Numbing Strategies


Coping Strategies: When Solutions Become The Problem

Common emotional responses to child sexual assault are long-term depression, sadness, anxiety, intense fear of feelings or memories of the abuse, and anger. Some men feel joyless, and ‘empty inside’. A very common feeling following abuse is shame. This feeling may ‘cover’ the whole person, so that by the time the child becomes an adult he feels worthless and unlovable. Difficulties in managing difficult feelings are among the main reasons men come to SAMSSA.

The purpose of the ‘numbing’ strategies is to numb the feelings about the trauma. They usually have the side-effect of numbing other feelings too.

Some of the most common of these strategies are the use of chemicals to alter mood. They include:

  • Alcohol;
  • Marijuana;
  • Painkillers and sedatives;
  • Other drugs, legal and illegal (a very long list).

Other numbing strategies include the ‘rush’ strategies. In these, the survivor engages in activities which provide an absorbing psychological ‘high’:

  • Sex (including sex with other people, pornography or any other form of sexual activity);
  • Gambling of all kinds;
  • Shopping, either physical or on-line;
  • Socializing;
  • On-line social networking;
  • Risky behaviours (aggressive driving/racing, fighting, some sports, etc.);
  • Self-harm (cutting etc. Not all ‘rush’ strategies involve a positive rush).

Another group of numbing strategies are the task/discipline group, where the strategy is to throw oneself into highly challenging, absorbing, or painful tasks. For men, these strategies often have an element of aggression, pain or high levels of self-control:

  • Work (‘workaholism’);
  • Sport;
  • Physical training (marathons, cycling, martial arts, weightlifting and so on);
  • Ascetic practices (including long or arduous forms of meditation or prayer, fasting, etc.).

An additional benefit of aggression- or risk-based strategies is they may help the survivor combat feelings of shame about being a ‘victim’.