Thousand-Yard Stare: What Is It, Treatment, Examples

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You might have heard of the term “thousand-yard stare.” Perhaps you don’t know exactly what it means, or you’d just like to understand it a little better. Whatever the case, this term is described in more detail below. 

What is the “thousand-yard stare”?

The “thousand-yard stare” is a term used in the mental health arena. It originated during World War II, when soldiers who suffered from battle fatigue seemed to be staring off into space. The thousand-yard stare has since become recognized as a sign of PTSD 

Over the years, terms like “shell shock” and “war neurosis” have been applied to soldiers who appeared to be showing signs of the “thousand-yard stare.” However, we now know that this stare is reflective of PTSD symptoms. Furthermore, we know it doesn’t just apply to soldiers; it can affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic or upsetting event. 

The “thousand-yard stare” can be described as a blank, emotionless expression that someone demonstrates after experiencing severe shock or trauma. It may appear as if a person is unaware of what is happening around them. While it is not always a result of trauma, the thousand-yard stare is often connected to PTSD and related problems. 

Why Does it Happen?

The thousand-yard stare happens when someone is faced with an event that is so upsetting, traumatic, or shocking that it is difficult to bear. Staring into space is a form of dissociation, in which someone is disconnected from their emotions or surroundings.

Dissociating in this way can make it possible for a person to cope with unimaginable trauma or pain. When staring into space, emotionally numb and expressionless, a person does not have to face the horrors of a traumatic or painful event.

Thousand-yard Stare in a Child?

A child who shows signs of a thousand-yard stare is likely to be coping with trauma or some other upsetting event. Perhaps they have been exposed to abuse, violence, war, or a natural disaster. Staring into space may help them to detach from the terror of their situation. 

Thousand-yard Stare in an Adult?

As is the case with children, the thousand-yard stare can also be a sign of trauma in an adult. An adult who has experienced abuse, violence, or war may detach by staring into space. This can happen in war veterans as well as people who have witnessed violence or experienced physical or sexual assault. 

Is it a Sign of PTSD?

The thousand-yard stare can be a sign of PTSD. One symptom associated with PTSD is avoidance of memories or upsetting emotions related to a traumatic event. Emotionally detaching can be a sign that someone is attempting to avoid memories of a traumatic experience.

The thousand-yard stare can also be a sign that someone is experiencing a dissociative disorder like depersonalization/derealization disorder (DPDR). People who have DPDR feel detached from their own bodies and the events happening around them. They also feel as if they are detached from their surroundings. 

Is it an Expression of Trauma?

Whether it occurs as a symptom of PTSD or DPDR, the thousand-yard stare is often a reaction to trauma. While experiencing a traumatic event is not required to be diagnosed with DPDR, trauma is linked to the development of dissociative disorders including DPDR. 

The thousand-yard stare is often associated with trauma, but there are other explanations. For example, a person may show this symptom when they are experiencing severe stress. It can also be a symptom related to panic or depression. 

The bottom line is that the thousand-yard stare appears when someone is disconnecting from their surroundings, thoughts, or emotions. It is common with trauma but can occur with other mental health disorders. 

Thousand Yard Stare Examples

Someone who shows signs of the thousand-yard stare may demonstrate this symptom in the following ways:

  • Having a blank expression, even when something upsetting or exciting is happening
  • Appearing detached from their surroundings
  • Seeming as if they do not know what is going on around them
  • Staring off into space and showing minimal reaction to other people 
  • Being unresponsive to the environment 
  • Having a complete lack of emotional expression 
  • Appearing frozen, with a glazed over expression 

Treatment Options Online

If you’re showing signs of the “thousand-yard stare,” therapy can help. A therapist can work with you to explore underlying issues, such as trauma or emotional pain, that are contributing to this symptom. An online therapy program can be a suitable option if you’re looking to connect with a professional from the safety and comfort of home. 

Tips to Manage By Yourself

There are also self-help strategies you can utilize to manage trauma symptoms, including emotional numbness and the tendency to stare into space. Some helpful self-management strategies include:

  • Talking with supportive friends and family when you’re struggling
  • Using relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises or muscle relaxation strategies
  • Participating in light exercise, like swimming or yoga
  • Spending time outdoors
  • Listening to music
  • Engaging in prayer or meditation
  • Making time for uplifting activities like art or other forms of recreation 
Jenni Jacobsen
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