realized it’s all interrelated. Good news is I’m in a better place and learning a lot. I never thought of myself as someone who has suffered maybe because I’ve thought of myself as strong and courageous but I’m beginning to understand so much that I didn’t before. Thank you for your wisdom and knowledge. Few are talking about this topic with such honesty.

  • Louisa says:

    I have suffered so much emotional trauma in my life, and have felt rejected since forever. I am a friendly person and have no trouble socializing, but I do feel numb. The bad things that have happened in my life just sit there frozen and my mind refuses to deal with the pain, so I guess I am dissociating. I have felt at the breaking point for a long, long time, and now I realize I am truly married to a narcissist, and yet I often wonder if I am the one that’s narcistic.

  • Sara Brent says:

    Really helpful. This appears to be how I deal with traumatic events and why today when I had a tyre blowout on the motorway at 70miles per hour I managed very efficiently until afterward when I couldn’t stop from bursts into tears. Which made me look like an idiot at work and had to go home. One of my colleagues is somewhat passively aggressive towards me which I manage well but couldn’t deal with being blanked on my late and explained arrival at work today. Thankfully my direct senior was gentle and caring towards me. Thank you for this insight into why I responded and have often responded like this.

  • Faith says:

    I experienced a consistently chaotic, unstable, and abusive childhood. I only know this from my Mother and Brother’s accounts and only a handful of sporadic memories. I have a near 11 year gap of memory from my childhood. (Since, I’ve also had two serious car accidents and served in the Iraq war. Both of which, I have large gaps in my memory.) I’ve been diagnosed with CPTSD and dissociate quite often. I’ve been to numerous therapists and have even undergone intensive outpatient therapy. The problem is, due to my traumatic amnesia, I cannot seem to get to the “meat” of what has left me this way. I can not pinpoint the exact traumatic event(s). How can I begin to heal if I don’t know what is hidden in my memory?

    • Donna Giovanni says:

      Hello Faith,
      I am so sorry for all you have experienced & endured. Thru my studies & also my experience w/ a well trained (EMDRIA) Therapist, I have come to realize that the memories do not have to be recalled in order to be healed. Rather, the reactions, like “I don’t matter” “I am terrified” I’m blocked” etc. is what the therapist will work w/ in EMDR sessions. After many yrs. of searching for healing, I found the EMDR to be the most effective & the quickest way to have real healing. Just thought I’d encourage you & give you hope.

  • Regina says:

    This is staggering. I didn’t know this was a part of dissociation! I have been like this for years! Things of the emotional nature – difficult things for me to process always hit me later- sometimes a day or so. I always felt like I never had a right to address anything because I wasn’t able to do it at the appropriate time. I have been loosing time lately, I have been through a betrayal with some girlfriends (so called) who had told me or promised things, and didn’t ever intend to do so, and I’m in a financial bind because of what had been promised. The one main female would take it upon herself to start screaming at me, and projecting everything I was confronting her with, stating it was what I was ding – obviously she was “good at fighting dirty”. She also was one who knew my issues, and used everything to her advantage in encluding my past demons of addiction, and abandonment issues. Well she’s out – but it effected me greatly – I was left scared, alone, and vulnerable to the point I let a long term extremely abusive sociopath, neurotic voice-hearing narcissist (my pathology from mummy) into my apartment after MONTHS of keeping him out at which I had Just begun to heal from his cruelty, battering, meth use, stealing, bringing other women – oh God this just goes on and one. I had bonded with this man through a 3 day horrible trauma, there was not one area of my life he didn’t devour.
    Stupid me, I forgave him although minus my car, yeah he stole it and it never came back. Four felonies, and all were dropped, I was bullied by the police.
    I let him in. Long and short – I’d already been victimized by these women, in he walked. He ended up assaulting me. I have charges filed. I have never in my life been through anything like I have these two years that my psychologist was ripped from me by my mental health center. Over emails I had permission to send. I cannot see anyone now I’ve lost part of my insurance. First time in 28 years I have no had a psychiatrist. So the dissociation information is good but scary, and makes me feel more vulnerable.

