Trauma Effects (Pt. 2)
Updated: Apr 12
Trauma Effects on the Brain and Body
In addition to understanding what experiences can be considered traumatic and lead to PTSD, it is also important to understand the effects of trauma on the brain and body.
Trauma can alter brain functioning. The prefrontal cortex is considered the thinking center of the brain that is responsible for rational thought, problem-solving, personality, and planning, empathy, and awareness of ourselves and others. When this area is weak or traumatized, the thinking part of the brain becomes under-active. (Kolk, 2014)
The anterior cingulate cortex is considered the emotional regulation center of the brain and is responsible for regulating emotion helping to manage difficult thoughts and emotions without being overwhelmed by them. When this area is weak and traumatized, this area of the brain is also under-active. (Kolk, 2014)
The amygdala is considered the fear center and its primary job is to receive all information from the senses and detect if there is any danger or threat present. When this area is activated, we feel afraid, reactive, and vigilant. When this area is weak by trauma, this area of the
brain is over-reactive. (Kolk, 2014)
When the amygdala is overactive it is constantly sending messages through the “nervous system, causing the release of hormones from the endocrine system and eventually effecting the immune system”, which then sets off the body’s inflammatory response. (Karren, Smith, Gordon, & Frandsen, 2014, p. 31) Overtime this disrupts the body’s function to stay in balance and control (homeostasis). The body will eventually shut down because it is not able to deal with the stress of the trauma. (Karren at el., 2014)
This is when the symptoms of trauma begin to emerge in behavioral and emotional responses. These reactions are common when trauma affects the brain and body:
· Re-experiencing the trauma, such as replaying the memory over and over again in your mind, involuntary distressing images, nightmares, or flashbacks.
· Major Emotional Reactions such as fear and anxiety, anger issues, sadness, depression, guilt, or feelings of numbness.
· Avoiding anything related to the trauma such as trying not to think of the event or avoiding items related to the event. Other avoidance behaviors include unable to recall aspects of trauma, feelings of detachment or estrangement from others, restricted range of effect, self-medicating behaviors such as drug and alcohol, compulsive sex, overeating, or self-injurious behaviors.
· Major changes in how you view the world and yourself, such as difficulty trusting people, believing the world is dangerous, blaming yourself for the trauma or thinking you should have done something differently, seeing yourself as weak or inadequate, or criticizing yourself for your reactions to the trauma.
· Hyperactive Nervous Systems that come in the reactions of feeling constantly on guard, seeing danger everywhere, being easily startled, jumpiness, difficulty sleeping, being irritable or aggressive, problems with concentration, or self-destructive behaviors. (Kolk, 2014)
Trauma happens, but it does not have to be a life sentence. Trauma can be healed with appropriate guidance and help. It is very important to know how to handle trauma as individuals, communities, and societies. It will greatly impact the quality of one’s life and whether we will survive as a human species. (Levine, 1997) Trauma makes you feel like you do not have any control of your own body, emotions, and mind. The symptoms become intrusive and unconscious and this makes one feel like they are out of control. It is important to find ways to calm down the responses to the triggers and flashbacks; to find ways to remain present at the moment and engage with people; also not to allow the shame to hide the fact that the secret is, the traumatized is merely surviving life. (Kolk, 2014)
Continue reading onto Part 3 Treating PTSD.