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Monday, February 7, 2011

It’s called desensitization

The first time the tap in my bathroom drips it really bothers me. I feel the need to do something about it, try to fix it, try to get someone else to fix it or call in a plumber. However, what if I just don’t get down to doing any of these things? Slowly the dripping tap begins to sound less faint, I don’t notice the sound and it doesn’t bother me that much anymore, until eventually I am so accustomed to hearing it that I even forget that it’s a problem which needed to be fixed and I accept it as a part of the way things are. This process is called desensitization and human beings go through this constantly without us even being aware of it. This happens with both small and big things and it can either be a good thing or a bad thing.

When desensitization works in a good way it can be helpful to people; like if you’ve lost someone and you are grieving for them. At first it’s really difficult for you to move on with life and you really can’t get used to your life without that person, but then slowly over time it becomes easier and you get used to living without that person until you’ve managed to work out things in your life in such a manner that you can cope with that person being gone. Surely you’ll never forget the loved ones that you’ve lost, but you’ve become desensitized to the lack of their presence and then life becomes easier.

And then of course there’s the desensitization that works against us. I’ll give you some examples. You’re watching TV and you see something that you know is immoral or sinful, this really bothers you and you change the channel or switch the TV off for a while, or fast forward, skip the scene, whatever it is that you do, because inside of you, you know that what you are seeing is wrong and it makes you feel really bad. The next time this happens though, you are not that shocked and so you take a little longer to change the channel or fast forward. But the next time, you don’t even bother skipping the scene and you decide that it’s not such a big deal to see it because now you’ve already been desensitized. The same can apply to any other sin, the first time you do something it seems really bad and you feel terrible, but with more and more exposure to a particular thing, it becomes a natural part of your life and you don’t even pay attention to what you are doing. This is how it becomes easy for us to commit sin, after sin, after sin, even though we know that it is wrong.

The bad thing about desensitization is that it puts us in a state of oblivion. We lose our focus and we can begin to accept almost anything, if the desensitization process works correctly. I don’t know about you but I find it a bit uncomfortable and I actually don’t like this. I know that there are benefits in this process and I accept this and am thankful to Allah Almighty for those benefits because it really can be a good coping mechanism, but the thought of going slowly into oblivion just doesn’t sit well with me. When I just started out working as a counsellor I’d look at all the more experienced counsellors around me and wonder how it was possible for them to deal with the difficulties in people’s lives without being affected at all. They were doing counselling for a while and had already been desensitized. I didn’t want to be like that, I didn’t want to remain unaffected when hearing about an innocent child being abused or a woman going through difficulty. I wanted to freely feel sad about these things, because I believed then, and I still believe now that these things should make us sad, it should affect us as fellow human beings.

Perhaps desensitization is a normal process, but I can see the negative effects of it. Every day as we watch the news and see how our brothers and sisters across the world are suffering in so many different ways, how many of us are terribly affected by this? We have come to accept these things and we don’t even realize that war and suffering is going on all around us, because we have become desensitized.

In Johannesburg where I live people have become so accustomed to crime that they no longer have the need to react when they see something happening and so neighbours hear noises and see their own neighbours been attacked and even murdered, but they feel they can do nothing about it, because of desensitization. Then, it’s given a really nice name- BYSTANDER EFFECT- “ a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases where individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency situation to the victim when other people are present.” This is the level of desensitization that we have reached. I don’t know about you, but I think this is really abnormal.

You might be wondering at this point what we can do to stop ourselves from being desensitized in a negative way. So here are some very basic tips:

1. First and foremost, make a pure intention and ask Allah to help you in this regard so that it can become easier for you not to get caught up in negative things and so that you are more able to help others and to worship Allah Almighty more effectively.

2. Become more aware- Awareness is very important. First become aware of all the ways that you are being desensitized. Once you are aware, you will make an effort to counteract the negative desensitization, Inshaa Allah.

3. Look at the ways in which you’ve been desensitized and determine the positive ways of desensitization from the negative ones.

4. Once you’ve identified the positive and negative, use the positive forms of desensitization to strengthen yourself and your relationship with Allah- Thank Allah for giving you this coping mechanism.

5. In terms of the negative ways- start thinking about this more often and consider how many ways you have been desensitized into doing things that go against Islam. How many sins have become easier for you to commit, how many people have you hurt because of desensitization. If you become more aware you will slowly begin to fight the effects of desensitization. Feeling bad about commiting sins or doing harmful acts is the beginning of stopping those acts.

6. The effects of desensitization should be able to work in reverse. Just as you were numbed into accepting bad things, now you will feel bad, and then slowly you’ll become more aware of your negative actions until eventually you stop doing the things that are harmful to yourself and others.

Inshaa Allah with the help of Allah Almighty we can all achieve a state of awareness where our only aim is to please our Creator.

May Allah make it easy for us all!!!


  1. salam! sister, i'm happy you came and commented my blog, cuz otherwise i wouldn't find yours! i love the way you explain things and i haven't met a muslim psychologist before. as a revert i need to look at many things differently than i used to, pre islam. i'm definitely gonna follow your blog!

  2. Was-salaam sister

    Welcome and I'm glad that you find this useful, I hope that it will be helpful in the future inshaa Allah. Masha'Allah I like your blog:)