  • Donna Giovanni says:

    I’m so sorry for all you have gone thru, Regina. May I suggest you consider going to an EMDR (EMDRIA trained) psychologist when you can even without insurance. It will take much less time in processing your traumas & be well worth it in the long run. There’s lots of information online & on youtube videos for you. Blessings!

    • Gina says:

      Thank you Donna, I was having EMDR and had a wonderful Psychologist, until I got too attached to him, but he knew I told him. I was discharged over an email I sent – it wasn’t handled properly – read to the entire dual diagnosis staff humiliating me – it’s not uncommon to fall in love with your therapist – but no one there normalized it for me- I had to find out from therapists at Quora and from reading books- I was shamed on the phone at 6pm the night before my session the next morning. I only had 4 sessions left with Doc anyways, I probably sabotaged it. Well, I mean I do have issues, for goodness sake, if I didn’t I wouldn’t need the help. He was brilliant, and own my part, but the director of the dual diagnosis program shaming me on the phone? I was not allowed to say goodbye to doc, thank him, nothing – you’d think I’d committed a crime. It was horrible, I felt like I’d had a tear out of my soul. They lied to me and told me he was leaving their entire system and was not even going to be doing EMDR anymore- leaving the treatment center he was the administrator of, everything I could do it via telecom – with a staff person – OMG. NO, thank you. Like I’m going to rape the man. I know that was no about or had anything to do with Doc, it was her, she didn’t know about the email that I had permission from him for because he missed sessions sometimes, 9 children on with terminal cancer – and her ego got butt hurt. So I paid the price. This place is full of disease – and I’m back there now – but I am on a mission believe me. I’ll get doc back yet. Or I’ll do what I’ve in mind to miss thinks she’s above reproach. I made her apologize to me, for shaming me — took her three months but that day came. You wouldn’t believe the final outcome. This joint is a trip. There’s counselors working there and have been in the field for 30 years that are frightening. I look like a God compared to them with my little Certificate to do Drug counseling and NO Certification. These folks? Not one therapeutic skill in there whole cerebellum, if we prayed for a miracle. How they get and stay certified is a damn mystery and a travesty to me.

  • Wendy Tuck says:

    My “please/appease” fawn response shows up all the time with my male therapist, to the point I am really not sure I can open up to my own emotions or story or thoughts. I’m very sensitive when I bring up a sensitive/delicate issue and he defines it, or tells me about his stepson or assumes I’m coming from a position of power/choice/want, when honest to god I just don’t want to get hurt. I see it, cuz I’ve started taping the sessions in my phone, he doesn’t know, but I couldn’t remember anything about the sessions. I’ve seen him weekly since 2012. Not sure I can address or break this problem.

  • Donna Giovanni says:

    Hi Wendy,
    Thanks for sharing today. It seems like a lot of therapy going once a week & for so many years as well. I’d like to recommend EMDR w/ IFS (internal family systems) for you. These treatments in sessions will work more quickly if the therapist is trained well, preferably thru EMDRIA & esp. if the therapist is attuned to you. There are a lot of good videos on YT w/ demonstrations of EMDR & IFS. Also, I’m wondering if switching to a woman therapist would also help you. I can say w/ confidence that for me, just going to a counselor or therapist w/o these EMDR sessions would not have helped me in such a short time! It brings so many things up in your brain & then ‘leaves’ the brain in a way that helps one move on. I have also chosen to forgive as I was/am ready along my journey which also brings a release. Prayer for God’s guidance is a definite plus for me so I hope you will take courage & make a decision that is different from what you have been experiencing so far. Blessings on your new journey!

  • Michele says:

    I process things after the fact and feel the emotions attached to the situation or trigger offense remark etc. Can show up after processing event and I can apologize to someone or start getting upset with some after the fact. Also, I hang on to things longer than most. I’m fragile, sensitive and highly empathetic.

