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Numb: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog

I loved my wife very much and she was seriously ill. We had been involved in a serious car crash (my fault), and the doctor didn’t expect her to survive. (Shirley lived, but that’s another story.)

As I sat by her bedside in the hospital, I felt nothing. I was emotionally numb. What’s wrong with me? I asked myself. This is the person I love most and I can’t feel anything.

“That wasn’t the first time I had numbed out; it wasn’t the last time.”

That wasn’t the first time I had numbed out; it wasn’t the last time. Over the years, I’ve encountered extremely difficult situations and yet felt nothing.

Something in me is defective. Why can’t I be normal like other men?

To make it worse, I sometimes cried. But it was always about someone with whom I had no strong emotional ties. I didn’t understand how I could be sad over small things and yet feel nothing about the hurt of those I loved most.

Yes, something in me must be defective.

Here’s how I finally understood my lack of emotions. While I was doing my daily, pre-dawn run, a car made a U-turn in front of me and knocked me down. I felt no pain, but three days later I sensed what I called “a little discomfort” in my left hip. It didn’t hurt, but it was a nuisance.

At my wife’s urging, I went to a chiropractor and he did a number of tests. He kept asking, “Does this hurt?” Nothing he did caused me to say yes.

“You have a very high tolerance for pain,” he finally said.

A few days later I related that incident to my younger brother Chuck. He laughed and said, “Don’t you remember how Dad beat us and we didn’t cry? We learned not to feel it.”

“That’s right!”

Just then the numbness made sense. Whenever powerful emotions overwhelmed me, I numbed out and felt nothing.

For weeks I prayed, “God, help me feel my emotions.” I did regular self-talk in which I affirmed, “I feel my feelings.”

One evening my cell rang and it was my friend Reg. “Fran’s in the hospital. They think it’s a brain tumor.” Fran had been complaining of severe headaches and lack of balance.

Tears filled my eyes and I could hardly speak for several minutes. After the phone call, I realized that I’d cried for someone close to me, someone I cared about very much.

That was the beginning. I’ve since learned to reclaim my emotions. Or rather, I’m still learning. To some it may sound strange, but I’ve learned to feel. And I’m grateful for feeling sadness. Pain. Loss.

Nothing in me is defective and I’m still healing.

By Cecil Murphey

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Cecil Murphey ImageCecil Murphey wrote, When a Man You Love Was Abused and Not Quite Healed with survivor Gary Roe. Murphey is the author or coauthor of 137 books including international best sellers, 90 Minutes in Heaven and Gifted Hands: the Ben Carson Story. His latest book is Stolen: The True Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor, written with Katariina Rosenblatt.