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JennWithOneN's avatar

Mind went blank during therapy, couldn't think or speak?

Asked by JennWithOneN (376points) October 21st, 2018

We were talking about something I went through as a kid and discussing whether or not it could be considered trauma, and she started telling me ways I could combat the effects of it (in this case, the event(s) effected the way I act around my family and she said the solution was to try to act normally around my family). When she explained this, I started crying (I usually cry when we talk about it, so that wasn’t out of the ordinary), and I put my face in my hands and neither of us spoke for a minute or two, and I wanted to try to say something but I couldn’t, and then she asked me what was going through my head and I tried to think about what was going through my head but I couldn’t think of anything because my mind was completely blank; the only thing I could think about was what she was saying and I replayed it over and over in my head to try to get meaning out of it and come up with an answer but I couldn’t, and I decided to tell her I didn’t know what to say and I raised my head and opened my mouth but nothing came out and I started staring into space while she was asking more questions: “is this a panic attack?” – I shook my head (but I did start panicking at one point because I felt out of control because I couldn’t speak); “does this happen a lot? – I shook my head (this was the first time it had ever happened). Then I finally stuttered out “My mind is. Blank.” and she asked if I could stand up (I couldn’t), and she started asking me questions about my cats to help me get grounded, and I answered them until my mind was clearer and I could stand up and the session was over. I still have no idea what happened; help?

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16 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

What is your question?

JennWithOneN's avatar

@Jeruba I’m asking what might’ve happened

Patty_Melt's avatar

Why would you ask us?
You were with a professional when it happened.

JennWithOneN's avatar

@Patty_Melt We couldn’t really talk about what happened because our time was up, and I can’t see her or any other professional for another week

Mimishu1995's avatar

Ok, I’m in no way a professional but here’s my two cents. Looks like what happened was that you tried to block that memory from your mind, causing the mind blank effect. This is a common thing among trauma patient.

But the best thing to do is to ask your therapist directly. You can still wait for a week.

Zaku's avatar

Is your therapist a full psychiatrist?

From my (actually fairly extensive, though I have no degree) experience with people working on their past trauma, I can imagine many things, but really couldn’t say with any certainty. I can say many things I know that can cause something like this sort of reaction, in case that helps.

One sort is that when you go back to past events and find old un-processed material that connects with young experiences, it can get you into that mindset that you were in when you had an experience that you haven’t processed yet, so

1) if the experience happened when a person was young, re-connecting to that experience can tend to get them into a state where they have the mental and even physical capacities of that developmental age – so if it was even before they could speak or walk, they may have trouble speaking or walking.

2) if the experience was very traumatic such that it caused some sort of blacking out of memory, or if it caused a freeze reaction at the time, it may induce that state as you start to re-visit that forgotten state.

Another sort of reaction that could occur like this might be if you are just on the verge of connecting with some experience but haven’t got there yet, and are encountering strong resistance from you sub-conscious defense mechanisms that have been protecting you from remembering whatever it is. It could be because there is something that at the time seemed too much to remember, so part of you chose to forget and not remember.

Or it might not be a traumatic event, but just resistance to unraveling your comfortable defense mechanisms. When people get to the cusp of breaking through the programming that has seemed to their sub-conscious to keep them comfortable and safe, often their subconscious will end up sabotaging their attempts to get past that cusp in creative ways.

My intuitive guess from the content of what you wrote, that it happened after a suggestion that “the solution was to try to act normally around my family”, is that that suggestion may occur as horrible to a part of your subconscious. I don’t know you or your stories, but reading that you went through something awful and that a therapist suggests the solution was to try to act normally around your family, suggests to me that that might be the opposite of what part of you wants. Many people have core issues around a major (to them as a child) event where there was something important for them to communicate, that they failed to communicate and/or be heard, acknowledged and held. So if really you have an incomplete communication with your family, then the suggestion that the solution is for you to “act normally” could, it seems to me, occur as soul-crushing to that part of such a person. Or… it could be the opposite, that actually part of you has longed to be able to “act normally” with your family, but the language of “act normally” seems to suggest misplaced shame and responsibility – a child should act however is authentic for them, not “normally”. Or it could be some mix of all of that, or only certain parts.

Another possibility would be if you had been hypnotized to have such a reaction.