  • Gina says:

    This hit hard. I am going through so much, it’s unreal. I’m actually in such a state right now that I’m incurring abuse from so called friends because I’m so out of it from my dissociation and PTSD I’m not tracking well. I’m at a counseling center (laughs audibly) but because of some substance use, hell it’s been my default since 11 y/o, the holy grail is “inpatient treatment” will surely fix everything… AH, NO. I don’t know what to do- no one is listening, I need EMDR, I know the Dr. that would help me but there were issues from the past, it’s been 2 years, I do not understand why things couldn’t be worked through – I was lied to anyways. Doc could pull the cravings out of me in one session. He’s brilliant. But even though that would be the best option for my healing, because there were issues in the past, their rigidity wins out over my psychological need. I’m so upset.
    I was assaulted in July, he walks free, nothing has been done like it is supposed to by law. I have not heard one bit of anything about the evidence, it’s validity, I never knew when charges were sent to the Prosecuting Attorney – NOTHING. I’m just like a ghost. I’m in what feels like a constant state of hyper- numb — but I also get really in and out of anxiety because – at every damn turn in my life, I have had no voice, I did not exist, I didn’t matter and NO one SAW me, nor was I ever validated, and this damn counseling center (I was taught Client centered therapy!) makes assumptions, tells me what I need, my counselor thinks I’m “too much”, OMG. I’m literally in hell. I have been to hell already and came out – why am I going back in and having to fight for my rights all over — with clinicians? So called? I’ve asked my counselor on two different occasions if she had several skills- advanced accurate empathy was one of them – and “active listening” – hell I listened to my clients with my whole body – I’m not sure what’s going on here, or why this is happening.Each and every time I’m agitated – I get when was the last time you got high? OMG!! But I know I’m being triggered, over and over- and I do not know what to do, and as far as delayed reactions? I’ve done this for years now, I thought it was something I’d worked on to not be so reactive! Whoops. I understand things so much better now, I understand I’m a whole lotta more of a mess than I ever kinda knew – especially after meeting Lucifer and that was because of more loss. I hate attachment issues.

  • King says:

    Yes. It could be weeks or months before the emotional response catches up with the stressors. Friends/family accuse me of drawing out, or milking, a stressful encounter because it takes so long to process. I wish everything would end.

  • Jean says:

    My father has always used the “when I’m dead someday, you’ll regret [this]” phrase to guilt trip me into behaving as he wanted me to. One day that all just stopped to hurt me and I became more independent. I thought I had overcome his control, but when our beloved cat died recently, I felt nothing as my mother was crying next to me. It makes me sick to think that I’m not sure if I could mourn any of my family’s or friend’s deaths. I will take this advice to heart

  • Wolff says:

    Whenever I get pissed off at something, or whenever I’m seriously insulted by someone close to me, I just don’t react anymore. A month or two later I wake up and I’m pissed off all day. Occasionally I’ll even get panic attacks from it. The panic attacks stopped happening as frequently after I got out of high school but they still happen. It doesn’t help that when I’m angry I just want to be alone to deal with it without hurting anyone, but no one I live with can understand that, then they get angry at me for taking my anger out on them, which is what i wanted to prevent by being alone in the first place. Even going as far as to say “I can’t handle this” after trying to express my frustrations the only way i know how: which is yelling at myself but it comes off as an attack against them. And them outwardly saying that they can’t handle me just makes it worse.

  • Sarie says:

    I’m so glad there are clear terms for this. I’ve tried explaining this to partners, family members, and friends. They understand better when I just call it dissociating, but they don’t realize that this emotional delay can last upwards of many months depending, and I also haven’t learned of any ways to expedite the process.

    I can think of instances of stress throughout childhood (at a young age walking in on my sister in the midst of a suicide attempt) where it may have started, but it could have also been instances of abuse in my early 20’s. All I know is that I emotionally tune out on varying levels almost every day.

    I’m going through a particularly hairy breakup right now (that involves some emotional abuse with a recovering addict) and I just yesterday realized I’ve been in a complete emotional stand-still for at least 4 months.

    My mom has always said this is actually one of my strengths, and that I should use it to be an EMT or something, because I’m good at putting myself entirely in a different sphere and taking care of others.

    In the instance of this breakup, I thought the dissociating was a defense mechanism for myself–my body’s way of giving me time to process. But I’ve come to find that nearly all times spent in emotional delay are ACTUALLY a mechanism to protect the other party. I’ve been pretending not to feel the hurt and fear of this breakup for 4 months so as to make sure I’M not the cause of relapse. Now that he is in the clear, I’m finally feeling all the weight.

    I’ve done this in many circumstances before, and I never know how to circumvent it. Any suggestions?

