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The Difference Between Blunting and Masking

By Dr. Patty Williams on August 7, 2023

Bright Insight Support Network founder and president Dr. Patty Williams is a trauma therapist and coach who specializes in EMDR, ND-Affirmative DBT, and IFS modalities. Through Bright Insight, she works to counsel, coach, and advocate for gifted, twice-exceptional, and neurodivergent persons, along with other marginalized populations.

The Difference Between Blunting and Masking

In our Bloomers: Gifted and 2e Adults group, a member asked an intriguing question about the difference between blunting and masking. It's a good one.

Blunting means to make blunt or more dull... so like if you blunt the tip of a pencil, you might hit the tip of the graphite on a hard surface so it is not so pointy.

Masking means to mask, disguise, or conceal.

In my book, Intersection of Intensity (2023), I define psychological blunting as:

a phenomenon where individuals experience a reduction in emotional responses or a dulled affective experience involving a diminished range and intensity of emotions, resulting in a decreased ability to feel and express emotions compared to what would be considered typical or expected. Psychological blunting can manifest as a decreased capacity for joy, sadness, empathy, or other emotional states. It can also present as physical in nature, where people feel disconnected from their bodies or experiences.

Blunting is common when there is a need to dull especially emotional responses or experiences, often in defense of ego. Children who get shamed or in trouble for emoting may blunt the emotions that cause the most distress for them or they may blunt emotions in general.

I tend to believe that all overexcitabilities (emotional, sensual, imaginational, intellectual, psychomotor) can also be blunted as deemed seemingly necessary depending on a person’s circumstances.

Similar to blunting as a defense, masking is when a person disguises or ‘masks’ behaviors or traits. While blunting is generally in relation to experiencing and emoting, and though in theory a person could blunt behaviors, masking is more behavioral in nature.

In relation to the neurodivergent (ND) population, we typically talk about masking as a thing ND people do to conceal something from neurotypically (NT)-normed society. Sometimes this concealing is of a behavior that seems socially unacceptable such as a stim or excitement about non-typical interests. In other words, an ND person may mask behaviors so they might appear more NT. This is the same for gifted individuals (another type of neurodivergence) who might mask overexcitability, intelligence, difficulty (disability), or otherwise. For twice-exceptional (2e) persons, sometimes the giftedness masks the disability and the disability masks the giftedness such that the individual is not identified as either.

Now, while masking may result in blunting, they are not the same. And unmasking is not the same as unblunting.

Unmasking is more behavioral in nature while reducing the effects of blunting may take other work (such as somatic experiencing or gestalt practices) since often it involves learning how to feel or experience whatever was being blunted, generally in childhood. However, they do seem to work together, each potentially feeding the other.

Do you have experience with or questions about masking and blunting? Let us know. <3

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