Emotional Numbing Links Trauma and Callousness


A sample of 276 youth recruited from 2 juvenile detention centers found that the association between trauma exposure and callous-unemotional traits was mediated by the general numbing of emotions. Results appeared online May 21, 2012 in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Abstract → 

Kerig, P. Bennett, D. Thompson, M. Becker, S. “Nothing really matters”: Emotional numbing as a link between trauma exposure and callousness in delinquent youthJournal of Traumatic Stress, online May 21 2012


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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. indicated findings consistent with the hypothesis that the association between trauma exposure and callous–unemotional traits was mediated by the general numbing of emotions, R2 = .40, and also specifically by numbing of sadness, R2 = .27. In addition, further analyses indicated that numbing of fear, R2 = .18, and sadness, R2 = .26, statistically mediated the relations to callous–unemotional traits only for those traumatic experiences involving betrayal. Gender was not found to moderate these effects.

    This makes me sad, which I now experience only as a physical sensation of sharp poignance lodged in my chest that, at this point, doesn’t even make me flinch, much less cry. The feeling recedes with a deep breath. I wonder what this means in regard to my recovery? Oh, well, I guess this why I am still in recovery…not fully recovered…not by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t feel good to not be able to feel anything about feeling sad, to not be able to cry.

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