    Thank you for this post!

  • Scott says:

    I’ve had this since I can remember… Only just at 32 starting to question why though. No matter what happens I won’t really start dealing with it until everyone else has finished or the whole situation is now cold. Trouble is, leaves me feeling like I can never talk whatever the problem is… Everyone thinks I’m strong… In truth I’m just delayed!

  • Sibongile says:

    I have been aware for a long time that I have a delayed reaction issue, but did not work on it until I began experiencing too may emotional setbacks that I cracked from anxiety, now I’m working non healing through therapy

  • Taylor says:

    I have felt like my emotional responses have been hitting me on varying delays. Sometimes there’s only an hour or two before a true response surfaces, but other times months or even years can pass before I actually “get” my feelings. I don’t recall having anything traumatic in my childhood that could lead to this. Why does this happen?

  • Weena says:

    I usually have delayed reaction and response to those people who says bad things against me even to some disagreement. I can only realize what I’m suppose to say when my mind thinks what had happened.

  • Marie says:

    Hi Roland,
    I nursed my baby brother through covid lock down. He died a long and hard death. I had very little support from medical sources and really had no idea what I was doing. I hardly slept and used drugs to cope.
    Now nearly 3 months after his death I am bed bound with exhaustion. Similar to the chronic fatigue syndrome I have suffered on and off with for 40 years.
    I’m have also suffered from dissociation all my life. It has been better in recent time due to trauma counselling. I have a huge problem still with crying. It has always felt like my eyes are constipated (as weird as that sounds).
    What I’m wondering is it possible that this debilitating fatigue could be a delayed emotional response to the horror of my dearest brothers death. Thanks for the article Roland.

    • Roland says:

      Hi Marie, sorry to hear about your distress. Fatigue is often a dissociation response as a way of not feeling emotional pain all the time. As you move through the exhaustion, rather than giving into it, you might feel your coping emotion (perhaps crying/sadness for you). The trouble is that you will pendulate between those extremes of collapse and fatigue and back again into your coping emotion i.e. crying/sadness. You will have to go carefully into your coping emotion, without getting pushed out or drown in it, to be able to get in touch with some of your core emotions.

  • Luna says:

    This releives a lot of worry for me. The way it is written makes me feel less afraid about what I am going through and how I am (or am not, really) reacting to it.
    As well as things that have I have already been able to deal with, I have a couple of things that I am currently having delayed responses to.
    Something I noticed is that as I slowly start having an emotional reaction, is that they come at different speeds for each trauma.
    A year ago, I separated from my partner and my life began to spiral a bit. I was not able to realize it until we got back together again. They have been helping me realize some of the unhealthy things I have been doing, and helping me get back on track. I know that I am having a delayed emotional response to getting back together. So much has changed and yet so much is still the same, and I am finding it hard to grasp exactly how I am feeling about it all. Although I am adapting well in the physical realm, my mind is still very frenzied about it.
    As well as that, I was raped several months ago. And though I have been able to speak about it with ease, I still have not had an emotional reaction to it.
    On one hand, Something that happened almost 10 months ago still has not phased me as it should for me, and something that happened a month ago is slowly starting to raise emotions.
    Funny how different things can take much longer than others.

  • susan moran says:

    My husband was diagnosed with NHL in Sept 2019. He had 6 months of chemotherapy and I am just now feeling the seriousness and emotions of all of it. The above article was very helpful

  • Tremecia says:

    I found this article by searching for “delayed response”. It happens in stressful situations. It triggers anxiety and I’ve become recluse because of it. I battle depression, daily, due to childhood trauma. My children keep me sane. I am glad to know that I am not crazy.

  • Craig says:

    Hello from Sunny Florida!
    I’ve had plenty of trauma throughout my life. Mostly emotional abuse. I lost my shit in 2012 and began drinking and abusing drugs until 2015. I went through treatment at a trauma focused facility that was very cleansing and eye opening. After 62 days of sobriety I lost my son who had an undiagnosed heart condition. I was there and unable to save him with cpr. Just the most terrible hard time to get through. I remained sober. Currently I don’t really feel connected to people and I have a hard time feeling good and peaceful emotions. Only the heavy and bad ones. That part is improving. But I do this thing where someone (my wife) will do or say something hurtful and I just don’t have any emotional reaction at all in the moment. Then a day or two or three later I become pissed off about it and ready to confront her. She doesn’t understand why “bring up the past.” Anyway I found this article and thread by searching for info on Delayed Emotional Response. It’s been very helpful. I’ll bring this new realization to my therapist. Haven’t seen him in a while on a count of covid. Thanks everyone for your honesty and participation.

