Is there a term for the phenomenon of people becoming desensitized to people's suffering, or used to dealing with it without becoming emotionally entangled or upset, in the way that, say, doctors or policemen or even firemen do? I am sure I have heard someone say something like

"When you see this type of pain and suffering every day you become "<___________>".

I don't mean detached or dissonant, and I can't find what I'm looking for in the standard thesauruses (thesauri ?). Please help, it's bugging me that I can't remember it.

  • 3
    What about this word is better than desensitized? That seems as if it conveys what you're asking about pretty well.
    – Jim Mack
    Apr 11, 2019 at 23:31
  • Thanks for your input folks, it's not a case of 'better' really, it is that I know there is a word that I can't remember, and I am hoping that someone in this intelligent community will know it and say "Oh, you mean ------", and I'll go yay <punches the air>, and can finally stop trying to recall it and get some sleep :-) Apr 11, 2019 at 23:59
  • 1
    I'm sorry, but these kinds of questions i.e. "I'm thinking of a word...what is it?" do not do well here unless you can provide more context. Apr 12, 2019 at 0:01
  • Cascabel - I did provide a sentence with a blank in it. I'm not thinking of a word, I wouldn't need to ask for the group's help if I was. I am not trying "to do well", I am just hoping some people will provide useful answers, which others have! Apr 12, 2019 at 0:46
  • yes, I agree, it is a good word, but not the one I was hoping to get, it is so frustrating to not be able to think of it, thanks to everyone for their efforts. Another friend suggested 'dissociated' which is close in meaning also. Apr 12, 2019 at 3:16

5 Answers 5


An alternative to desensitized is inured

verb (used with object), in·ured, in·ur·ing.

to accustom to hardship, difficulty, pain, etc.; toughen or harden; habituate (usually followed by to): inured to cold.

The two words mean essentially the same thing, however desensitization has more of a clinical tone to it.

Example usage:

How does the spectacle of the sufferings of others (via television or newsprint) affect us? Are viewers inured--or incited--to violence by the depiction of cruelty? In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag takes a fresh look at the representation of atrocity--from Goya's The Disasters of War to photographs of the American Civil War, lynchings of blacks in the South, and the Nazi death camps, to contemporary horrific images of Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Israel and Palestine, and New York City on September 11, 2001.

  • 1
    Sample usage: I have become inured to downvotes on StackExchange websites
    – samgak
    Apr 12, 2019 at 3:54
  • Good word!. Have a +1! Also, please include example sentence in your answer.
    – Ubi.B
    Apr 12, 2019 at 5:24

The simple adjective numb is often used to describe the person who has been desensitized in this fashion. "She had become numb to their sufferings."

They could see their own death and the death of thousands of others ahead of them, but they had become numb to suffering, perhaps numb to moral discourse.

Google Books


apathetic, indifferent or insouciant.

It also depends on context.

Since we’re not referring to habituated effects from continued exposure to the suffering of others where lack of empathy becomes a skilled trait like that of a psychopath, I wouldn’t use apathy.

We’re also not referring to the dissociative disconnection of emotions (numb helpless feeling) like we’d find in someone suffering from emotional trauma due to their experience while watching others suffer, and which is exacerbated by lack of control over the situation, so I wouldn’t use indifference, because it’s much more about clarity of mind with a soft heartbreak rather than a feeling of helplessness.

Insouciance fits the context best.


I guess, you are either looking for immune, untouched, or uninfluenced.

Using your sentence: When you see this type of pain and suffering every day you become immune to it.

NOTE: Here, immune is used figuratively.


When you see this type of pain and suffering every day you become untouched by it.


When you see this type of pain and suffering every day you become uninfluenced by it.


Okay folks, after much searching, I have found my missing word. Thanks for all your efforts, advice and help.

The word is:



not revealing or affected by emotion; reserved

calm; serene; imperturbable

rare: unconscious or insensible

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