Petronella Phillips Devaney
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Uncomfortably Numb


Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone home?

Not so long ago, it was considered extremely bad form to talk about feelings – even more so to put them on display. Back then, the stiff upper lip prevailed. When I was very young, I remember hearing someone talking about a neighbour whose husband had recently died. ‘You’d never know to see her,’ they said, admiringly. ‘Carrying on just as normal. A real lady!’ Yes, keeping your feelings under wraps was considered the dignified and proper thing to do.

And if that’s how ‘real ladies’ behaved, you can treble it for men! ‘Boys don’t cry’ – how strongly was that drummed into fifty per cent of the population?

Well, things have certainly changed. Everyone from politicians to business leaders, celebs and ‘civilians’ of every description, are letting it all hang out. Emotions, it seems, have gone completely off the scale. Floods of tears, whether at the winning of an award or a soppy TV ad, have become perfectly normal – even expected! – whether you’re male or female. The concepts of ‘dignity’ and the stiff upper lip have become things of the past. And rightly so, many would say.

But strangely, it’s a different scenario in the consulting room. What I’m hearing a lot, is clients saying they’ve lost touch with their feelings. It seems as if, in this avalanch of emotion, as individuals something vital has got disconnected. Overloaded with information about others’ emotions, and manipulated by sentimental movies and heart-wrenching TV and news items, it’s our own feelings we can no longer locate. This in turn is taking a terrible toll on relationships, as can be seen in the case of marriage breakdown: one in every two now ending in divorce.

So, we have people experiencing high levels of painful stress and distress, enough to bring them into therapy or counselling, but unable to connect with the underlying feelings that have caused it. To mis-quote the title of a Pink Floyd song, we have become uncomfortably numb.

In the same song, though, there are a few lines that almost mystically point to a potential cure for this very 21st century condition:

When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone…

But actually – thankfully! – the dream isn’t completely gone. It still exists, somewhere deep inside, together with the little child we once were.

The therapeutic journey is many things, and among them it’s a search for that dream we glimpsed and sometimes vaguely remember. It’s a dream worth looking for, because in the end it holds the key that unlocks our own hearts. It can heal the uncomfortable numbness, and lead to a better understanding of what’s happening under the surface of our lives; ┬áto the sense of fulfillment we all need and seek.


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