  • Suz says:

    I didnt know what to call it. When the emotional abuse was elevated i wud pass out for up to a few hours and be nearly catatonic for days or weeks. I am just realising it has taken me months to process a very traumatic event that has serious consequences for me n my kids security. I feel so hopeless and stupid now that i am gaining clarity. Iv been like a zombie for years

  • Sadie says:

    I’ve always wondered if I was heartless or strange because I dont feel things when they happen. It confused me at first because I am fine when something bad happens, yet later on at home I break down and everyone is wondering why I’m upset ‘out of nowhere’. I’ve lost a lot of friends recently, due to an episode of psychosis. My dr said I have PTSD, but I can’t even pinpoint what traumatized me so much. Maybe an accumulation of emotions over the course of 3 years that I didn’t give any thought to. I stay happy and did what my friends wanted, so they would still like me.
    I’ve since learned that you shouldn’t even HAVE friends that you have to walk on eggshells over.
    I just wanted to make people happy, but in the end I hurt myself. And now Im still dealing with the Fallout from all of that. I also learned not to share my pain with people unless they ask and I trust them. At least I know, now, that Im not a narcissist, (I have traits, but Im working on them) Im just mentally traumatized.

  • Margaret says:

    I have experienced triggers more recently from several life experiences. The pattern I have realized is that I respond to the triggers in a “mature” way. Gradually over the next day or so, I sense an anxiety arising in me. I then will dream nightmares and wake up really tired, restless and and very achy. I’m down for a whole day and very shaken. I connected the delayed response to the trigger from the past. I must dissociate emotionally for a day or so before my body responds. I had a trigger today and the pattern was one of a mature response to the situation. Sounds good, but as I review the day, I went through a spectrum of memories and now I am getting ready for bed and I wonder just what will happen as I sleep. Thanks for the article which helps understand some of what is happening.

    • Pauline says:

      You have control of your thoughts. I find focusing on something else like a movie TV a good book. Its putting yourself into another world emotionally which i would hope could desculate. Or even watch a movie then re visit the situation afterwards and see what your prospective is then. Hopeful you will have a different prospective and realise the situaion wasnt as bad as you thought. I use to take my mind away from a stressful situation. I dont anymore and the more i dealt with no matter how, the better i got a deesculating the situation. And able to move on. I hope you are able to understand what i mean and it helps.

  • ASHOCK says:

    I’ve been through some big traumatic events… 9/11 in NYC, Vegas shooting, plane crash… etc. …and every single time, it will be 2 or 3 weeks before I suddenly start crying out of nowhere with no trigger. When I am in the moment I am calm and rational.
    I’ve always thought it was a survival instinct… so you could make decisions during a crisis…

  • Joanne says:

    That’s what keeps me awake so often. The delayed emotional response. Thanks for the incredibly easy to understand explanation

  • Kris says:

    I’ve been aware of my delayed emotional responses for about 4 yrs and it’s maddening. I understand the root and long term pattern but it can still take me days after a conversation with my husband that I realize that it was hurtful or painful. By then, the moment is long gone and my emotions no longer fit the current situation. I hate it!

  • Jane says:

    I’ve had miscarriages. Didn’t really respond, just continued with life as normal. Most recent one was less than a year ago. It’s like only now am I becoming aware of it. And I feel really angry. I don’t know why but this anger just takes over me in my most quiet times. I generally respond slow to many emotional issues in my life. I’ve always thought am just slow to understand but now I am realising that perhaps I am refusing to understand… I feel like this is starting to affect my physical health. I feel like nobody understands…

  • Ruben Medrano says:

    This is accurate I my self am so fucking tired of it I feel like everything hits me later I feel a delay in life like bag lag on a video game it’s been decades like this .

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