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.