Desensitization As An Escape Route

In essence, sensitivity is one of those great virtues that make human beings better. It is equivalent to a capacity to perceive and attend to the different realities that we encounter in our path, whether they are tangible or intangible. A sensitive person is more awake and assumes life with greater intensity. Something that does not happen with desensitization.

However, in certain circumstances, that sensitivity becomes an attribute that, instead of giving more color to life, ends up adding difficulties. When stimuli from the environment are excessive, they overwhelm our ability to perceive and incorporate them. The same happens if it is aggressive, intimidating or exhausting stimuli: we block the sensitivity, otherwise we would go crazy.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it is indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it is indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but the indifference between life and death ”.

-Elie Wiesel-

The origins of desensitization

Stopping feeling, or feeling less intensely, is a way to avoid unpleasant or excessive experiences. In principle, it is a completely valid defense mechanism to be able to cope with a harsh reality.

What would happen if a person who is in jail, for example, opened up minute by minute to every detail involved in that condition? Probably sooner rather than later he would become unable to tolerate life.

Limiting or blocking sensitivity is then a strategy to adapt to difficult or extreme conditions.

How does the degree of sensitivity decrease in a person? When necessary, the mind employs tactics to reduce the level of sensitivity. One of those tactics is to stay on the surface of situations: not to go deeper to avoid that the increase of information unleashes fear, anguish or sadness.

Another tactic is to “normalize” anomalous events or situations that generate anxiety. In this way, you end up assuming that something that would be completely unacceptable under reasonable conditions is actually perfectly normal. To these tactics is added another very common: opting for ignorance.

You simply refuse to receive information or have contact with any reality. You may be making the decision consciously or you may not be aware of it. The truth is that you avoid at all costs coming into contact with certain situations, objects or people.

Finally, desensitization is achieved through the adoption of doctrines or ideas that explain or justify negative realities, making them see as a “necessary evil” or “irremediable”. This is the case of some beliefs in which suffering for suffering is seen as a virtue.

Desensitization as flight

As we mentioned earlier, desensitization, in principle, is an adaptive mechanism that helps us navigate difficult situations that are beyond our control and are extremely unpleasant. In those cases, fleeing from reality, to some extent, is an instinctive way to protect and preserve ourselves.

However, there are countless situations in which desensitization becomes rather a way of avoiding fears or difficulties that we could perfectly solve. In those cases, fleeing from reality does not help us, but increases our problems and paralyzes us.

A typical example of this is that of abuse desensitization. If we receive physical and / or verbal attacks continuously, without reacting, it is possible that we end up believing that these abuses are something “normal” or justifiable. We are going, little by little, building the idea that a heartbreaking insult, or perhaps the occasional slap, is not a cause for alarm.

It also happens to us daily in front of the mass media. We have been accustomed to receiving superficial information about the worst things in the world. Wars, crime and injustice are the daily bread in the news. It is news that one man tortured and killed another, but it is not news that millions of people did not do something similar.

The result is that we end up thinking that the reality of the world is entirely unapproachable and we become desensitized to it, as a way to protect ourselves. But at the same time we stopped participating in that political and social reality in an active way.

We must stop in front of all those realities that we do not want to know anything about, or deliberately avoid, or justify, despite being questioned by everyone around us. It is worth asking ourselves if we are avoiding all of this for our own sake or if, perhaps, we are mutilating a valuable source of knowledge and wisdom.