JLeslie's avatar

I am no expert, but it sounds more like you were catatonic, I wouldn’t call it a panic attack, although I do think you were experience stress. Panic attacks usually involve a raving heart, and a feeling like you might be having a heart attack or dying.

If this is about one single event, my feeling is don’t let one bad judgement call by your parents traumatize you assuming it was nothing truly sinister. I have no idea what happened, so I don’t know if it was something unforgivable or not.

Sometimes, if we can look at something that happened through adult eyes rather than our childhood eyes, we can reframe the incident and feel much better. Maybe your therapist was going for that.

Having said that, I wouldn’t get overworried about not remembering the event (again I’m not an expert) just work on how you overall feel about your parents, and how you want your relationship to be with them. Try to be more objective with how you look at present situations in life, rather than how you feel in a situation. I don’t mean you can just turn off your feelings, but your feelings might change if you look at situations differently. Be open to hearing how other people view things. People who don’t suffer from so much stress. Some people have had more things happen to them than others, but everyone has a certain amount of pain and difficulties in their life, and some people seem to have better ways of coping than others.

My sister and I went through a lot of the same experiences with my parents, and she has a much more negative view of it, and has much more anxiety related to it. It makes her life harder in some ways. It means she has to expect perfection from herself and others, s d this expectation means she is constantly disappointed, offended, angry, and anxious. I don’t know if you can relate to that.

You’re in therapy, so that means to me you do want to learn how to cope and feel better. I hope you do soon.

janbb's avatar

@Zaku Most psychiatrists these days only provide meds. Good talk therapy is usually done by psychologists or licensed clinical social workers. I wouldn’t use being a psychiatrist as a criterion for good therapy.

janbb's avatar

To answer your question, it appears that you were confronting something you weren’t ready to deal with yet and so you shut down. Obviously, something to discuss next session. If you can stick with the process with a good therapist, I think it will help you.

@JLeslie Catatonia is a much more serious medical condition, as I’m sure you know, so I wouldn’t call a temporary state of a blank mind catatonia.

JLeslie's avatar

^^I agree that what the OP described doesn’t live up to a diagnosis of catalonia, I wrote it more as a comparison to panic attacks. The OP talked about not being able to talk. Good that you pointed it out though. I used the word too loosely probably.

I don’t think having a lapse in memory is a very big deal when it’s from childhood, many years ago. Most people don’t remember why they had a fight last week, but they know they fought with their parents or spouse, or sibling, etc.

omfgTALIjustIMDu's avatar

Sounds like you dissociated from the traumatic memory, your brain’s natural defense against unwanted/traumatic memories. Part of why trauma therapy is so important is bringing these memories to the surface in a safe place with someone to help guide you through them. Sounds like you have a great therapist who was able to help you bring those memories to the surface and then reground you when your brain decided it was too much and shut them off. Make sure to process that experience with your therapist at your next session before trying to delve into the memories again. You might notice s/he may begin to slow down the recall process to avoid overwhelming you to the point of dissociation again. Practice some intentional breathing and go over with your therapist some ways to calm your body and mind down in case the memories come up again when you’re not in sessions.

Whitecoyote's avatar

I don’t know and wish to speak to a person as well and know I feel randomly weak and faint and blank too when around my mom and anxiety and don’t know why…sometimes its like I can’t move or want to pass out but I usually feel numb and heavy and I don’t know why…. :(

josie's avatar

Any chance you were hypnotized?

Whitecoyote's avatar

I dont understand

Zaku's avatar

It sounds to me like a clear sign there is material to work through with about your family, as we all have, but yours is seeming to want some attention as those are unusually strong reactions. It also sounds like you ought to have some good support set up if you are going to work through those, probably more than only having one person to talk to about it once per week, because when people do get past a block like that, it often really wants more attention than that and can cause a lot of disruption and confusion.

BackinBlack's avatar

I agree with a lot of these comments. Sounds like you were starting to relive your trauma and it was too much for you to handle.

I’ve experienced trauma too and it took me 15 years to acknowledge it and realize it was traumatic. It will be a very slow process but pushing yourself little bits at a time will help you cope in the long run. It’s important not to beat yourself up over your reactions and emotions.

Sounds like your therapist was doing good with diverting your thoughts when it got to be too much.
I’m sorry you went through something horrible. I hope you can find peace.

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